[First published in The Clare People on February 5, 2019]
USUALLY when we have to live with the full impact of a political outcome, it is following a decision that we had the choice to directly vote on. The outcome may not have been what we had wished for, it was still a decision that people with the right to vote had an involvement with and a say in. The recent abortion referendum and the same-sex marriage vote come to mind. But a more recent decision is set to impact the younger generation in Ireland for many years to come. A generation of young people in Clare and across the Republic of Ireland will have to live with the full impact of Brexit, despite having never voted on its outcome. Some commentators argue that post-Brexit – whatever the outcome – Ireland will take on a more significant role in Europe as companies looking to expand are less likely to consider the UK for European headquarters. Those with this point of view have said that Ireland could benefit from Brexit in terms of trade and business. Despite this, the effects of the UK leaving the EU without a deal looks more and more likely as the deadline approaches, with others arguing that such an outcome would have serious consequences for the younger generation in Ireland, on both sides of the border. Ireland is unique in its exposure to Brexit and due to its direct trade partnership with its closest neighbour, younger people may face the dreaded prospect of limited employment opportunities as devastating cuts in exports and production levels become a harsh reality. Outside of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland will be the most affected country by Britain’s proposed exit from the European Union. The younger generation in this country have already lived through a crippling recession, one that forced thousands of people in their 20s and 30s to emigrate in search of employment. Thankfully, we seem to be on the better side of this now and the trend of younger people coming home continues to rise. But with leading economists claiming that a no-deal Brexit could push Ireland into a recession within two years, the younger generation has every right to be concerned as the March 29 deadline for Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU looms. I recently overheard a conversation where one person was stating that the one good thing to come out of Brexit was that the younger generation are now more politically engaged. Possibly true, but that is hardly a sliver lining in a outcome that will directly impact younger people for the rest of their lives. While nobody knows the exact outcome of Brexit at this stage – not even those who claim they are in charge – the younger generation will certainly be impacted in some way. One thing is for sure – the outcome is set to divide Britain. Ironically, welfare cuts and austerity measures are to blame for reasoning behind many vital swing voters deciding to vote to back Brexit, many who are young people whose lives will be negatively affected when Britain leaves the EU. The referendum itself was a narrow win and those who voted to stay in the European Union [48.1 per cent] face an uncertain future. Closer to home, a majority of 56 per cent of voters in Northern Ireland wanted to stay in the EU, close to half a million people. There is no surprise that a significant number of these voters were in constituencies along the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland “border”, including Foyle, West Tyrone, South Tyrone, Derry, Newry and Armagh. Towns such as Newry are geographical closer to Dublin than the likes of Ennis, Shannon and all of County Clare but the prospect of a hard border Brexit will make them seem a million miles away. Major work has been done in this region to attract large-scale employers and to support local businesses in a bid to not only attract people to the county but to try and keep our younger people here. While the draw towards Dublin – in terms of jobs prospects continues to grow – major employment sectors in the this region such as agri-food and the beef and the dairy sector face a Brexit impact on exports and production. With this in mind, the younger generation have every right to be concerned that positive strides in this region will take a major hit when Brexit impacts on our shores.