Friday 28 April 2017

‘Everyone’s queuing for an Irish passport, but I am getting my children British ones’

Fiona Ness on why she's keen for her children to have an opportunity to be a part of Britain after the referendum's result.

Fiona Ness: 'There remains quite a few good things about Britain and I want my children to have the opportunity to be part of it'
Fiona Ness: 'There remains quite a few good things about Britain and I want my children to have the opportunity to be part of it'

Fiona Ness

This week, as the five million people living in UK who can claim Irish ancestry form a queue for an Irish passport on the back of Brexit, I will head quietly in the opposite direction, applying for British passports for my children.

I am a Scot, living and working in Ireland for the past 19 years. I am a British citizen (technically, a ‘subject’) married to an Irishman with whom I have three Irish children. The children have Irish names, Irish passports and the beginnings of the Irish language. They play GAA, shout ‘Up Cork’ at Croker, and cheer for Ireland in the Six Nations. They aren’t aware of it, but they do it all with quite discernible Scottish accents. It’s a small victory for the away team.

The children do not identify with my native country and yet here I am, deaf to the sound of my husband’s foot going down, and determining to rubber-stamp the Britishness they never knew they had. Why?

Call it intellectual arrogance or willing disbelief, but I never entertained the thought that Britain would vote to leave the EU on June 23, that it would become more inconvenient for me to bring my family ‘home’. 

The Leave campaign, like the Scottish Yes campaign during the 2014 Independence Referendum, had fashioned itself as the voice of the marginalised; but how many British people actually felt marginalised by Europe? The very place that was funding new playgrounds for the forgotten children of our inner cities and regenerating the wasteland that had subsumed our heavy industries? The place from where our ageing population with its falling birth rates was being replenished by a wave of young, pension-pot-paying immigrants?

But now that Britain has voted out, my sense of horror at the catastrophic error is morphing into a rosy resurgence of nationhood. There remains, after all, quite a few good things about Britain, and I want my children to have the opportunity to be part of it. Not Absolutely Fabulous Britishness but the NHS, its third-level education system (where you can meet and marry a prince!), its social-security system and its safe, stable and active democracy.

In short, Her Majesty’s passport does bestow some benefits worth valuing — even if it does cost every person in the UK 62p a year to keep her in the job. And once the turbulence of the vote and the mind-numbing negotiations with Europe have subsided, Britain will still be a place with a valuable employment market, where my children, if they need to go there, won’t have to jump through hoops for a visa.

And you have to have a smidgen of sympathy for the downtrodden who voted out as a misguided means of improving their economic position.

“If only governments had spent on the working-class communities and fostered the left-behinds with some hope,” said one of my Scottish friends, who was an In voter during Indyref. “A lot of folk made the decision drunk on fear and now sober, most are realising they’ve made a bed with xenophobes and lurched the country further to the right.”

It’s an eminently sensible opinion, yet in the past week I’ve watched from afar as families and friends have spat bile at each other over eminently sensible opinions. Britain, in the wake of the vote, is tearing itself apart. Old people don’t count. People who haven’t been to university are stupid. Anyone who votes leave is anti-immigration and racist. The youth have been sacrificed (the youth who didn’t bother to vote). People voted remain because they hate the Tories. People voted leave because they hate the Tories. Votes decided by hate on both sides.

For another of my friends, who campaigned for the leave side, it was about her vote counting. She is abhorred that 60pc of the laws passed through the British Parliament last year were dictated by the European Commission — “an unelected and unaccountable body”.

“When I started voting, I was so excited that my vote counted,” she said. “It was not important just 40pc of the time but 100pc of the time. I want to live in a country where my seven-year-old daughter can believe that her vote will count.”

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