Fluid Citizenship

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By 2017-12-07

By Padraig Colman

The concept of dual nationality is currently generating some discussion in the Sri Lankan media. My nationality is somewhat flexible. I was born in England, I have an Irish passport, and I have chosen Sri Lanka as my home. Although the country of my birth is leaving the EU, I will still have an EU passport.

One of the consequences of the peace treaty of 1922 was that citizens of the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) were automatically citizens of the United Kingdom. Citizens of Northern Ireland (part of the UK) were automatically citizens of the Republic of Ireland. People from Northern Ireland can have Irish passports and run for political office in the Republic.

Thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland came to an uneasy halt with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Nobody won the war, but both sides could claim they had not lost.

Constructive Ambiguity

The nationalists in Northern Ireland could say that their struggle had entered a new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The Constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up any territorial claim of Northern Ireland.

New Ireland

Over the decades, Ireland became a progressive modern State making positive contributions to the UN and the EU, while remaining detached from NATO. What was once a totalitarian State dominated by the Catholic Church has become a secular society because of the church's horrendous record of child abuse.

A few years ago, I met a visiting delegation in Colombo from the Irish Development Authority. The leader of the delegation admitted that 'the wheels of the bicycle had come off' after the 2008 downturn, but thought there was hope for recovery. His optimism was justified. Before the crash, Ireland hosted the European headquarters of many of the major multinational IT and pharmaceutical corporations. In the future, Ireland could take over much of the financial business that the UK will lose by not being part of the EU.

Ireland did not have an empire and tended to export rather than import labour. In 1979, 93 per cent of the population was born in Ireland. Someone told me that when he visited Ireland in the 1960s on a camping holiday with a Nigerian friend there was a gang of urchins outside the tent every morning asking "is the black fella coming out today?" There were not many black faces in Ireland in the old days. Because of the country's economic success and its enthusiastic participation in the EU, many immigrants gave Ireland a try. Now, 17 per cent of the population was born outside Ireland. There are Polish shops in Cobh now, and Polish homeless in Dublin, Polish suicides. Brazilians have been found dead in peat bogs. There are Estonian lap-dancers in Cork City.
The current Prime Minister of Ireland is Leo Varadkar. His father was born in Mumbai. The Prime Minister is gay. In 2015, Ireland became the first country to introduce same-sex marriage by referendum—62 percent voted in favour.

Brexit Break-Up

David Cameron in his foolishness undermined the fragile peace in Ireland by calling a referendum, which resulted in the UK leaving the EU. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was extremely porous even when policed by tanks and armoured cars, illuminated by watch towers and searchlights. That border was dismantled in the cause of peace. How will it be reconstructed in the cause of Brexit? The border, non-existent today, will be the new land border between the UK and the EU. The delicate web of compromises and fudging that brought peace could be destroyed.

On Monday, 4 December 2017, it looked as though the EU, Ireland and the UK were reaching a consensus on the border. An agreement was stymied by the DUP, which is propping up Theresa May's Government. The DUP Leader, Arlene Foster said: "We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the UK. The economic and constitutional integrity of the UK must not be compromised in any way."

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