Irish in London: ‘I certainly look at the city differently’

Many concerned for the future as surprise and shock greets Brexit result

Ireland's Ambassador to the United Kingdom Dan Mulhall went to the Sandhurst military college in Surrey on Saturday to lay a wreath to remember the Irish dead at The Somme.

The ceremony, he tweeted later, had included lines from The Soliloquy by Francis Ledwidge:

It is too late now to retrieve a fallen dream

too late to grieve a name unmade


but not too late to thank the gods for what is great.

For Mulhall, who spoke at countless gatherings to advocate a Remain vote in recent months, the words have a particular resonance in the wake of the UK's decision on Thursday to quit the European Union.

The Irish in Britain have spent much of the last few days discussing Brexit, including David Andreasson as he sat in the Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park watching the Irish rugby team playing in South Africa.

Living in London for just three months, the Dubliner’s opinion of his new home has undergone change since the results were declared: “I certainly look at the city differently.

“If you look at the Leave campaign, it was fuelled by a bigoted, ignorant, racist campaign a lot of the time and to think that 40 per cent of the people that I share a city with (hold) those views ,” says the 28-year-old from Dublin.

The Irish living in Britain were in an unusual position in the referendum, joining Malta and Cyprus as the only citizens of other EU countries that were eligible to vote.

Which way they voted is unquantifiable. Young Irish professionals living in London tended to vote Remain, while the older Irish were more open to the arguments of Leave.

However, the shock of the result has been increased because Remain was widely predicted to win, says Brendan Dixon, who runs a financial planning company in Ealing, west London.

“It is very negative, quite a lot of shock. People assumed that we were going to remain by a small margin and are really quite despondent and gloomy. We have got to make the best of it now.

“I have had a few extraordinarily negative comments and texts from people. They are frankly not helping themselves because what happens has happened,” he goes on.

Gerry Keany, who owns Harrow-based Cara Stationary, faced swings in sterling's value after the referendum was announced, cutting his margins. Now he wonders about the future for one of his staff, a Romanian driver.

“He has been with us for just over 12 months and is a favourite with customers for his helpful nature, good humour and cheery spirits. He starts at 6am each morning. It took a long time to recruit him.

“It raises the question of where can I find good quality staff. Today’s British youth, and indeed Irish youth, are not as fond of hard work as their forebears or their foreign counterparts,” said Keany.

The run-up to the referendum saw a significant push in favour by London-based members of the Irish business community, inlcuding the creation in March of a campaign group, Irish4Europe.

Ronan Dunne, who moved to Britain in 1987 and is now chief executive of Telefonica UK, believes the Irish and British have always had fundamentally different views about the EU.

“Irish people generally consider themselves Europeans. British people generally don’t consider themselves European or a lot less,” he goes on, “We start with the default premise of ‘We are in Europe’.”

In Luton, one of the hubs of the Irish community outside of London, many older people, many of whom came in the 1950s and 1960s to work in thriving factories, were fearful about the effects of immigration.

Today, they are worried about recession, says Tom Scanlon, the chair of the London Irish Forum's board of trustees. If there is another recession, they are the first to get hit and that is our worry."

Bryan Coleman, from Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, who works in the gambling industry, strongly backed Brexit. When the result came through, he was delighted.

“I think the whole EU is scaring people that they are going to lose everything. That is the whole reason I was for independence. ‘If you don’t do something we are going to hurt you’.”

Coleman received “awful” abuse online: “(It was) quite shocking because there is a free vote for everyone. The liberal view that it is only the stupid poor people that voted for this is very condescending,” he said.

“If you build a bungalow and then it turns into a two-storey house, you have still built a bungalow. It was a common market and then it became more. It will go back to being a common market.”

Now that the result is known, the Irish are concerned about bi-lateral ties: “The Irish people have had free access to the UK always and the right to vote, the right to employments etc,” says Coleman.

The Common Travel Area is key: “ I think that would be the single biggest concern because that would undermine an important relationship with our nearest neighbour.”

For newer arrivals, Brexit creates uncertainty. Jack Hynes, from Blackrock in Dublin, came to London in May to work in aircraft leasing. "If things change dramatically for the UK, then they will change dramatically for me," he said.