What Brexit means for loyalist Belfast

Kieran Cuddihy travelled up North to find out what locals think of potential border polls, and Irish passports

What Brexit means for loyalist Belfast

Shankill Road, Belfast | Image: Creative Commons via Joseph Mischyshyn

Last week’s vote by the United Kingdom to leave the EU threw up a variety of questions in relation to the future of Northern Ireland.

Concerns around travel, customs checks, and the potential of a border poll were highlighted in the aftermath of the vote.

Since the referendum Newstalk Breakfast has been hearing from communities living along the border to find out what they think about the consequences of Brexit and how they might be affected.

Breakfast reporter Kieran Cuddihy recently travelled to the predominantly loyalist area of the Shankill Road in West Belfast, where the UVF formed in 1966.

The group announced their presence with the petrol bombing of a Catholic owned pub on the road.

In the years to follow, the area became synonymous with unionist and loyalist paramilitaries. The most notorious of these was the group known as the ‘Shankill Butchers’, who killed at least 23 people.

Today the area is surrounded by the Peace Wall, and is covered in unionist murals and Union Jack flags.

Belfast's Peace wall gets a makeover,  | Via: Paul Faith / PA Archive/Press Association Images

In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote last week, Sinn Féin called for a vote on a united Ireland, after 65% of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted to Remain.

Ian McLaughlin who is a lifelong resident of the Shankill area believes that the party's actions were undemocratic.

“This isn’t a Northern Ireland vote, this isn’t a Scotland vote, it’s not a Wales vote, its a United Kingdom vote," he said.

"And as democrats, their denial of the democratic process is causing great offence in this country, which almost turns politics back to the old days of Orange and Green, and we’re all trying to get away from that.”

Despite being on a cease fire, the UVF, the UDA and some other groups are still very active in Northern Ireland.

One man told Kieran that around Shankill and Tiger's Bay people still, in a lot of cases, go to the UVF for dispute resolution before they’ll go to the PSNI.

When Ian McLaughlin was asked if he felt the UK leaving the European Union could lead to resurgence in violence, he said that politics needs to prevail in order to prevent that from happening.

“If a political vacuum were created over the arguments of Remain or Leave, then people who are weighted to the path of terrorism will obviously capitalise from that.

"Our politicians need to bang their heads together, quite literally, and they need to agree a way forward whether its remain or leave.

"In the absence of a collective political agreement those involved in terrorism will prosper,” he added.

"It’s now Little Britain against the world"

The first few months of this year saw an increase in requests for Irish passports from the UK. Following the vote to Leave the EU, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed a further spike in interest, especially from those living in Northern Ireland.

Ian said that it's no secret that people from Northern Ireland have applied for Irish passports in the past.

He credits it to one main reason: "The application process for a British passport is long and drawn out, while the application for a Republic of Ireland passport is much much quicker."

Another local man Brian Watson added that he has no problem with people choosing to do so. However, as a "proud Ulsterman" he believes it comes with a certain irony.

"I know people who voted to Leave and the first thing they did was scrambled around to get an Irish passport, which makes them a citizen of the Irish republic and by the same token a citizen of the EU.

“You can’t be nearly pregnant. You’re either a European or you’re not.”

Watson himself voted to Remain, which puts him very much in the minority for this part of the world.

“What happened here is English nationalism. We fought in our communities against Irish Nationalism for 40 years and suddenly so many of our people decided it was right and proper to vote for English Nationalism.

“I’m Northern Irish and I’m proud to be so, but we live in a globalised world. Everyone is connected and that will not change and yet the Brexit campaign has taken us out of that," he continued.

"It’s now Little Britain against the world."