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'Made to feel foreign even more than during the Troubles': Concerns of Irish citizens living in Brexit UK

Irish nationals living in the UK reached out to the embassy in London for advice this year on what will happen post-Brexit.

The Irish embassy in London
The Irish embassy in London
Image: Google Maps

IRISH CITIZENS LIVING in the UK have expressed fears over where they will stand after Brexit, with some expressing doubts that the British government would be able to provide the clarity and answers they sought.

With uncertainty over Brexit persisting right through the year, many concerned Irish citizens reached out to the embassy in London to clarify their rights after the UK leaves the EU. 

One such email sent to the embassy remarked how there’d been a marked change towards Irish people since the Brexit vote that was more akin to how citizens were treated in Britain during the Troubles. 

In many cases, the response from the embassy was to assure people that no matter what form Brexit takes, they should retain their right to live and work in Britain after 29 March 2018.

It’s been a busy year for the embassy in London, as it continues to issue tens of thousands of Irish passports to those eligible to receive one. Since the Brexit vote, applications for passports have increased sharply.

After issuing 65,678 Irish passports through the London embassy last year, a further 47,217 were issued in the year to the end of September.

Indeed a number of correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act include those with Irish grandparents who were seeking to know if they were eligible for an Irish passport. 

As well as issuing passports to those who qualify for an Irish one, the embassy has also fielded queries from concerned Irish citizens about the fallout from Brexit. 

In all, the Irish Embassy in London received correspondence from 82 Irish people based in the UK, who expressed their concerns and fears over where they’d stand post-Brexit.

From students recently arrived asking about their own status to those who’d lived in Britain for decades, people were keen to understand if and how their rights would be affected when the UK leaves the EU.

One wrote: “I have been receiving updates from the UK home office with regards EU citizens living in the UK, the advice given excludes Irish citizens – as such I’m none the wiser of my status in the UK. Can you provide any guidance?”

With the subject line “the diaspora and Brexit?”, one person wrote:

A chairde, How will the Brexit affect long-term Irish citizens in England who are retired but have never taken out UK citizenship because we thought we were in the inclusive EU family of nations. The generation to which I belong started our working lives in the new post-war inclusive EU in the 70s, but we are now feeling, and being made to feel, foreign even more than during the Troubles, more like the old Irish Paddies exiles of yore or our eastern European cousins of today?

Correspondence included a doctor who was born in Ireland, has an Irish passport, but has been an NHS doctor for 25 years. This person was asking if they should seek “settled status” or UK citizenship. 

This was echoed by a number of people who were unsure if they should seek “settled status” so they could stay in the UK. 

One woman wrote: “I’m an Irish passport holder but have lived in the UK for 38 years. Will I need to apply for settled status due to Brexit? I have been married to an English man for 36 years, gold help me *smiley face*.”

Another was planning to visit New Zealand during the period that Britain leaves the EU in March and was worried they wouldn’t be able to allowed back into the UK when they got back. 

One wrote: “Hi there, just wondering whether you will be providing advice to Irish in GB on how to prepare for hard/no deal Brexit (e.g banking, property rights, voting, healthcare, travel etc.)? No confidence in UK impartiality and preparedness.”

What they get sent back

In the majority of cases, the response was to direct people to this lengthy section of the Department of Foreign Affairs website that seeks to answer a variety of questions, with a tone of reassurance:

There will be no changes during this period or for the foreseeable future to the entitlement to Irish passports including for people born on the island of Ireland, and for those persons who were born outside Ireland but have Irish-born parents or grandparents. There is no urgent need therefore for UK passport holders (whether based in the UK or elsewhere) to look into applying for an Irish passport at this time.

This page also seeks to assure Irish citizens in the UK that they do not need to apply for “settled” status in Britain after Brexit.

The response to concerned citizens is to also direct them toward signing up for the “Government Brexit update” email, which has been published at irregular intervals over the past few years to try to keep people up to speed with the latest developments.

Lastly, it suggests to people to follow the Department of Foreign Affairs and Merrion Street on Twitter. 

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Sean Murray

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