Brexit and Its Impact on the Young People of Northern Ireland

Conor Patrick McArdle, Contributor.

For many studying at Queen’s University, we were born in the 1990s and grew up with relative peace and stability here in the North, yet that is now under threat.

We grew up with the ability to move freely across Europe to enjoy holidays, school trips and educational programmes without any barriers.

The hangover of the troubles remained, yet as a society, there was a clear sense of progress and this embedded itself in young people creating hope for the future.

The European Union has played a significant role in creating lasting peace and in our daily lives. Virtually all major infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland in the past 20 years have had some European funding, as well as the EU supporting countless other peace and community initiatives.

Yet this is under threat. While we may hope that funding will continue to the North, this remains speculative as the form of the UK’s divorce remains a mystery.

The border is a central issue as the European Union facilitated the creation of a ‘mental border’ for those living in Northern Ireland. Whilst a Nationalist could see the border as almost non-existent, Unionist can see a solid line denoting their sovereignty. Yet this bespoke solution to a unique problem is under serious threat as PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton recognised that any alteration to the current border arrangement could create untold economic and security chaos.

Brexit has made the essential input European project in the peace process a political issue. During the peace process, the European Economic Community played an essential role, like the United States acting like an adult in the negotiations, assisting the British and Irish governments in brokering a compromise.

Yet during and in the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum, the role of the community has been exploited for political aims. Though the DUP is an overtly Eurosceptic party, they have happily accepted the benefits of EU membership for the north. Whilst Sinn Fein have historically been Eurosceptic reflecting their leftist ideology, they have pragmatically exploited the issues surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from Europe to push for a referendum on Irish unity.

With Northern Ireland’s leading parties pursuing approaches which are highly irresponsible, they are once again betraying the interests of the province’s young people. They are contributing to the destabilisation and the hard-line policies they are pursuing are helping to polarise an already divided nation.

If Brexit ought to symbolise anything to young people, it is the importance of engaging with the political process to protect the progress achieved by the peace process. Whilst are political leaders are committed to dragging us further away from the centre ground in which peace can flourish, we must act to ensure that Brexit does not damage the fragile peace we are fortunate to enjoy.

Northern Ireland is a society which is finally beginning to heal from the wounds of our complicated and troubled past. But the potential Brexit has to rip the scabs from deep and painful wounds could leave its young people burdened with trauma which will take much longer to heal.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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