Brexit could threaten Irish immigration policy, expert warns

Common Travel Area focus could exclude migrants, Piaras Mac Éinrí claims

Brexit could make Ireland sacrifice its independence in setting immigration policy, an academic specialising in migration studies has warned.

Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí said he fears that the United Kingdom’s negotiations to leave the European Union may result in the Republic instead following London’s “very restrictive” migration policy.

The lecturer in migration studies at University College Cork, who has worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, Paris and Beirut, was speaking at Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, in Co Wicklow, whose Borders and Borderlands: Imaginings, Crossings,Encounters conference was attended by the British and Norwegian ambassadors, Robin Barnett and Else Berit Eikeland.

Mac Éinrí expressed concern that a focus in Brexit negotiations affecting Ireland will be on defending the Common Travel Area only for citizens of the Republic and Northern Ireland, with adverse implications for migrants.


Ireland began to experience immigration only during the 1990s and has tended to follow UK migration policies rather than develop its own, he said, citing the decision to introduce and maintain the system of direct provision for asylum seekers and their families.

Headlines here about the arrest in Boston last week of an "undocumented" Irish man underlined a hypocrisy in attitudes towards Irish migrants and others, he added.

Dr Bryonie Reid, one of the authors of Partitioned Lives: The Irish Borderlands, said borders are “often shaped by men in offices with maps” who never visited the relevant areas. During the Troubles many people along the Irish Border had lived in fear of violence and of being cut off by cratered roads and road closures, she said.

The playwright Frank McGuinness said he believed it would be ruinous to ignore the “terrible grief” caused by 50 years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland. All of those affected must be listened to, he said.

Razan Ibraheem, a Syrian-born journalist and human-rights activist who came to study in Ireland in 2011, and stayed because of the war in her home country, spoke of the devastation and loss it has caused. Syria and its neighbouring countries were "very connected" ancient civilisations before Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. This secret deal between Britain and France, to which Russia assented, "divided the indivisible with a ruler", she said.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which expressed support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, had also led to the displacement of more than a million Palestinians, Ibraheem added.

She worked in refugee detention centres in Greece after seeing a photograph of an Arab man in tears. “An Arab man crying is big for our society. It’s like an earthquake happening.”

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times