Brexit-Induced Fear And Discontent Growing Amongst Civic Nationalism

Niall Murphy, one of the leading figures behind the open letter from civic nationalism to An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, last December, has written an article on Eamonn Mallie’s site setting out in stark terms the detrimental consequences of Brexit for people living in Northern Ireland.

In particular, Murphy has picked up a parliamentary contribution from the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, which outlines specific examples of Brexit’s impact:

A Parliamentary response from Claude Juncker to Martina Anderson MEP last week, provided a dark insight into the abyss, into which we are staring as Irish citizens living in the north. Despite earlier commitments, recent UK and EU statements now point to Irish passport holders resident here being stripped of access to almost all active EU rights following BREXIT.

This would render Irish citizens here with only the same ‘dormant’ EU rights held by Irish citizens who live outside Europe. In effect, we would be on a par with Irish people living in New York, Canada or Australia, in terms of our Irish citizenship.

President Junker of the EU Commission in response to Martina Anderson noted that:

• The  north would no longer be in an EU member state,

• whilst Irish citizens would remain EU citizens, benefits from UK participation in EU programmes would end with BREXIT.

•  This position would leave Irish citizens here with access to almost none of the following EU rights:

1. Political rights to stand as and vote for MEPs; The right to vote for an MEP is normally tied into the member state of residency

2. Continued use of the European Health Insurance Card; Access to EHIC normally involves billing the health authorities in the EU member state of residence –e.g. the NHS.

3. Studying elsewhere and being able to avail of EU student fee rates.  Access to EU student fees rates normally requires residency in an EU member state for three of the previous five years;

So, without special arrangements, access in practice to these EU rights would be lost to Irish citizens resident here – unless of course they left and went to live somewhere else in the EU.

Practical Scenarios

In reality this means:

1. We will be disenfranchised. The democratic rights of us Irish and EU citizens in the north, include the right to direct representation in the European Parliament, which needs to be protected.  We must continue to lobby the Irish Government to ensure that right is protected by creating a mechanism for people in the north to continue to elect an MEP, i.e. by means of a single constituency.

2. If you are on holiday in France, and fall, you will not be able to access their Health Service without paying or having medical insurance. An elderly person requiring medical assistance such as dialysis will in effect be grounded, as they will not be able to obtain insurance.

3. If you have a child wanting to study in Trinity or UCD, you will have to pay. For example QUB undergraduate annual tuition fees for NI domiciled students are £3,925; the same figure is applied for EU students – whereas the figure for international students is between £13k (classroom based courses) and up to £34k for clinical medical courses. If you have a child aged under 16 today, who has ideas of studying in the south, as things stand they will be treated as a non EU national and will be charged accordingly as you must be resident in an EU state for 3 of the preceding 5 years so if Brexit happens next March 2019, a child now aged 16 won’t have the requisite 3 of 5 years to attend Trinity or UCD.

4. Other rights denied include the fact that the ability to take up work is dependent on mutual qualification recognition, which will leave with BREXIT. The right to be joined by family members (who are not EU/EEA nationals) are an inherent part of EU treaty rights to work and study, which also leave with BREXIT.

In his article, Murphy outlines his belief that the December correspondence from civic nationalists to An Taoiseach has had a positive impact upon the Irish government, and he lists the engagements that have subsequently taken place to support his contention.

Yet, as the crunch period of Brexit negotiations approaches, Murphy has highlighted a number of public utterances from leading British and Irish political figures to support the case for growing concern:

There are worrying signs of a U-turn on publicly expressed commitments in relation to Irish citizens in the north. The issue is only mentioned in the “NI section of the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement” in the non-binding preamble.

In April the UK BREXIT Minister declined to clarify which EU rights would be included in the arrangements, when asked by John Grogan MP at Westminster. At the same time the Tánaiste told the Oireachtas when asked by David Cullinane TD that the rights in question were not confirmed and needed further engagement.

Writing in The Journal.ie yesterday, Sinn Fein’s Brexit spokesperson, David Cullinane, was critical of the Irish government’s inability to hold to its stated position that the border issue needed to be decisively addressed by June. Cullinane proceeded to call for the Irish government to demand a stand alone Brexit summit addressing the Irish border issue prior to October, ending his article by stating the Sinn Fein position that a Brexit crash must lead to the Irish people being allowed to hold a unity referendum to provide the option of a future with the whole of the island remaining within the European Union.

Meanwhile, while Theresa May’s been getting Chequers ready for the Big Sleepover, the not-so-magnificent seven Brexiteer Ministers have been plotting strategy in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office…..