Saturday 21 April 2018

'This might just be the push for us to move back home'

The last wave of Irish immigrants arrived in London in the wake of the 2008 crash. With Britain's financial markets in turmoil, Joe O'Shea finds some considering leaving while others prepare to ride out the storm

State of flux: Food blogger Niamh Shields plans to stay in south London, which she considers
State of flux: Food blogger Niamh Shields plans to stay in south London, which she considers "home".

For the huge numbers of Irish living and working in the UK, the initial shock has passed. Now come the big questions and decisions.

The Brexit earthquake and its continuing aftershocks are impacting on everything in their lives - the economy, the future for themselves and their families, and the kind of country and society they live in.

The latest wave of Irish emigrants, those who left in search of a better future in the years after the crash in 2008 and boosted the number of Irish citizens here to almost half a million, were estimated to be four-out-of-five in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.

But there was a generation gap, a strong feeling among the older Irish, those who came in the decades up to the early 1990s, that high immigration and multiculturalism were wrong for the England they themselves arrived in during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

So what happens next? With talk of recession in the UK and major banks, financial and service tech companies said to be eyeing a move to the only English-speaking country still within the EU, could we see a big trend towards return?

Seamus Conwell is 25, from Mayo and working as a producer for the international news organisation CNBC in London. He says he feels he is in a minority amongst the young Irish in London.

"I think I'm in a minority because I'm not totally freaking out," says Seamus. "I was watching the football with some friends over the weekend and there was a lot of, 'Oh my God! This is Armageddon! How do we get out?'

"And it's understandable, the Irish here are very strongly pro-EU, they probably knew it was going to be close but they didn't really think it was going to happen. And the initial reaction has been shock and a bit of panic.

"But this is going to take a few years. We don't know how it's going to work and we don't know what the long-term effects are going to be. I love living and working in London. I'm not sure if my long-term future is here, you do think about going home at some stage, but I'm very happy to stay here and I believe the economy will stay strong," he says.

Niamh Shields is the foodie and writer behind the very popular Eat Like A Girl blog, which she started in London in 2007.

Originally from Dungarvan in Waterford, but living and working in South London, Niamh says she is "still in a state of shock and very sad" about the Leave side's victory.

"We've seen already what it's done to the economy, but I think the ­damage will go much deeper," she says.

"It will really affect the younger generation, their chances and opportunities. And we're already seeing a lot of racism, a lot of anger and I think it's going to get worse when the people who voted to keep immigrants out and fund the NHS realise they have been lied to.

"I was talking to an Irish friend today, she's been here since the mid-80s, and she said it's the first time she's felt wary about being Irish, about people hearing her accent, since the IRA stopped their bombing. And she's a very balanced person, but she is just very shook up."

Niamh says she intends to continue living in London, a city she "loves" and now considers home.

"I just hope that people stand up to the racism. I've lived in the UK for a long time and I know they are very right-minded people, they believe in justice and fairness and they won't stand for this terrible rise in bigotry".

The immediate shocks to the economy that came in the wake of the Brexit vote have thrown a lot of people off balance and added to the general sense of confusion and foreboding.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, who saw shares in his airline take a 23pc dive in the days after the vote, has said his airline will not invest further in new routes or aircraft in the UK next year, but will concentrate on the EU instead.

Seb O'Driscoll may not be at O'Leary's level (yet) but the young Corkman, who owns the Six Yard Box Sportsbar in Elephant & Castle, has been very involved in Europe recently, running a pop-up, giant-screen outdoor bar and viewing area for Euro 2016.

Seb has been in London for almost a decade, and while he admits to being "really shocked" by the result, he's not going into full-on panic mode just yet.

"What was really weird, is that you realise you live in a bubble, on social media, with your friends, you're just having your beliefs reinforced all of the time, I really didn't think the vote would go that way," he says.

"But I see people saying there should be another referendum, and I can't go along with that. It's democracy, you can't complain when you are on the losing side, you just have to accept it".

Seb says a lot of his Irish friends have had a lot to think about in the days since the vote.

"People are worried about a recession, about what happens next. A lot of the Irish here came after the crash in 2008 - in a way, they've seen a lot of this before, so I think they can make sense of it, rationalise it.

"I was talking to a guy who runs a bar and a cinema near us. He's English but his wife is from Belfast, and he was saying this might be the trigger for them now, they're thinking of selling up and moving to Leitrim.

"It could be a trigger for myself and my partner. We've talked about moving on in a few years. If there is a bad recession, if the UK does come out of Europe, it might be the push it would take for us to move on".

Seb, like a lot of young Irish in England, is now waiting to see what happens next, hoping for the best but concerned about the future under Brexit. As the Cork bar-owner says, for the Irish in the UK, it's now a case of "brace for impact".

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