Northern Ireland is a complicated place, defined by radical fissures between Catholics and Protestants. Because of this troubled history, it is a place that is not easily discussed without substantial geographic and cultural knowledge.
Occupying the Northeastern part of the island of Ireland, the area is part of the U.K, not the country of Ireland. Northern Ireland is back on our radar because of Brexit, the vote that means the U.K. is in the process of getting a divorce from the E.U.. Meanwhile, Ireland is still a E.U. country that has no plans of exiting. Because of this unique political situation, Brexit inadvertently may have just set the stage for Irish reunification.
While you probably haven’t heard Northern Ireland mentioned since the peace talks in the 1990’s, today it’s back in the news because of Brexit. Back then, when what they called “sectarian violence” was still a massive problem in that part of the world, places like Belfast and Derry were places that were recognized by everyday Americans. You might also know that the DeLorean and the Titanic are probably the most famous products that were built in Northern Ireland.
The Cranberries hit song Zombie permanently imprinted the ongoing problems on the Emerald Isle in our heads with a catchy tune. For the past two decades, Northern Ireland has been peaceful, but the dream of Irish reunification has always been in the back of many people’s minds.
Interestingly, anyone born on the island of Ireland is entitled to Irish citizenship. That’s right, everyone regardless of religion who’s born in Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., can still claim Irish nationality. That means any Northern Irish person can remain an European Union citizen even though their country is exiting the soon-to-be 27-nation bloc.
This creates a very interesting situation in light of Brexit. After the news broke that the U.K. was leaving the E.U., Irish post offices, embassies and consulates have been inundated with passport requests from British citizens. So much so that the Irish Foreign Minister has appealed to the public to “stop rushing for passports.” This trend may just be the beginning because millions of British people of Irish ancestry can qualify for an Irish passport.
The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland once had checkpoints. Today, it’s wide open and it’s largely unnoticeable when you pass from the Republic of Ireland into the U.K. It’s anyone’s guess if that may change once the two countries are no longer in the same political and economic union.
Furthermore, some people fear that peace in the region is still more fragile than people think, and that a disruption of the status quo could be devastating. Time magazine wrote this morning: “Membership of the E.U. has helped suppress desires for the unification of Ireland.” Now, Irish nationalism could see a massive renaissance, especially if Scotland decides to seek its independence.
The predicament in Northern Ireland is one of many challenges that are emerging in the wake of Brexit. Look for many more convoluted policy predicaments in the U.K as the country paves the way for a permanent separation from the E.U.
David is the Editor of Bold. He's especially passionate about millennial economic empowerment. A former local news reporter, David is originally from the Little Havana area in Miami, and later became a pioneer resident of the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, Florida. David holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.