Travel visas should be ready in weeks, not years, Mr Varadkar
THE most depressing exchange of the week (outside of the alleged debate on the fiscal compact) came from Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar who wants to create a common travel zone between Ireland and Britain.
Nothing wrong with that. Mr Varadkar quite rightly believes that tourists should not be forced to go the trouble and expense of obtaining one set of travel papers for the UK and another set for the Republic.
This requirement has long deterred visitors to this country but just as importantly, it has also frustrated companies here which struggle to get colleagues and business partners into Ireland.
While many companies happily go from one end of the year to the other without inviting a foreigner to these shores, many of our most dynamic companies regularly need to bring people to these shores for all sorts of reasons.
Quite why the previous government didn't sign up to Schengen agreement which allows passport-free travel in 20 countries across mainland Europe has never been explained properly but this is probably a fact of life at this stage which we must reluctantly accept.
That we continue to operate our own visa system from our necessarily limited network of excellent embassies should be changed; it is time to outsource issuing visas to a speedy private sector company like Britain does.
The present system takes too long. The usually excellent Department of Foreign Affairs can't have an embassy everywhere which means that those seeking a visa often have to send their passports overseas.
Most foreign business people simply can't hand over their passports for weeks at a time to obtain visas for travel to Ireland so they often decide not to come here at all.
The Tourism Minister hopes to at least make things easier by creating a "mini-Schengen" zone between Ireland and the UK which is all very commendable.
The problem? He has set a deadline which is three years away. Three years to complete a task that should and could take a few weeks?
If one of country's youngest and most energetic politicians is satisfied with a deadline of years for such a simple change, what chance do we have when his more cautious colleagues begin to consider the sort of complex changes we need?