Hard Border ‘anathema’ to Irish tourism, committee hears

Tourism Ireland chief tells House of Lords committe freedom of movement North and South is crucial

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said visitors to the island of Ireland had no real perception of a border and freedom of movement North and South is critical, particularly to the North American market. File photograph.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said visitors to the island of Ireland had no real perception of a border and freedom of movement North and South is critical, particularly to the North American market. File photograph.

 

The prospect of a hard Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is “anathema” to the tourism sector, a committee examining the potential impact of the UK’s departure from the EU has heard.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said visitors to the island of Ireland had no real perception of a border and freedom of movement North and South is critical, particularly to the North American market.

Mr Gibbons was one of a number of experts addressing the UK’s House of Lords committee on the European Union in Dublin on Tuesday.

It is conducting an inquiry into the potential impact of Brexit on the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, focusing in particular on the common travel area, economic and trade relations and the Border.

Mr Gibbons said cross-Border collaboration remains “absolutely vital” to the tourism sector.

“So issues like the common travel area, talk of hard borders are anathema to our business,” he said.

As one example of successful cross-Border collaboration, Mr Gibbons pointed to the Commissioners of Irish Lights’ restoration of lighthouses which has been a huge tourist draw.

“It’s [about] getting people together working on the ground. And remember the tourist coming over doesn’t have a perception of a border so to speak”, he said.

North American business remains particularly strong with 10 per cent of its European-bound travellers coming to Ireland and 97 per cent of those to the Republic. Of those who visit the North, 75 per cent come via the Republic.

“The more barriers that are put up, I just see nothing but difficulty,” Mr Gibbons said. “The consumer does not want difficulty. They expect to have ease of travel and anything that starts to put borders in the way of our business is not good.”

Edgar Morgenroth, associate research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI) said a so-called hard Brexit would “almost inevitably give us a hard Border.”

“There are lots of EU member states that have a border with non-EU countries,” he said. “To look at what a border in such circumstances would look like I think one should perhaps look at the borders that we currently see between Poland and the Ukraine, or Bulgaria and Turkey. And they are quite substantially physical borders.”

Agri-food sector

Mr Morgenroth identified the sectors most susceptible to the economic fallout of Brexit as agri-food and traditional manufacturing.

“That is of important significance to Ireland because that is an area that is much more labour intensive and it’s also much more dominated by Irish firms, smaller firms,” he said.

“Regionally it’s important because those firms make up a much greater share of employment in the structurally poor reasons of Ireland.”

Dan O’Brien, chief economist at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) said on a more positive note for the Republic, multinationals, on which the economy is so dependant, would not be hugely impacted by the UK’s departure.

“These companies are focused on the single market and for them that doesn’t change.”

Because of that economic motor, he said, “There is no real question of Ireland following the UK out of the EU.”

Energy sector

Other elements touched on during the morning committee session included the energy sector. Mr Morgenroth said while the existing electricity market enjoyed North-South uniformity, this might change if either the EU or UK altered its policy post-Brexit.

“That will have a direct impact on the other part of the island depending on what happens,” he said.

“That could be good; it could push down prices for Irish customers or it could raise them for Irish customers and vice-versa for Northern Ireland.

“If it’s good for consumers, it might be bad for investors and that then has an implication for the electricity generation capacity and therefore security,” Mr Morgenroth said.