It seems that following the dark cloud of the Brexit referendum, Britain doesn’t have many friends in Europe. However, Ken Sweeney believes that Ireland, once Britain’s greatest enemy, is now a close ally of those in the UK who wish to remain in the EU.
I’ve never been a fan of nationalism, even though it is quite strong in my country. I am an ardent supporter of a greater union of people rather than a collection of countries facing each other off in the name of culture and heritage. Considering our past, being Irish for a large part of our history was trying to hold on to our heritage in face of an ever hardening colonialism by the first the English and then the British. So, to be fair, it is understandable that many people in my country have quite strong feelings about both the British and any loss of Irish sovereignty. However, I believe our nationalism is different to the nasty type of racial uproar that seems to be gaining strength across Europe and in particular, Britain. We in Ireland tend to use our nationalism as a form of resistance rather than some kind of superiority complex, so we don’t have this idea of closing our borders and being Irish with the Irish. We have embraced the idea of the EU and even when it seemed that we were getting an atrocious deal by the Troika following our financial crash and subsequent recession in 2008, our feelings about membership have not got to the unreal stage of where Britain finds itself now.
There is no denying that there are a number of Irish citizens who would favour leaving the EU but they are not a large contingent of the population. And if that portion of our citizens were in any potential position to influence a possible opportunity to leave the EU, the deplorable state that the United Kingdom is in now in has dashed any hope of an Irish EU exit.
Ireland will be the EU state most affected by Brexit. Our border is the only land border between Britain and the EU. Also, our export market has an enormous percentage of its sales in the UK with exports in 2015 accounting for €13.7 billion. Now there is no doubt that exports to other EU states, in particular Belgium which was worth €14.5 billion in 2015, are increasing year by year, but traditionally our business relationship with Britain is enormous. We also have a unique arrangement with the UK as a result of our long association as a colony of the British Empire. It is called the Common Travel Area which is an open borders area comprising of Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. This agreement is older than any EU arrangement and is one of the reasons that Ireland and Britain are not in Schengen. So far, Brexit will not affect this agreement and we will still have free movement between both states. As a result of the Belfast agreement of 1998, the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is a fully open border. It is the wish of almost everybody on the island of Ireland that this remains the case, but nobody is quite sure how this can be achieved if freedom of movement is not retained by Britain. Overall, there will be a lot of complicated issues to be resolved, but it is my hope that whatever the outcome of Brexit, our relationship with Britain will not be damaged.
And this is why.
Despite the fact that throughout the last 700 hundred years the people of Ireland have been in a struggle with the leadership of Britain, today the situation is very different. There may still be some animosity, but it is shrinking at an incredible rate. My hope is that we here in Ireland will continue to strive to improve our relationship with Britain and one day all of the past will be in the past.
I hope I speak for a majority when I say that the people of Ireland fully support those who wish to remain as citizens of the European Union. We love our arrangements, our agreements, our sharing of culture, sport and arts. We love the same food, the same TV, the music and the same fashion. The Great British Bake off, Strictly Come Dancing and the X-Factor are all as exciting for us as they are for you.
Like it or not, all of us in Ireland and Britain are closer than we sometimes want to admit. Nobody cares if some of us can’t name all our counties, or find Thurles and Stoke on a map. It’s about sharing the same values and that’s where we are bonded. So for those of you who feel that you are being ignored by the people of the EU, I have a message. When it comes to Ireland, we are not ignoring your pleas and we want to let you know that we fully support you.
And to the people of the remain campaign, I say this. Take a leaf out of Irish history and keep up the fight; don’t give in to the lies and deceit of those who wish to destroy our friendship and above all, be proud of your heritage and don’t let it become a beacon of hate.
Neart trí aontacht!
(Strength through unity!)