Friday 23 March 2018

'It's out of tune with what the majority of young people want'

John meagher hears from some of the 300,000 British people living in Ireland

'It's a backwards step': Elspeth Hanson has already started the process of becoming an Irish citizen. Photo: Frank Mc Grath.
'It's a backwards step': Elspeth Hanson has already started the process of becoming an Irish citizen. Photo: Frank Mc Grath.

Elspeth Hanson went to bed on Thursday, June 22, fully expecting to rise to the news that Britain had voted to remain a member of the EU. She woke to the sound of her husband, John, shouting from the living room that the unthinkable had happened - the Leave side had won.

"I just couldn't believe it," says Elspeth, a 30-year-old mother-of-one who has lived in Dublin for three years. "When I sent my postal vote the previous week, I imagined it would be a close result, but I never envisaged what happened happening."

The result, coupled with the antics of Nigel Farage and Ukip, has made her feel slightly embarrassed about her nationality. Now, something as simple as seeing a "produced in Great Britain" sticker on a tub of strawberries in the supermarket doesn't carry the sort of pride it used to.

"It's a backwards step that's particularly out of tune with what the majority of young British people want," she says. "It's not progressive and it's been extremely divisive, particularly when you look at how Scotland and Northern Ireland voted."

The overriding uncertainty in British politics over the past week has made her nervous for the future, one where the true ramifications may not be felt for many years.

"It's all up in the air," she says. "Most of my income is paid in sterling, so I've yet to see what that income will be."

At present, she is the music programmer of the Christian station Spirit FM and she is also a member of the well-known English crossover classical act Bond.

Since the vote, she has already begun the process to become an Irish citizen. The fact that she is married to an Irishman will expedite her case and she believes many more British people living in this country will do the same. Enjoying the sort of unfettered movement throughout the EU that she has been used to all her life will be a priority, and it saddens her that the people of her generation and the one coming after her will be denied this right.

Elspeth is one of almost 300,000 British people who live in the Republic, comfortably making them the largest nationality after the Irish here. It's also a figure that is higher than any other place in Europe, with the exception of Spain, which illustrates that movement between Ireland and the UK is not a one-way thing.

Ian Nunoo (32) moved to Dublin two years ago to set up his digital marketing company Base2Digital. He, too, voted Remain and has been reeling from the news. But the result, while a surprise, has not shocked him.

"Two months ago, I would have said there was no way the Leave side would win," he says, "but the gap kept getting closer and I was nervous before the vote.

"The impact of this is likely to be felt for years, and many of the older people who voted for it, on regaining our sovereignty grounds, or whatever, won't be around to see what its far-reaching effect will be. I would like to have 16 and 17-year-olds being given the vote because it's going to have an effect on them for 50 years."

Ian says in the wake of the vote that he feels fortunate to live and work in Ireland, especially as he finds the country to be so European in outlook.

"I think a lot of British people might look to move here," he says. "Being the only English-speaking country in the EU will be a huge advantage to Ireland."

He says he fears for the immediate future of his own country.

"There's so much uncertainty in both the main parties. We don't know who our next prime minister will be or what will happen in Labour. The rest of the world looks on and sees a country that's doesn't seem to know what to do with itself. Where's that famous British sense of resolve?"

Ian suggests that the listless manner in which England crashed out of the Euros, at the hands of minnows Iceland, is symptomatic of the unfortunate place the country finds itself in at present. Not all British residents in this country see Brexit as the disaster it's being portrayed in some quarters.

One 60-something Englishman who has lived in Co Wicklow for more than 20 years, but does not wish to be named, believes his country did the right thing.

"The EU was great for big business but what about the ordinary man or woman on the street?" he says.

"They felt no positive connection with the EU and probably saw it as something that didn't have their interests at heart. I think that's why there was such a strong 'No' vote in the north of England and in Wales. And, when you think about it, the EU wasn't exactly behind the ordinary citizens of this country when it came to bailing out the banks."

As this retiree has lived in Ireland for more than 15 years, he was not eligible to avail of a postal vote. Today, he says that he is dismayed that the narrative tars all those who wished to leave the EU as xenophobic.

"I have no time whatsoever for Farage and I think that [Ukip] poster [depicting a long line of immigrants] was disgusting. But just because Ukip supported leaving the EU, doesn't mean that those who also want Britain to go it alone should have been dissuaded. And only a small portion of those who voted 'No' would support Ukip - otherwise they would have swept into power during the last [general] election."

While he concedes that he will not be able to travel with quite the same ease as before, he points out that the situation where Irish and British people can travel freely between their two countries has long pre-dated EU membership.

"That will not change because the people of both countries stand to lose too much. We'll still be able to travel between here and Britain as easy as we always did - and only one country being in the EU doesn't change that."

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