Agents in Ireland are calling on the Dublin government to agree long-term support to the sector to ensuring it is protected in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plea from the Irish Travel Agents Association comes as pressure mounts for a ban on non-essential travel between EU member states.

The association has been seeking to meet with the Irish Department of Transport and key ministers for some time to discuss support needed for travel agents in the coming months.

Agents are among the worst affected sector of small businesses in the country, receiving temporary support only.

Many travel agents faced huge financial pressure to stay open last year to handle travel refunds and rebookings with the ITAA warning that long-term aid is vital for the remainder of 2021.

 The association believes that the Irish Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), announced in October, is only useful on a short-term basis as weekly cash payments will have to be repaid by agents when travel begin to return to normal.

The ITAA claims that by excluding travel agents from CRSS under Level 3 restrictions in Ireland, the government has “blatantly discriminated” against the industry.

 ITAA chief executive Pat Dawson said: “The travel industry has been forced into lockdown for an indefinite period of time due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

“While we have had platitudes and promises from government, there have been no significant supports offered to keep travel agents afloat throughout the course of the pandemic.

“We still have to pay rents and salaries, as we are in the unique position where we had to remain open in order to provide day-to-day assistance to our customers.

“Some sectors have received tailor-made assistance and grants and we would like to see travel agents treated in the same way, as we are one of the sectors which have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.”

He added: “Our number one priority has always been the health and safety of our customers, our staff and our communities.

“We want to be responsible, follow medical advice and work with government to save lives, but we also need to preserve our businesses so that we can resume operations when it is safe to do so.

“We are calling on the government to make a clear decision on this, so that we can begin to rebuild our industry.”