‘My children say I’m hypocritical’: Brexit and the Irish passport rush

British natives who have applied for Irish citizenship reveal their diverse motives

Pressing matter: last year the passport service received 200,000 applications from British-based people. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pressing matter: last year the passport service received 200,000 applications from British-based people. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

‘I never wanted to be part of the German empire’

For some living in Britain today, applying for an Irish passport is an expression of resistance to Brexit or a reawakening of a long-dormant connection to Ireland. For others it is nothing more than a desire to get through airport security more quickly.

Tony Flemming, a Manchester native whose mother came from Athlone, voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. He applied for Irish citizenship last year.

“I want to go on holiday to Europe, and it would be easier with an Irish passport,” Flemming (73) says. “And the second reason I got it was just to see if I could.

“I will use my Irish passport on the journey out and then switch to my British passport when returning home, so it’s quicker through security.”

Despite being the new owner of a European travel document, Flemming said he “never wanted to be part of the ‘German empire’.”

He added, “I’ve been hoping for Brexit for a long time. I just want to get out and get it sorted.”

His children voted to remain in the EU.

“My children have said I’m hypocritical,” said Flemming. “I think it’s perfectly normal to take advantage of a system if the option is there.”

He was once a regular visitor to Ireland, but the last trip was during the 1966 World Cup. However, his dual citizenship is intended for sunnier travels.

“I like to go to Gibraltar, so my British passport will be fine until I walk over to Spain, and then I’ll use my Irish one.”

Flemming is not alone. Last year the passport service received 200,000 applications from British-based people directly to Dublin or through its office in London – although the largest share are for the children of Irish-born citizens living in Britain.

‘This has opened up my Irish roots’

Jim Greer (56), a social work lecturer from Scotland, spent €250 accumulating his grandmother’s birth, marriage and death certificates and a further €278 on an application for Irish citizenship.

“Ireland was the only EU country I was eligible to apply for. I didn’t actually realise I was eligible until Brexit happened,” he says.

Living in Scotland, where 62 per cent of residents voted to remain, Greer pursued Irish citizenship as a “symbol of resistance to Brexit”.

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“It is just not my outlook at all,” he says. “It feels less like we’re being dragged out of the EU as we’re being dragged into some English flag-waving, spitfire era.

His paternal grandmother grew up in Ballymena, Co Antrim, before moving across to the west coast of Scotland.

Jim Greer with his new Irish passport
Jim Greer with his new Irish passport

“She was actually a very staunch Protestant, so she would be turning in her grave right now,” says Greer, who visited Northern Ireland many times in his youth but has yet to set foot in the Republic.

He spent six months learning about the country, listening to the Irish Passport Podcast, a series to educate aspiring Irish citizens on the country’s culture, history and politics.

“I’ve found a new dimension. I always thought of myself as Scottish, but this has opened up my Irish roots. I might even consider living there.”

‘Brexit doesn’t feel like such a big issue to me now’

Londoners Rachel and Bill Bohling got their Irish passports at the same time as their mother, Cathy, who grew up in Co Tyrone.

“We were quite delayed as a family in getting them, as we’ve been entitled to one all our lives,” says Rachel (26). “Our mum was very emotionally involved. She was pushing us to get them ever since Brexit.”

With her boyfriend living in Paris, Rachel’s new passport gave her the confidence to look into transferring offices to France.

“Brexit doesn’t feel like such a big issue to me now. I don’t think it can impact me the way it could before.”

While Bill (31) has no immediate plans, having an Irish passport keeps the door to Europe open.

“I personally love being European and having that option to travel,” he said.

He speaks fondly about family trips to Ireland, where they visited relatives north and south of the Border.

“I’ve always felt very appreciative of my mum’s heritage. That Irish root is very important to me. I’m a proud British and Irish citizen.”

‘My mum jokes that I never cared about being Irish until now’

Self-confessed pessimist Matthew Modlinsky (44) applied for an Irish passport just two weeks after the Brexit referendum.

“I like to be prepared for the worst,” says Modlinsky, a transport co-ordinator. “I’m even stocking up on food now: cans of chickpeas, tinned tomatoes, nothing perishable.”

His mother moved from Monaghan to Manchester when she was 16.

“It’s just pure luck that my mum is Irish. I see other people who feel the same as me who aren’t as lucky.”

His mother goes back each year to see family, but Modlinsky has visited the island just once.

“My mum jokes that I never cared about being Irish until now. I know that’s terrible. Now that I’m an Irish citizen I should go more. I do plan to go.”

A keen traveller, he hopes his new passport will make European trips easy. In the long-term, he plans to retire to France or Spain.

“I don’t want to be restricted in what I do. That’s the travesty of it all. It’s not my generation, it’s the younger generation who are having an opportunity taken away from them.”

‘I’ve enjoyed the freedoms of the EU for so long’

Although Amy McCollam (40) only applied for her passport last year, she began researching Irish citizenship long before Brexit.

“Ireland is a big part of me; it’s home. I did all my important growing up there,” she said.

When she was 13 her family moved to Ballymena, her father’s hometown. She lived there for seven years, before returning to England to study.

Amy McCollam and her daughter, Keira
Amy McCollam and her daughter, Keira

Now, McCollam lives in Reading and is applying for Irish citizenship for her daughter, Keira, through foreign birth registration.

“I want her to understand part of where she comes from,” said McCollam. “I’ve enjoyed the freedoms of the EU for so long and I love it, so I want her to have it.”

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