Minister Lyons speaking at the Tourism Ireland breakfast. Photo by James Higgins

DUP Minister Blindsided by DUP MPS

Who would envy Gordon Lyons?

The North's Minister for the Economy is working to revive tourist visits to Northern Ireland after the slump brought about by the Covid pandemic.

And then there's the war in Ukraine. Sure, it's a long way away from the North. You can see Scotland from the Giant's Causeway but, thankfully, not Russia.

Still, war is, to say the least, a distraction, a grim fact of life that makes people have second thoughts about things. And the war in Ukraine is especially grim.

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Nevertheless, the summer might well see a revival of significant numbers of North American visitors to the North and its many attractions, old and new.

Minister Lyons, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, was in New York St. Patrick's week to fly the flag for those attractions. A couple of days before the big day he spoke to an invited travel industry and airline audience at a breakfast hosted by Tourism Ireland, which works to raise the number of overseas visitors to the entire island of Ireland.

Minister Lyons was enthusiastic. There was a palpable felling of goodwill and renewed optimism in the room.

Said Lyons: "The United States is an extremely important market for tourism. It’s a market which has a strong affinity with us, our values and ambitions. And we believe that tourism from here can recover and grow significantly in the years ahead.

"In terms of getting to Northern Ireland, this summer there will be direct non-stop flights operating from 13 different American gateways to the island of Ireland. And I want to see new direct flights to Belfast too."

As things stand, however, the vast majority of North American visitors to Northern Ireland will arrive in the Six Counties after first landing in Dublin or Shannon.

They will then travel across the border, the more or lass invisible border, and without having to wave passports or any other identification.

That was how things stood on Tuesday, March 15. Exactly one week later DUP MPs in the British House of Commons voted in favor of legislation that would erect a barrier on the border, albeit an invisible electronic one: a U.S.-style visa waiver program that would apply to non-Irish nationals crossing the border.

These would include non-Irish EU nationals resident in the Republic. And there are quite a few of those. It would apparently also include North American tourists arriving in the South with plans to travel to the North.

The eight DUP MPs in the commons voted for the legislation, The Nationality and Borders Bill.

"Like turkeys voting for Christmas," is how one observer saw the DUP vote.

The two SDLP members of the Commons voted against the bill, as did the sole Alliance Party MP.

The legislation, with more than a whiff of Brexit xenophobia about it, is yet to be finalized and the Irish government is uttering loud objections.

For Minister Lyons, it is a case of being shafted by one's own party.

But at least he himself is trying to make things better for all those working in the North tourist and hospitality industry, 70,000 souls before Covid by his own estimate.

Covid, at least, might be fading, hopefully. Dumb politics? Well....