Since the referendum for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union took place in 2016, questions regarding a variety of tasks which the government must tackle have been circulating through Irish politics and the media, and the unknown fate of Brexit in relation to Ireland has caused a sense of worry among many Irish citizens. Although the country mostly escaped British rule over 100 years ago, the six Northern Irish counties pose a problem for the Irish government. The question of the type of border and whether it will be hard or soft has been an ongoing debate and where the border will lie is also up for debate, as currently, a Common Travel area is in place, which could essentially be described as an open border. Ireland is now under stress to negotiate with Britain, as under European Union regulations, an open border cannot exist between the EU and Britain. Along with the main issue of the border between Northern and The Republic of Ireland, a number of other challenges which face Ireland are associated with Brexit. These include immigration, trade between Britain and Ireland and how it will affect the Irish economy, the general relationship between the two states and their leaders and division in Northern Ireland.
The biggest issue in negotiations between the Irish and British governments has undoubtedly been the border between Northern and the Republic of Ireland. A deal made between the United Kingdom and the European Union on Friday, 8 December 2017 which has almost solidified that there will be no hard border, allows for three types of border (Hayward, K. 2017.) The complexity of border issues was constantly undermined by the British government, making this agreement a huge advancement for border negotiations. One of the possible scenarios this deal has come with is essentially impossible, although it is the one the UK want. They wish to see no border down the Irish sea, but EU trade agreements are not constructed in a way that will call for this. Even if the UK were obedient in being a single market, a customs border would have to be placed between the North and South, as it is more specifically a border between the UK and the EU. An example of this type of border is that between Norway and Sweden. It includes certain roads which can be crossed and certain roads which can’t and also has customs services.
In the likely event that a border like the one outlined above cannot be implemented, the UK will “propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland.” (Hayward, K. 2017.) The actions involved in this have not been specified, even though the fate of the Irish border is dependent on them, making future negotiations a challenge for the Irish government. The third option contains no agreement between the two states, and the UK will maintain obedience to the Internal Market and Customs Union rules. The prime minister can state that this is only implemented for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but the conditions are too complex for this to be definite. In this scenario, Ireland would uncertainty with regards to customs, making trade negotiations a challenge.
An example of a challenge caused by the border is the debate caused in fishing industries, with a particular industry being the Irish-UK fishing area, Lough Foyle, situated between counties Donegal and Derry. The local industry employs fishermen from both the North of Ireland and the Republic, and the debate of the territory of the industry makes Lough Foyle the stand out dilemma of its kind, as it has been ongoing for years. Negotiation of the fishing regulations at Lough Foyle is a challenge which Ireland will face, and they will face other such negotiations, as Lough Foyle shares a somewhat similar situation with many other fishing areas. Early in 2017, the British government stated that British waters would only be available for British fishermen and women. It will be a severe challenge for the Irish government to negotiate with Britain on this issue, and it is highly possible that Ireland will lose some fishing industries, as one of the main reasons for the proposal of Brexit was to take back control of British waters. (Ní Aodha, G, 2017.)
The EU customs union allows goods to move freely and be sold freely between all member states, and with the UK not being a member state, a challenge faces Ireland in either maintaining or possibly losing the good trade relationship which is held between the state and the UK, with more than €1.2 million of trade done between them weekly, which has created roughly 400,000 jobs in Ireland. Ireland faces a huge challenge with the possible decrease in trade between their countries, thus causing the loss of thousands of jobs and the possible need to find new trade partners for certain goods. The three to four year period, which the UK have called a “transition period”, is a frame which will be used for the involved parties to formulate a trade agreement after Britain leaves. (Taylor, C. 2017.)
Britain wish to keep trade agreements as similar as possible, which would be the ideal situation for the Republic of Ireland. If an agreement which does not maintain the trade relationship between the UK and Ireland is made, not only will big trade companies directly affected be harmed, but local businesses will too. When two of the biggest industries in the country, being horticulture and tourism are damaged, the whole country will be challenged with a significant negative change. (McGrane, J. 2016.) Irish businesses will be faced with the challenge of creating more trade if trade with the UK is harmed, as trade creates more jobs and keeps the economy at its best. The UK and Ireland are so related when it comes to trade that when the UK economy grows by 1%, the Irish economy grows by 0.3%, and the high possibility of economic decline following Brexit is another challenge which Ireland must face, as this also occurs when the economy is harmed. Despite the unique economic relationship held between Ireland and the UK, no special agreement can be made without approval form the other 26 member states of the EU, which is a highly unlikely possibility, as many other countries would see this as an unfair advantage.
A huge challenge for both Ireland and the UK will be maintaining the relationship which is currently held between the two countries. After working for years to develop the relations between the country following Ireland obtaining their own government and the partition of Ireland, the state may now face the challenge of not allowing Brexit to change the level of what many would call companionship between the two countries and their leaders. With the UK as Ireland’s biggest European trade partner, the likely event of this changing due to the inevitability of negotiations not covering all trade items may cause the Irish government to feel a sense of betrayal. Costs would also be a factor for companies selling to the UK if they were to leave the customs union, and the common act of transporting Irish goods through the UK would become limited. (Taylor, C. 2017.) Another major challenge which comes with this will undoubtedly be in the sector of agriculture and maintaining the success of the industry. With the UK being responsible for half of our beef exports, importing 270,000 tonnes of Irish beef a year, the implications that come with Brexit could be detrimental for the agriculture industry. (Edwards, E. 2017.) It is estimated that increased tax would essentially erase the use of Irish meat in the UK, and cause thousands of farmers to become unemployed.
British people living in Ireland is also a problem which must be tackled by the Irish government. We, as citizens of the EU, can live in any other member state not obtaining a visa, but since the UK will soon be completely removed from the EU, control will have to be implemented on British people who are living in Ireland. Brexit also poses a challenge to Irish living in the UK, making them vulnerable. (Bryan. C, 2017.) The question circulating is that of whether Irish in Britain will lose ability to vote in European elections. Many of these people plan on eventually returning to Ireland, yet have no say in the regulations and laws that may be changed in the country. EU healthcare benefits are also something which Irish in Britain will be stripped of and they will no longer have the same access to. Laws which control the access to NHS services which is held by Irish people are a “patchwork” (Doward. J, Quinn. B, 2017) which could crumble after Brexit negotiations due to political pressures placed on the UK government, along with pressures which will be placed on practicality. Although this is a worry of many Irish in the UK, the British government has consistently assured that Brexit will not alter the current state or the protections on Irish in the UK. However, with this being said, this has not been followed up with public statements of solutions or how they will implement protection, like many other promises made by the UK since the Brexit election.
Another challenge facing Ireland is one which is mainly situated in the North of the country, and that is the relationship between those who voted to remain, and those who voted to leave. Since border discussions have begun, there has been much discussion of the possibility of a united Ireland in order for Northern Ireland to be part of the European Union and to avoid an EU-UK border being placed in the island of Ireland. The discussion of a United Ireland will cause Northern Ireland to be faced with the challenge of a more intense division between the remain voters and the leave voters than that which was originally present. If this were to become more of a serious possibility rather than just a suggestion, we would see a division close to that which we saw in the troubles between Nationalists and Unionists.
Ireland faces a number of other challenges today, two of which being the housing crisis and homelessness, and the health system. At the beginning of 2018, the number of patients waiting on hospital beds or trolleys was at an all-time high, reaching a national record of 667. (RTÉ News, 2017.) Ireland must tackle this challenge quickly and efficiently, as this problem is directly affecting the lives of Irish people and their families. The housing crisis is having this affect too, and the Irish government are working on the issue with the provision of emergency beds and other facilities for the homeless, but it is believed that the problem may last for decades due to Irish housing patterns. (Crowley, F. 2017). Many houses built in the countryside are too out of reach for people who have jobs in cities and towns with no mode of transport. The move to cities has caused this problem, and the Irish government is now presented with the challenge of creating more housing in already densely populated areas.
To conclude, it is clear that despite the above highly prominent issues facing the Irish government and Irish society, that Brexit is the overarching challenge which is facing Ireland today. It threatens Irish society, particularly in Northern Ireland between those who voted in the Brexit referendum, and also the part of our society living in the UK and their benefits regarding health and access to the NHS. It places pressure on the Irish economy, putting the trade relationship which is held between Ireland and the UK at risk and could also possibly harm other exports which are done through the UK, and could also cause us to lose some of our fishing industries. It poses the most direct challenge to the Irish government however, who must partake in negotiations with the United Kingdom and the European Union in relation to Brexit. This is why it is evident that Brexit is the overarching challenge facing Ireland today. The examples of issues listed above, and the many more which exist, can be dealt with in Ireland, within our own government and society, but the issues which come hand in hand with Brexit require negotiation with both the UK and the EU, and possible debate and counteraction, which will cause any action which the Irish government may wish to take to be implemented in a slower process. The other challenges mentioned, such as the housing crisis, may take a longer time to fully solve, but the negotiation involved in Brexit makes it more of a challenge for Ireland.