Britain - our sister island dining at the EU table - needs us now more than ever before
Published 25/06/2016 | 02:30
Whatever our political views, surely any Irish person with a scintilla of the rebel streak must have some respect for the sheer cussedness, stubbornness and defiance of the almost 52pc of the British electorate who voted to leave the EU - despite all the big cheeses who tried to boss, bully and nag them not to do so?
The British public were told to vote 'Remain'" by the President of the United States, the head of the IMF, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Confederation of British Industries, the TUC, the House of Lords, the Church of England, the Church of Rome, eight former US Treasury Secretaries, the Secretary-General of NATO, the chief executives of the top hundred UK businesses, a hundred leading economists, historians and scientists, Greenpeace, the Director of Europol, Kofi Annan, Stephen Hawking, David Beckham and Bob Geldof, (not to mention Enda Kenny, along with all the other EU prime ministers and of course all the top officials in Brussels).
And still, the majority told the whole bunch of this world elite to get lost. It may be foolish; it may turn out to be catastrophic, even. But by heaven, it was brave.
How will it affect the Irish in Britain? We were immediately assured that any EU citizens already resident in the UK will see no change whatsoever to their status. There will be no difference in the free movement of people between Britain and Ireland for the foreseeable future - and probably never.
We have been in a parallel situation before. When Ireland left the British Commonwealth in October 1948, Fine Gael Taoiseach John A Costello walked out of a Commonwealth conference in Canada and declared Ireland would no longer be part of the Commonwealth of Nations - there was deep concern about how this would affect Anglo-Irish relations.
King George VI (pictured), was personally very upset, and said plaintively to the Irish diplomatic envoy John Dulanty: "Must you leave the family?"
The British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was privately furious and considered the idea of making Irish immigrants to Britain "aliens". But, within a short time, ruffled feelings were calmed, and special bi-lateral arrangements were put in place to ensure Irish people in Britain would have free movement in jobs, services and even voting rights (and British people in Ireland would have an entitlement to be employed, and to settle, though not to vote.)
Since, as we are constantly told, the British and Irish economies, cultures, and family connections are so intertwined, it is almost certain a similar arrangement will be put in place now. Britain, as a state, needs Ireland, perhaps as never before - the sister island that will still be at the EU table.
Were most Irish people in Britain in favour of remaining? Anecdotally, it seemed to me as though the voting profile was rather similar among the Irish in Britain as among the general population.
That's to say, young (and successful) Irish people with jobs in London seemed to be, usually, ardent Remainers. There was a strong Irish presence at the vigil held for the murdered Yorkshire MP Jo Cox, who was campaigning for Remain.
But some older Irish people who had seen their parts of London change so dramatically over the past 40 years (and experienced the enormous escalation in housing costs, as well as the population pressure on schools) often seemed less enthusiastic towards the EU and its open doors.
In the West Midlands, where the Labour MP Gisela Stuart led such a successful campaign for 'Leave', and in parts of Lancashire, such as Burnley and Oldham, the Irish vote which so traditionally went to Labour seems to have decisively joined the 'Leave' trend.
In the Sunderland, Tyneside and Durham area of the North East England, people of Irish backgrounds are as critical of the EU's impact on fisheries as most residents there - Grimsby has been wiped out by the fisheries policy.
But of course, there was an awareness of the impact on Ireland itself. I am sure that, going to the ballot box, many Irish people in Britain, or even those with Irish parents, thought of the effect on Ireland, and particularly on the border with the North.
I can think of individuals with Irish backgrounds who changed their minds and reluctantly came to the decision to vote 'Remain', simply for Ireland's sake.
And yet, there has also been conversation among us that the outcome could have an upside for Ireland.
As Michael Noonan himself has suggested, it's possible that many of the big City of London banks and money traders could move to Dublin. Ireland is in the uniquely opportune position of being the only English-speaking country in the EU, and must surely assume much greater importance within the Union.
There has already been a steady increase in applications for Irish passports, which is an indication of how valuable Irish citizenship may now become.
It might even pave the way towards a United Ireland - or at least, a more united Ireland.
It is a hugely historic moment - we are all aware of that. But what a challenge. What exciting times.