Cross-border life: Irish people will suffer if the UK votes to leave

Grainia Long, CEO of the ISPCC talks about why she's voted for the UK to remain part of the EU

Cross-border life: Irish people will suffer if the UK votes to leave

Open Europe

I'm writing this sitting in Dublin airport waiting for a flight to London. Beside me is a huge advertisement from the employers group in Ireland, IBEC, asking UK voters to Remain. The ad is meant for me. 

Even though I work in the Republic, I live in Belfast, and travel across the border every day. I'm from Dublin and spent the first eighteen years of my life in our capital city until I moved to Belfast to go to university, and have lived in the UK ever since. I have an Irish birth certificate but a UK marriage certificate. I pay tax in both countries. I have family on both ends of the island, and friends all across the UK, having also lived in England and Scotland for years. 

So for the past twenty years I have quite literally lived my life moving seamlessly between the UK and Ireland. I am a direct beneficiary of a common travel area that has enabled me and thousands of others to work, travel and live across our two countries. I am Irish. But I am also proud and happy to live in the UK and to contribute to life there. People like me need both nations working together in partnership, not separate and apart.

I cannot imagine what life would be like if my daily commute involved a trip across an EU border. Yes it would be logistically tricky. But that's not the reason I'm voting to remain. It's about more than convenience. The common travel area has only ever existed when the UK and Ireland were together, outside or inside the single market. Protestations that the common travel area would remain do not reassure me in the slightest. Ireland and the UK have never been separate in their membership of the EU. To suggest that this is not a fundamental change is nonsense and is patronising to those of us whose lives will be directly affected.

Ireland and the UK separate in their membership of the EU worries me massively. I worry that it will shift the dynamic between two nations who have worked in partnership as equals together, particularly as guardians of the Good Friday Agreement in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. This is not scaremongering. Positive bilateral relations between the UK and Ireland have directly contributed to peace and stability in Northern Ireland and we need much more, not less of this as we grapple with complex issues such as the legacy of the past. Future generations in Northern Ireland deserve nothing less than continued investment of time and energy by our two governments, and nothing I have heard from the Brexit campaign convinces me that this is a top priority. 

Why stay? 

But these are reasons not to leave. For me, the strongest arguments rest on reasons to stay – to build on what the UK and Ireland together in the EU have achieved. 

Working together the nations of the EU have played a crucial part in helping to ensure peace and stability in Europe, and often to other parts of the world. It has built a set of common values that has helped states cope with the forces of globalisation, and despite arguments against the EU, has prevented the isolation of individual states.

Writing and implementing the EU Social Chapter – a fantastic document that makes equal demands of all nations of the EU in the interests of people. It protects workers’ rights, women's rights, it ensures maternity and paternity leave is available to families with young children, it guarantees the hours we work are reasonable.

Brexiteers often describe these regulations as red tape. Ask the low-paid father who gets to spend precious time with a newborn baby if that feels like red tape. I spent four years as CEO of a UK professional body with two commercial subsidiaries, 22,000 members, and 150 employees. I never once felt stymied by 'red tape'. Instead I saw the benefit of EU funding for organisations to provide services to those who are vulnerable and in need. Housing associations availing of affordable finance from the European Investment Bank to build social housing. Children's charities (like the one I work for) receiving funding to work with vulnerable children at risk. If this is red tape and bureaucracy, I'll have some more, please!

So as someone who has spent years working for organisations who are committed to the public interest – whether in housing, human rights or child protection, I'm cynical when I hear national politicians in places of privilege call for fewer checks and balances, for less public protection, for more power to be placed in their hands. I don't subscribe to the view that separateness is better.  I've seen how segregation of communities in Northern Ireland can breed distrust and sometimes fear. Imagine how that would translate at a national level. We have learned from European history what happens when rival national interests trump collaboration and cohesion.

We need to think about the future

Finally, I echo the sentiments of Doreen Lawrence, founder of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, and now a life peer in the House of Lords. She is someone who has spent a generation speaking out against state sponsored injustice- she knows what unfairness looks like, up close.  She rejects the argument that Europe is an elite conspiracy against the public, and argues passionately that it enables the solidarity of the people of Europe to create a better, freer and fairer world. People like Ms Lawrence are a reminder of what the EU is for – and why I am proud to have voted to remain. Nations are always, and have always been, more successful working together. My generation has benefited from a partnership between the UK and Ireland. I have voted to remain – not in my interests, but in the interests of the generations to come.

Grainia Long is CEO of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) and a member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. She writes in a personal capacity