Northern Ireland’s young people ‘frightened of losing identity after Brexit’
Young people from unionist and nationalist backgrounds have voiced their fears over Brexit.
Young people living in Northern Ireland are frightened of losing their identity after Brexit, a conference has heard.
Our Future, Our Choice Northern Ireland, a non-party affiliated youth organisation, met with hundreds of young people all across Northern Ireland to ask them how they feel about Brexit.
Speaking at a cross-party public hearing on Brexit in the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, co-founder of the organisation Doire Finn said: “This generation of young people have grown up in a society that is very, very different from that of the generation before us and that is because of the Good Friday Agreement.”
In the @brexithearingEU -A range of perspectives must be heard on Ireland, incl Doire Finn, Co founder of Our Future Our Choice, Northern Island.— Gina Dowding MEP (@GinaDowdingMEP) September 25, 2019
Young people 11-18 in NI worried about changes, borders, and frightened of losing freedoms to move, live, love in Europe. pic.twitter.com/wZCg9eMjuO
Ms Finn said young people from unionist and nationalist backgrounds have voiced fears of losing or changing their identities after Brexit.
She said: “Identity is a huge issue in Northern Ireland and it is something that young people in Northern Ireland are becoming increasingly worried about.
“We work with young nationalists who are frightened about the prospect of a United Ireland coming too quickly. We speak with young unionists who say that they are frightened about losing their identity with the breakup of the union.
“That is something that should not be happening to young people between the ages of 11 to 18 that I speak to in schools. They should not be frightened about this, but they are.”
I would like everybody to remember that my generation are the children of the peace process. We have grown up in a society free from violence, and we must be remembered. Doire Finn, Our Future, Our Choice Northern Ireland
Ms Finn said she campaigned for a Remain vote and does not want to see a border after Brexit.
“I have never experienced any hardening of the border. I don’t remember what the border looked like in the past and I feel very, very lucky as many other young people who live on the border do now,” she said.
Ms Finn shared an anecdote about a young girl she met recently who lives on the border: “This girl lives in the north of Ireland, and her granny lives in the south. The way to get to her grandmother’s house is on a road where there has been a hard border.
“At 11 years of age, she came and asked me – ‘Will I still be able to see my grandmother, if there’s no deal Brexit? I think that is one story for people to listen to and it has to be seen as a terrifying example of how Brexit is affecting young people within Northern Ireland.”
Ms Finn said the young people living in Northern Ireland fear what rights they will lose when Britain leaves the EU.
“They haven’t lived in the shadow of violence that so many other people have and they believe in the freedom to live, love and work across the European Union. And it’s something that they’re really, really frightened to lose,” she said.
Ms Finn said a positive of the Brexit impasse, is that more young people want to make their voices heard about the future of Northern Ireland.
She said: “The voices of every single community in Northern Ireland need to be heard – that is not down green or orange lines. It is about young people whose lives are going to be impacted by this, and they should be heard and they should be listened to.
“I would like everybody to remember that my generation are the children of the peace process. We have grown up in a society free from violence, and we must be remembered.”
Another young speaker, Ellie Crawford said she was part of a climate strike held in Belfast last week that saw over 7,000 young people take part.
She said: “I’ve never been so proud to be a part of Belfast, and movements like ours. They’re not only vital from an environmental standpoint, but they hold massive significance of post-conflict Northern Ireland. Never once has religion or community background even come into our minds. We were too busy or too busy planning a global movement to think about it.
“Students from both sides of the divide came together to move on from Northern Ireland’s dark history and to our own bright futures, which we are taking into our own hands and are united under a common goal because we’re defending ourselves from a crisis that knows no creed.”
Ms Crawford said the lack of government had led to issues such as climate change being pushed down the agenda.
“It’s clear that Brexit poses a serious threat to the delicate balance of our peace process. A problem that concerns me even more is the environmental impact of Britain’s EU exit. Layers upon layers of environmental law, and even the body which would enforce them is all stripped away,” she said.