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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Dating post Brexit 'You're telling me Ireland has got its own Prime Minister?'
Online dating is awkward enough without having to go into the history of Anglo-Irish relations, writes Peter Flanagan.

“YOU’RE TELLING ME Ireland has got its own Prime Minister?” a recent date asked me, genuinely baffled by the notion of Irish sovereignty. Online dating is awkward enough without having to go into the history of Anglo-Irish relations, and yet here we were. Then she shook her head.

“The problem with you Irish is that you think you’re special or something.” However ignorant, it should be noted that there was no malice in what she said. In fact, she seemed to really like Ireland, or the idea of it at least.

Rather, she was simply perplexed as to why Ireland would want to be separate from the United Kingdom in the first place.

English attitude towards the Irish

Winston Churchill once remarked “We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English”. These sentiments sum up the English attitude towards Ireland; Irish independence is viewed as a quirk of national character more so than a political reality, an eccentricity they entertain but do not fully understand.

There was a time when reflecting on British attitudes to Ireland could be dismissed as oversensitivity, but post-Brexit these attitudes are having real world consequences on everything from the visa status of Irish immigrants in the UK to the confusion currently playing out over the Irish border.

My personal experience of British ignorance towards their closest neighbours has not been limited to bad Bumble dates, I should probably point out.

Registering with my GP

My first encounter took place about two weeks after moving to London when I registered with my local GP.

“Where were you born?” the nurse asked me first, entering my details onto the system. “Dublin”. She paused. “Is that in Northern Ireland, or the South?” I tell her Dublin is in the South.

She pauses again, clearly struggling with the list of options on her computer screen. “Does that mean you’re…British?” she finally asks, half-apologetically. “No”, I answer. “I’m Irish.”

The lack of comprehension around the Irish border in the ongoing Brexit negotiations is easier to understand when viewed in this context. How could pro-Brexit politicians and their electorate not have foreseen that a hasty, improvised departure from the European Union would have serious implications for Northern Ireland and its relationship with the Republic?

The simple answer is; a majority of people voted to “take back” control of the UK’s borders without understanding where their borders actually are.

The Irish question

The impact of this cannot be underestimated. Those on the pro-Brexit side are getting increasingly frustrated with having to deal with the Irish question at all.

The former Brexit secretary David Davis infamously stated that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s “tough” stance on Brexit was influenced by Republicanism, while the Sun newspaper recently published an editorial advising Varadkar to “’shut his gob on Brexit and grow up” (the paper has previously suggested that Varadkar is being leaned on by Sinn Fein/IRA).

Brexit was supposed to be about national empowerment, and having to take Ireland seriously as an equal on the world stage was not part of the plan. Britain has dictated the terms of Ireland sovereignty since independence, but now Ireland is confidently asserting itself with the full weight of the European Union behind it, and some Tories are visibly unsettled by it.

Going away parties

Much of the confusion can probably be traced back to the Ireland Act, which the UK parliament passed in 1949 in response to the foundation of the Republic of Ireland. The act recognised that while Ireland was no longer a dominion of Britain, it would not be viewed as a foreign country under British law.

It has allowed emigrants like myself to live and work in the UK without a visa, and this status is guaranteed with or without EU membership. Friends of mine from places like France and Italy are not so lucky. Soon they will be required to apply for special ID cards if they wish to stay, and many would rather leave and feel like second class citizens.

It’s a feeling many emigrants will be familiar with; when you start attending more going away parties than welcome parties, you begin to wonder if it’s time you left too.

Peter Flanagan is an Irish comedian and writer.

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