Kitty Walsh, BA History and World Philosophies
Since Britain voted to leave the European Union in the summer of 2016, applications for Irish passports have skyrocketed. Prior to June’s referendum, the number of applications averaged approximately 46,000 in 2015, a figure that doubled to 81,000 in 2017 and is predicted to increase. One in five of the total number of applications received is from the UK.
Though the effects of the Brexit deal will pertain to Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, the Republic of Ireland is an independent country and will remain within the EU when Britain leaves. An Irish passport allows one to retain EU membership and visa-free travel. To be eligible, one must either have been born in Ireland or have parents or grandparents who were Irish citizens. Approximately 10% of the UK population (excluding Northern Ireland) are eligible for an Irish passport.
The most likely cause of this sudden spike is the desire of many UK citizens to retain EU citizenship. Dozens of how-to articles on how to obtain an Irish passport have emerged since the referendum. In one article, the Independent urged its readers to accept the high cost of a successful application as it is “a small price to pay” to receive all of the benefits of EU citizenship.
“this marks a watershed moment in terms of Anglo-Irish relations”
Some have welcomed the figures on the grounds that this marks a watershed moment in terms of Anglo-Irish relations that have previously been coloured by their long, colonial history. The Republic of Ireland was under British rule until the War of Independence and the
signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921. Northern Ireland, remaining a part of Britain, witnessed heavy political warfare during the period known as the Troubles, which came to an end in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
Neale Richmond, chairman of the Brexit committee, spoke to Sky News stating there is a “new wave of people reconnecting with their Irish heritage, our post-Brexit UK-Irish relations can be built on a strong, connected, diaspora”. Even Ian Paisley, the Northern Irish MP and Brexit supporter, urged his Twitter followers the day after the vote to apply, “my advice is if you are entitled to a second passport then take one.”
The news of the figures was not unanimously well received, however. Amanda Coakley wrote for the Irish Times that “citizenship of my country should be more than a flag of convenience for the Brits,” urging those seeking passports to base their decision on Irish cultural heritage rather than utility alone.
It is expected that the relationship between Britain and Ireland will continue to occupy the spotlight in 2019, with the debate hinging around the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Currently, the border is open and allows for free travel as established in the Good Friday Agreement. Brexiteers, however, are hard-pressed to find a way to preserve the open border while simultaneously instituting ‘hard’ borders between the UK and EU countries.
Image Credit: RTE