JYAN Blog

Risks for Ireland Post-Brexit

Ireland and the United Kingdom have a fascinatingly interwoven—and tempestuous—history. Today, Ireland is perhaps the United Kingdom’s closest friend within the European Union. When the United Kingdom’s referendum vote on June 23, 2016 sent the world into political and financial tumult overnight, new chapter in Irish history began, bringing forth its own set of considerations and concerns.

On April 13, 2017, University College Dublin, my study abroad institution, hosted a panel of experts to unpack the future of Ireland, a particularly topical discussion given the delivery of the United Kingdom’s letter invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, setting Brexit in motion. This panel had four members, whose agreements and disagreements shed light on the impact on Ireland: Professor Dagmar Schiek (of Queen’s University Belfast), Professor Gavin Barrett (of University College Dublin), Professor John Fitzgerald (of University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin), and Sir Dan O’Brien (of the Institute of International and European Affairs). In listening to their discussion, I came away with two major effects of Brexit on Ireland: 1) exacerbation of the language barrier, and 2) further divergence between rural and urban Ireland.

Currently, the United Kingdom and Ireland are the only primarily English-speaking members of the European Union, which means that Ireland will be the sole English speaker when Brexit comes to fruition. Professor John Fitzgerald brought this up as a potential issue for post-Brexit Ireland, citing the country’s problematic linguistic competence in languages other than English. Fitzgerald built upon this point, stating, simply, that some countries do some things better than others—a reasonable position. However, if these things are done in countries with languages that few, if any, Irishmen and Irishwomen know, then this would be problematic. Then, the transfer of these best practices within the European Union is dependent upon those countries and their people proactively reaching out to Ireland, unless an Irish national knows the language and engages significantly with the society of that other nation, an occurrence that would be doubtful at best. Fitzgerald uses Denmark as an example. Danish is a language that is not well known outside of Denmark, but Denmark could have a lot to offer in terms of policy, for example. This poses a significant threat to Ireland in a world of such growing globalization, especially without the membership of the large and diverse United Kingdom in the European Union as a fellow English speaker.

A second major risk to Ireland that was touched upon in this discussion was the increase in divergence between rural and urban. All it takes is a train ride outside of Dublin to notice the massive disparity that exists between rural and urban in Irish society. Within minutes, you are taken from a large metropolis to an area where all you see is green and there are seemingly more livestock than people. This poses a potential risk to Ireland given potential trade and foreign direct investment patterns that could be precipitated by Brexit. On one hand, many companies in insurance and financial services will be seeking new homes in countries that are within the European Union, and Dublin will be on the receiving end of a large share of this, as uncertainty builds regarding London’s role as a center of commerce. So this would be good for new, job-seeking graduates and those who work in white-collar industries in cities like Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway.

On the other hand, Brexit could bring with it devastating effects for the Irish agricultural community in the rural areas of the country. MP David Davis confirmed that, along with Brexit, the United Kingdom will be exiting the European customs union. This means an increase in barriers to trade, which will prove devastating to the Irish economy that has 13 percent of its exports currently going to the United Kingdom. This proportion is significantly greater for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the traditionally Irish industries, like beef, which employs approximately 100,000 people in Ireland. Brexit’s dual effect of attracting companies to Ireland’s cities, and suffocating Irish agriculture, poses a great risk in worsening the disparities that already exist between rural and urban communities in Ireland.

Every nation the world over feels and will continue to feel the repercussions of Brexit, but “Ireland has the most to lose,” said one panelist. Given the strong historical ties that exist between the two nations, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union creates entirely new considerations of risk in terms of Irish culture and economics.

 
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