In divided Northern Ireland, Brexit vote sows uncertainty
BELFAST, United Kingdom — The Brexit vote has sown uncertainty in the still divided communities of Belfast, where memories of the conflict that tore the province apart for three decades are all too raw.
Many nationalists, who support a united Ireland and do not regard themselves as British, are concerned about a return to Westminster rule minus the counterbalancing influence of Brussels.
“I would definitely now vote for a united Ireland because then we’d be part of the European Union –- nobody trusts an English government,” said Marion Connolly, 25.
While Britain overall voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the European Union, Northern Ireland voted by 56 to 44 to remain, putting it in the same situation as mostly pro-EU Scotland.
Within hours of the vote, the Sinn Fein party said the result justified its long-standing demand for a vote on uniting British-ruled Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.
The party is part of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing local government, which was formed as part of the 1998 Good Friday agreement to heal a conflict in which 3,500 people were killed.
Ahead of the vote, there were warnings from the “Remain” camp that leaving the European Union could create instability in the province and therefore undermine the hard-fought peace.
Gerard McKenna, 26, said it was “a little bit of a turbulent time to do it”.
“There is a possibility that they’ll end up stoking up violence here again,” he said.
Visa for the zoo?
Sean McIlreavy, 60, a nationalist who works with victims of the conflict known as The Troubles said he was more concerned about the future of many of the projects he deals with.
Sitting in a cafe soaking up the relatively rare sunshine, he said: “Community groups rely totally on EU funding and there is no prospect of a right-wing Tory government hell-bent on austerity continuing to give us money.”
“These are worrying times,” he said.
Gabriel Fields, 42, who works in the financial services industry, said he was particularly concerned about the economic impact of the vote.
“We have always been at the periphery of Europe but now we are at the periphery of a country that is on the periphery of Europe,” he said.
Charlie Thompson, a 19-year-old tour guide, worried that the travel restrictions mooted to curb immigration would also have a negative effect people living in Northern Ireland.
“What happens if I want to go to Dublin Zoo for the day, will I need a visa?” he asked.
“The answer is that nobody knows or can say right now.”
‘Controlled by Germany’
Pro-British Chloe Reeves, 17, is too young to vote but said she would have chosen to “Leave”.
She said Northern Ireland’s economy would suffer initially but this should be secondary to considerations over sovereignty.
She also dismissed suggestions that the vote will bring a united Ireland any closer.
“A united Ireland simply won’t happen –- we are part of the UK and that’s how it will stay. At the moment we’re controlled by Germany.
“We won World War II so the present situation doesn’t make any sense,” she said.
That view was echoed by Robert Hynds, 49, who was taking part in a long-standing protest against a decision by Belfast City Council not to fly the British flag every day above City Hall.
Standing against the backdrop of union flags draped over the gates of City Hall, where the council sits, he cited worries about an EU army as one of the reasons he had voted against.
“It will be rough at first but we are a resilient people,” he said.
“As for a border poll, bring it on because I think the establishment would get a shock at the size of the majority both here and in the Republic who would vote to keep things as they are”.