We need a backstop. Not just the one promised by Theresa May and Jean Claude Junker regarding arrangements after Brexit, a backstop framed by European law. We need a backstop that is about our citizenship as Irish people living in our own country.
This column has been highlighting some of the worrying possible outcomes of Brexit for everyday living including access to education in our own country, and access to healthcare being detrimentally affected, as well as the potentially catastrophic economic affects. Other commentators and leading human rights lawyer Niall Murphy has also highlighted these concerns.
In recent weeks Jean Claude Junker confirmed to Martina Anderson MEP that these rights will indeed be gone for us Irish citizens living in the Six Counties. We may well hold Irish passports but as we no longer live in an EU jurisdiction we will no longer be EU rights holders. And ironically by extension will not be equal Irish citizens on any level. In March. Next year.
This is clearly very worrying on numerous levels. Partition will not be only reinforced by a hard border, it will be reinforced by this denial of our citizenship with no access to services, education and healthcare on our own island. Once again we become strangers in our own land. Next March.
What Irish citizenship has meant for Irish people living on this side of the border under the Good Friday Agreement has been obscured by Britain’s membership of the EU. It is now becoming clear.
So often when “northerners” have pushed this issue when they asked to have access to the rights of their compatriots in say presidential elections, referenda or even a passport office, we are dismissed and compared to a diaspora. So the access to voting rights for instance has been lumped into the idea that everyone who has emigrated could vote. Of course that deliberately missed the fundamental point.
We are not a diaspora. We live here on the island of Ireland and are Irish. The issue is that we were promised that if we voted for the Good Friday Agreement we would have equal citizenship rights. But that has been uncomfortable for so many governments who are as partitionist in mindset as any “NI” cheerleader.
Consecutive Irish legislatures have been able to swerve defining what Irish citizenship rights mean in practice since 1998, because we have been able to access goods, services, healthcare and education as a result of EU membership. Well that is now clearly at an end and the gang in Leinster House need to get their heads around the fact that they have legal obligations to all of its people, irrespective of how bonkers this Tory government is or gets or how they don’t know the difference between a legally binding treaty from a knowing wink.
Between now and next spring, under their obligations to Irish citizens living here, Leinster House needs to get busy assuring us, that we will not be treated as if we live in a foreign, non-EU dominion. The Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty that has been under-implemented in many respects. But right now the section on our rights as Irish citizens need to be defined and legislated for. We need a backstop from Dublin. Or else every single word uttered by Coveney and Varadkar in the past year will turn to dust next March.