Dramatically increased co-operation between tourist authorities on both sides of the border which involved establishing a “strong island of Ireland identity” ignored the political implications of such a move, Peter Robinson said.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and Bord Failte produced a confidential ‘vision’ document to create a united “brand identity for the island of Ireland” with the island considered as a “single destination”.
The document explored how this could be achieved with inter-board meetings and initiatives. One Stormont official said that this would lead to the “optimisation of the economic benefit for tourism, which can accrue to both parts of the island from the peace process”.
The NITB said that “cross border co-operation in tourism has been going on for several years to mutual advantage and this particular exercise may be of value to us”.
In 1995, Mr Robinson alleged that the two boards had failed to acknowledge the political impact of such a policy in a divided society emerging from a century of border-related violence. He also questioned why the board was aiming to promote a close competitor.
The East Belfast MP said in a letter to NITB chairman Lord Rathcavan that he was “greatly disturbed” by the programme with “obvious political implications” and that “given the way in which NITB has in the past, pandered to the government’s plans for an all-Ireland approach as evidenced by its new logo of a shamrock with a red leaf in the centre, there is some evidence that decisions are being made on a political rather than commercial basis”.
The then DUP deputy leader continued: “The Northern Ireland Tourist Board intend to pursue all-Ireland tourism and have subscribed to a report commissioned by Republic of Ireland consultants ... which places Dublin being central to the Irish branding ... Northern Ireland is not featured to any significant extent.”
Despite the intentions expressed in the ‘Vision’ document , the NITB responded stating that it “has made no commitment and has no financial involvement in it ... and it must reflect Northern Ireland’s unique attributes”.
In 1967, before the start of the Troubles, the number of tourists coming to Northern Ireland had been half that of the Republic.
Today, long after the end of the Troubles and with increased tourism on both sides of the border, the number of tourists coming to Northern Ireland is now a third that of the numbers going to the Republic.