McAleese warns of Brexit dangers for Irish in the UK
Former president Dr Mary McAleese has warned that a vote for Brexit in the UK could have serious consequences not only for the Irish economy, but also for the Irish living in Britain.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night following a talk hosted by a number of Irish groups in Britain, Dr McAleese stressed the anti-immigration emphasis of the Leave campaign could, in the event of a Brexit, result in new immigration controls with implications for those Irish who recently emigrated to Britain.
"If there was a Brexit, new immigration controls would be regarded as a priority and if that were the case, I don't know what the situation of the Irish in Britain would be and nor does anybody at this moment. We cannot tell if their position would be safe," she said.
"Would the Common Travel Area agreement be reversed? That might be the case."
Dr McAleese, who has been living in London since last January as she lectures at the city's St Mary's College, also expressed alarm over the impact of Brexit on the Border between the North and the Republic.
She said that many of those in favour of Brexit - when confronted by concerns about the impact on the Border and the 400,000 jobs that are dependent on trade between Ireland and Britain - were not able to give "sustainable reassurances" on the likely fallout.
She said this was because they just didn't know what the consequences would be.
Referring to comments made by the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, Dr McAleese said a British exit from Europe could cause the relationship between Ireland and Britain to "drift". "I don't believe we can afford a drift in those relationships because they are at the best they have ever been, but like all relationships they need ongoing work."
She said the two countries' common membership of the EU had helped to build up trust in their relationship and had created the space for the peace process.
If Brexit does happen then Ireland would become the only land border between the UK and the EU and that would have implications for trade and tourism and "a huge impact" on those who live along the Border.
"The visibility of that Border would just send all the wrong messages in relation to where we are trying to go and what we are trying to achieve," she said.
Meanwhile, the North's six Catholic bishops also warned yesterday that any new Border controls would severely disrupt the lives of those living in the area.
They also cautioned against arguments which reduce the "wide-ranging benefits of EU membership to a single calculation of net economic gain or loss".