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Brexit: The Irish Perspective

, by Mathilde Helleu, translated by Julia Aniśko

The withdrawal of Great Britain from the EU has unexpected consequences for Ireland.

Enda Kenny, Irish Taoiseach, spoke out for a Referendum on the reunion of Ireland. © European People’s Party/ Flickr/ CC 2.0-Lizenz

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Already in 1923, long before the creation of the EU and the Schengen area, Ireland and the UK signed an agreement on the free movement of persons. After the Referendum on 23 June, it is, however, unclear whether the free movement of goods and passengers between the two countries will remain in the future. New limitations can have a negative impact on the Irish economy, as 16% of exports go to Belfast or the UK.

Northern Ireland for “Remain”

A further ambiguity has arisen through the vote of Northern Ireland. While the British voted for Brexit as a whole, the situation in Northern Ireland looked different. 56% of the voters were here for “Remain”. According to a clause of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, “the British and Irish population recognize the legitimacy of any free decision of the Northern Irish people as to its status as to whether it continues to support unification with Great Britain or a sovereign United Ireland”. This peace agreement put an end to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, which had claimed more than 3600 victims. Politics from both sides have reaffirmed the validity of the Good Friday Agreement following the Brexit decision and have rejected a rigid border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Prime Minister Theresa May has made it clear that peace and stability in Northern Ireland is “one of the priorities of (her) government”. Raymond McCord, who advocates the rights of the victims of the Irish conflict, has legally demanded for the compatibility of the breach with the 1988 agreement.So far no decision has been made.

After the Brexit decision, countless applications for Irish passports arrived at the central post office in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The office had to close temporarily due to the large inflow. Who was born on Irish territory or if a parent came from Ireland, can apply for Irish citizenship. About six million people with Irish ancestors are said to live in the UK. Since the Brexit decision, around 4000 applications per day have been received in the Irish embassy in London, before only 200.

A Referendum in Ireland?

The Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has spoken out for a referendum on Irish reunification, a bold proposal that could go into Irish history. According to the Taoiseach, the first clause of the 1998 agreement could be reached, according to which the Northern Irish population is free to decide on its affiliation and that, according to paragraph 4, this decision must be accepted by both governments. Kenny takes as a historical example the former German Democratic Republic, which joined after the reunification of the EU. Thus, Northern Ireland could join the EU as the new countries would have done without navigating through a lengthy process of admission.

While the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been engaged in a peace process since 1998, tensions are still noticeable. Therefore, it is legitimate that the Irish question is considered separately in the Brexit negotiations. Nevertheless, the majority of EU Member States would have to agree to such a compromise.

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