I had an eye-opener last week. I had reserved a rental car for New Year's Day to take the family to Belfast for a function, but when I had a close look at the terms and conditions I saw, buried on page 4, "All cross-border travel disallowed."
Stunning. Jaw-dropping. Argus Car Hire left me flabbergasted.
I thought those days were way in the past. I mean, both parts of Ireland have been part of the 'Single Market' within the EU since 1987. It's over 15 years since the agreement signed on Good Friday 1998 heralded a new peace up north and new relationships between the north and south.
Among those new relationships is Tourism Ireland, established in 2002, to market "the island of Ireland overseas as a holiday destination." That's the whole island, one entity, north AND south together. 2002 - 12 years ago now.
Like I said, I was stunned. Still, I had options. I had only booked the car because my own car needed some repairs and my mechanic had said he couldn't get the parts before the New Year. However, my mechanic called on the 30th to say he had received the parts and that he was ready to go to work on my car. So my own car was ready by New Year's Day, but it was too late to cancel the rental car. I figured I would use the rental anyway.
Too late? Yes, too late. That I had to give 48 hours notice to cancel my booking was not buried in the terms and conditions. I knew I couldn't cancel the booking without being charged for the rental. That's why I set off to get the car even though I didn't need it and only canceled the booking when I realized I couldn't use the car anyway.
Then I started thinking ... what about all those tourists who book a car for their vacation, the one they decided to take after they were sold on the "island of Ireland" as a dream destination? What happens to those people if they booked through Argus Car Hire? (And they are almost certainly not the only ones who bar cross-border travel.)
My guess is that most of them never realize they aren't allowed to take the car over the border. Why would it occur to them? They're going to Ireland. That's how it was sold to them, right? It would only become an issue if something happened, if they were involved in a car accident or the car was stolen. That's when they'd learn that they had unwittingly violated the terms of their contract. Then they'd have issues. Big issues.
And, just in case you're unsure what it's like to cross the border, it's like going from Bergen County, NJ to Rockland County, NY. In other words, if you're on a highway you'll probably realize that you've changed jurisdictions, but if you're on a smaller road you could easily be unaware that you'd wandered over the border. It is in no way like passing into Canada from America.
That's the point. That's why Tourism Ireland exists. As far as tourism is concerned it's "the island of Ireland" and car rental companies - I'm looking at you Argus Car Hire - are obviously part of the tourism industry. It's more than time that they acknowledge the realities of tourism in Ireland in 2014.
Why Martin McGuinness will be remembered for hundreds of years to come