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Concern over airport treatment of tourist  Sep 22, 2008

Tourism officials expressed concern to the Department of Arts and Tourism earlier this year about the behaviour of immigration officers at ports of entry after an Indian man who won a trip to Ireland in a State-sponsored competition reported suffering harassment and racial discrimination at Dublin airport.

He won the trip at an event organised by Tourism Ireland in Mumbai to promote Ireland as an attractive holiday destination.

Newly released documents show the prizewinner wrote to Tourism Ireland on March 2nd to complain of his treatment at Dublin airport. He outlined how, despite his having the required tourist visa and carrying a letter from Tourism Ireland, immigration officers insisted they did not believe the letter was authentic.

"[An officer] then asked us who had booked our hotel. We told him it was done by Thomas Cook in Bombay. He said that can't be possible as why would Ireland Tourism [sic] book through Thomas Cook as they were a British company. We didn't know what to say."

He alleged many other Indian passengers were treated unfairly. "It was only the Indians who were being photographed at the immigration counter. It was clear-cut racial discrimination. Whole thing was very embarrassing."

According to correspondence released to The Irish Times under Freedom of Information rules, Tourism Ireland responded to convey its "deep regret" to the prizewinner over his experience. "We are all very upset and embarrassed about the incident and will be taking it up at the highest levels with the Government department concerned . . ." the agency said.

The following day, an official from Tourism Ireland sent an e-mail to a counterpart in the Department of Arts and Tourism. "Another shock story about immigration," he wrote. "We really need to do something about it. The friendliest destination in the world???"

This was followed by a letter from Tourism Ireland chief executive Paul O'Toole to secretary general of the department Con Haugh. He pointed out that, in line with Government policy, the organisation was seeking to develop new markets in the Asia-Pacific region and warned of the need to be competitive.

"A number of our partners and contacts have reported unfortunate instances when they or their clients have sought entry to Ireland, notwithstanding their belief that they had secured the necessary documentation," he wrote.

Tourism Ireland regards India as one of the most promising developing markets and opened an office in Mumbai three years ago.

Two months after the incident, in response to a parliamentary question by Fine Gael's Olivia Mitchell, then newly appointed Minister for Arts and Tourism Martin Cullen said he was "not aware of immigration policy being a significant concern to the tourism industry".

Immigrant groups and representatives of the English-language education sector have regularly complained of the harsh treatment experienced by lawful foreign visitors at ports of entry.

Earlier this month, a Nigerian Catholic priest who travelled to Ireland on a tourist visa was arrested at Dublin airport before being strip-searched and placed in a prison cell on suspicion of trying to enter the country illegally.

Concern over airport treatment of tourist
Dublin Airport /

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