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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Double-digit growth in Irish tourism ground to a halt in the first quarter, official data showed on Thursday, as a weak pound kept British visitors at home.

The number of visitors grew just 0.6 percent in the quarter from the same period last year, the central statistics office reported. That was down from growth of almost 17 percent in 2016 and 14 percent in 2015 during the same quarter, when a weak euro helped tourism reach record highs.

The number of visitors from Britain fell 6.5 percent in the three months to March, the first drop in the quarter since 2010.

"This provides an indication of the challenge the Irish tourism industry is facing following Great Britain's decision to leave the European Union," Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross said in a statement.

Ireland is widely regarded as the European Union member with the most to lose from Britain's decision to leave the EU. It depends on trade with Britain, and it shares a land border with Northern Ireland, part of Britain.

The pound has plunged since the vote to leave the EU last June, and industry groups said that was discouraging Britons from travelling. At the same time, it was making Britain cheaper to visit, turning it into a stronger competitor for tourism.

Uncertainty around Brexit also appeared to be curbing spending by British consumers, they said.

Tourism group Failte Ireland said the fact that Easter was in the second quarter may also have affected the numbers. But it still described the drop as concerning and urged the industry to cut costs and target other international markets.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries, editing by Larry King)

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