Brexit and Ireland
written by Michael Smollen, Member of Libertas Editorial Team
The four-year soap opera of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is nearing its conclusion. As of 1st July 2020, no further extensions are legally possible and on 31st December 2020, the transition period ends and the United Kingdom will, as things currently stand, revert to third-country status. The implications of this on Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland and the border counties (Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth) are immense. Time and again the British Government have shown that agreements they have made mean nothing to them. The ‘Northern Ireland Protocol’, by which Northern Ireland continues to follow single market rules for goods and administers the EU’s customs code, has yet to be fleshed out with technical detail around issues such as customs, tax, VAT and animal products. If these technical details are not forthcoming – where does that leave the ‘Northern Ireland protocol’?
The history and sensitivity of the Border have been well documented since the Brexit referendum in June 2016. The Border, at present, is invisible with people, goods and services transiting from Dublin to Belfast, as seamlessly as they would from Dublin to Cork. The primary objective of the Government of Ireland has been to maintain this, and with the new Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party coalition, this aim will not change. For most in Ireland, including Ógra Fianna Fáil members, this is a fundamental issue. Fianna Fáil: The Republican Party’s primary stated objective is to secure the unity of Ireland and its people. Any physical infrastructure on the Island of Ireland would set back all of the progress created by leaders such as John Hume, David Trimble, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and enjoyed by all in Ireland.
Neither does anyone want barriers between Ireland and Great Britain. For unionist people, this is an issue of identity and there is no desire from any quarter to infringe upon that. For all others on the Island, cultural and economic links between Ireland and Great Britain are colossal. The damage a no-deal Brexit would do to the economies on both sides of the border would be devastating in isolation; when combined with the COVID-19 crisis, it would be nothing short of cataclysmic.
Irish citizenship law operates on an All-Ireland basis, and hence those born in NI are and will continue to be EU citizens. We need to support measures on an All-Ireland basis. We must ensure the continued availability of the Erasmus scheme to students in Ulster University and Queens University Belfast regardless of the situation in Great Britain. Ógra Fianna Fáil’s new Third Level Education Policy supports an ambitious proposal for a cross-border university combing Magee College in Derry (currently the poor relation of Ulster University) and Letterkenny Institute of Technology. This is already the most economically deprived region of Ireland (Ireland’s Northern & Western Region is a ‘Transition Region’, reflecting the continued decline of the region’s economy) and an area which will be further devastated by Brexit. European Union support and funding for this project would send a strong message to young EU citizens in Ireland that the European project works for them when they’re most in need, and that regardless of a British vote, they are still equal EU citizens.
There must also be a commitment from the European Regional Development Fund to continue PEACE funding beyond 2027 which is so vital to young people in Northern Ireland and Border counties is necessary. The projects already funded under the ERDF’s PEACE program have had huge success in uniting communities in Ireland. A commitment to continue to make available Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding to NI-based organisations regardless of the situation in Great Britain is also crucial to the economy on both sides of the border.
People’s lives in Ireland do not stop at the Border: people live in Fermanagh and work in Cavan and students commute from Donegal to Derry for university. The impact of harm from Brexit to Ireland will affect EU citizens on both sides of the border. At every opportunity, we must make clear to MEPs, to the European Commission and the European Council, that it is essential that Northern Ireland be treated as any other part of the EU beyond just a customs arrangement.
The European Union, ALDE Party, Renew Europe and LYMEC have been great friends of Ireland over the course of the last 4 years. As we approach the crescendo of Brexit, it is vital that the political and economic stability of Ireland is kept front and centre within LYMEC as we move towards the final leg of Brexit. Members of Ógra Fianna Fáil and Alliance Youth will be acutely aware of the damage that is to come. The solidarity for which LYMEC is renowned on so many issues is needed on our Island now more than ever.
About the author:
Michael Smollen is a member of Ógra Fianna Fáil. He works as a corporate finance professional in Dublin, he holds a BA (Hons) Accounting & Finance from Dublin City University and is based in Cavan, Ireland.