Citizens of 14 countries including from Asia, parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East will be able to visit Ireland next year without a visa if they have first cleared immigration in the UK.

Under a new visa waiver programme announced in Dublin it will be easier for people from 14 countries including India, China, Turkey and the Russian Federation to travel to Ireland between 01 July and the end of October 2012 for a short-term visit.

It is Ireland’s first visa waiver programme and a major change in public policy, said Justice Minister Alan Shatter. He announced that the pilot scheme will be monitored and the countries involved subject to review.

‘It has been my view for some time that there is a need to ensure that our visa regulatory framework does not act as a barrier to our expanding our tourist industry and as a disincentive to potential visitors to this State,’ Shatter said.

‘In the context of the dramatic contraction that has occurred in the number of tourist visitors to Ireland I believe it is vital to ensure that this State is an easily accessible and attractive holiday and business destination and that the tens of thousands who visit the UK as our immediate neighbour have an incentive to also spend some time with us on this island,’ he explained.

‘Whilst the UK and American markets have been a central focal point for our tourist industry, I have for some time believed that a lot more can be done to attract tourists to this State from growing and emerging markets and to make visits here a good deal easier. In this context, I am very happy to announce the details of a very significant initiative in the area of visa liberalisation,’ he added.

Currently a person who is coming to the UK for a short-term visit and who needs a visa from the UK authorities makes an application and pays the necessary fees. However if that person wants to include Ireland on their itinerary they require a separate visa and have to repeat the same form filling and procedure with the Irish authorities and await the decision on their visa application. They also have to pay the Irish visa fee.

‘It is not difficult to see how this can be a disincentive to those who might want to consider a trip to Ireland as an add-on to the UK.  Given the large number of tourists annually visiting the UK and, in particular, those who will visit for the 2012 Olympics, Ireland risks losing out on a substantial tourism spin off,’ Shatter said.

‘We also have people from visa required countries who come to the UK to do business and who presently might, for the same bureaucratic reasons, be dissuaded from flying to Ireland for additional business meetings,’ he added.

The countries included in the pilot scheme are: Belarus, Montenegro, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India, China and Uzbekistan.

‘This list will, of course, be kept under review in the light of experience and other countries may be added to it over the course of the programme,’ Shatter continued. He added that special arrangements will be put in place to facilitate visits by nationals of the listed countries who are long term residents in the UK and for visitors on cruise liners.

‘In the case of the latter, the Department has very recently agreed a set of procedures with representatives of cruise liners which will facilitate the easy embarkation of passengers at ports. It was indicated that over 80 cruise liners, some with over 2,000 passengers, are likely to call at Irish ports this season.’