Brexit-fuelled surge of applications for Irish passports cheapens our national identity

Brexit-fuelled surge of applications for Irish passports cheapens our national identity

I’m Irish - I don’t feel any insecurity around that or entertain any personal question marks about that assertion.

I was born and raised in England of Irish immigrant parents.

I lived, studied and worked there, well into my adult life.

I was in Ireland often during those years, from childhood summers amongst my large, extended family, to long and short trips as a young man.

I’ve now lived and worked in Ireland for over twenty one years.

My children were all born here. My life is here. My father buried back here.

It is a long time since I’ve sought in my everyday life to explain myself.

I did when I first came back here to live but I’ve long outgrown that. I don’t need to explain.

I don’t need to be accepted by those who have a truly limited understanding of identity and belonging. That’s their problem. Not mine.

Plastic Paddy? I couldn’t care less. Bring it on. Their ignorance really isn’t my problem, it’s theirs.

In terms of identity there is a remarkable statistic. Between 2016 and 2020, just under 359,000 Irish passports were issued to applicants from Britain. That does not include any from Northern Ireland.

Some of those, I presume, will be those who just never got around to getting a passport. Not, in all honesty, many though.

So what those passport applications are primarily in response to is the 2016 Brexit decision?

When I first became aware of the phenomena of the Irish passport surge I have to admit to being a bit dismissive.

If the Brexit policy was too much for people there was many a British policy before that might also have been too much.

If an Irish passport was a way of remaining in the same queue at the airport or of retaining some kind of access to the EU, well, I’m pretty sure that’s not an expression of national identity.

I’m pretty sure that’s a cheapening of identity. A cheapening of the passport itself.

When the Nobel Prize winning Seamus Heaney wrote ‘Be advised, my passport’s green, no glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen’, I’m pretty sure he hadn’t chosen his passport on the basis of what rhymed better.

It might not be green anymore but an Irish passport is and was an expression of identity.

I remember getting my first passport and it being a defining moment for me to get that Irish passport in the post.

It was like an official recognition of who I was.

When I first used it I went to the World Cup in Italy to see Ireland play.

That had a nice rhyme to it too.

So, yes, I do find the surge for Irish passports by people whose identity is British a little cheapening.

I find the adoption of an Irish passport because it’s expedient a little belittling.

Yet, perhaps, I’m completely wrong. After all, identity is a many layered, complex thing.

Only the simplistic nationalists have trouble with that one.

In their world it was always that only those born in Ireland were Irish but since Ireland became multicultural they’ve had to adapt that.

Now birthplace doesn’t seem so important.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, is of Chinese parentage but was born smack in the middle of Dublin.

She has faced numerous instances of racial abuse by those brave Irish who are always more Irish than anyone else.

Even the racists and the super patriots are having to adapt their ideas of identity.

I really wouldn’t, for one second, to be sharing the same mind space with the likes of them.

So, perhaps, these new Irish passport holders are belatedly discovering something about their own identities.

Perhaps even those who have become Irish for reasons outside of identity will begin to feel something.

I come from a time and a place where my expression of Irishness excluded Britishness.

I’m very much from a certain English city and I happily identify with that place.

But that doesn’t and never did make me English or British.

Indeed, so lacking in English identity do I feel that I was able to cheer on their admirable World Cup team in 2018 because I felt utterly neutral about them.

But identity is complex. It is not up to me to define others.

Even Seamus Heaney, as he later revealed, did once have a British passport.

And he did, didn’t he, generously, eventually toast the Queen.