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travel pass Tommy Bowe calls on Irish government to issue free cross-border bus passes for NI tourist attractions

The former Ulster and Ireland winger Bowe said he had lived the experience of a shared island and called himself the "epitome of an in-betweener"

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Tommy Bowe

Tommy Bowe

Tommy Bowe

Former Ulster and Ireland rugby star Tommy Bowe has urged the Irish government to issue free bus passes for visits to Northern Ireland tourist attractions to encourage cross-border understanding.

Speaking at an event on the all-island economy, Mr Bowe also called on people on both sides of the border to take pride in the Good Friday Agreement.

The former winger, who retired in 2018 after 15 years playing for Ulster, Ireland, the Ospreys and the Lions, urged Tanaiste Leo Varadkar to encourage cross-border travel with the same “vigour” he had shown in discouraging it during the pandemic.

Mr Bowe said that as a Catholic born in the Republic, he had lived the experience of a shared island, calling himself the “epitome of an in-betweener”.

He told the event: “The reason I was picked for a shared island discussion is because I have lived it.

“I grew up just south of the border in Monaghan. I studied in the north, played rugby for Ulster, live in Belfast but work in Dublin. I am the epitome of an inbetweener.”

Mr Bowe said he wanted to address young people born after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, “those who never experienced the Troubles and only hear about it from a different generation”.

"Most are free of bitterness and their opinions can be swayed by the dream of possibility,” he added.

"I have absolutely no idea about how to make a shared island work economically.

"So far, anything I have read about a shared island has been filled with negativity and warnings.

"Why, particularly for these young people, can we not turn the narrative to the opportunities, the [chances] for working together to provide a good solution, one that young students can get excited about, not the what-ifs and buts?

"I’m a Catholic from south of the border. I have shared classrooms and changing rooms with people from all backgrounds and we are all different.

"We all want to believe we are part of something, trying to do our best for ourselves and our families.”

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Mr Bowe also urged people to take pride in the Good Friday Agreement.

“The US, the world’s [main] superpower, still sees the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement as one of the best and most successful foreign policy initiatives,” he said.

"This is something we should be so proud of, north and south of the border. But why not take the next step to move forward as a modern, forward-thinking nation that proves hurdles can be jumped if we put our differences aside?

“My question is, how many schoolkids or university students from south of the border have been to visit Belfast, or anywhere in the north?

"To move away from an ‘us and them’ [position], I would ask Tanaiste Leo Varadkar to encourage young people and all people to cross the border with the same vigour he had a few months ago about trying to stop people.

“I’d like to see free bus passes to visit places like the Marble Arch Caves, Portrush Strand and the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast.

"Likewise, I’d encourage students from the north to kiss the Blarney Stone, hit the beach in Rosslare and have a pint in Temple Bar, or I’ll buy you one in the Squealing Pig in Monaghan.

“I feel everything should be done to encourage the young to get to know their neighbours.

"Only with the understanding of each other can we build relationships to make a better future. It will take years of work to get people to consider their position in order to make change.

"It will need everyone to be honest, to work together with a view [to being] part of something special and the possibility of potentially a better future.”

Around 130 business leaders tuned in for the conference, introduced by Mr Varadkar.

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