I have just returned from a successful two-day trip to Dublin.
I make regular visits to the Irish capital and during this trip I held a number of meetings with senior political and business figures, including Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and John Hurley, Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland. Many of these meetings were also attended by our excellent Ambassador to Ireland, David Reddaway.
The trip gave me the perfect opportunity to discuss many issues that concern both the UK and Ireland, as well as to see for myself how both political and business leaders are dealing with the recession in Ireland. I was very impressed with the realistic and brave decisions being taken to deal with the economic downturn.
One area of complete agreement is the Common Travel Area. It is a passport-free zone that comprises the whole of the British Isles and has brought enormous benefits. The Government is trying to scrap it and I am delighted that we were able to defeat them in the Lords earlier in the year. Removing the Common Travel Area would be bad for everyone who lives on both sides of the Irish Sea; it should be improved and upgraded. The Government’s plans to end it would damage both economies.
Boosting the Northern Ireland economy is a huge priority for me and we must make sure we do everything to enable the private sector to grow in the province. These types of meetings allow me to discuss economic ties and options for boosting investment.