Irish people who live in the United Kingdom are the only EU citizens eligible to vote in today’s General Election. Since Brexit is a top priority for all the political parties, an important factor for Irish voters is how the election will affect relations with the Republic of Ireland and the EU more broadly.
The UK and Republic of Ireland are historically and culturally linked. Irish citizens and people from Commonwealth countries are allowed to vote in British elections if they have a permanent address in the UK.
According to census data, there were 395,182 people from the Republic of Ireland living in the UK in 2011 with 129,807 of those residing in London.
Aoife Glynn, an Irish citizen living in London, said: “I always vote for anything from local elections to general elections and I was also able to vote in the EU referendum.
“I’m really unsure about what will happen with the UK and Ireland. As far as I can see a hard border would need to be established to stop EU citizens being able to enter the UK, but that will obviously massively impact the people who live in the Republic and work in Northern Ireland, and vice versa.”
The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a point of contention for Irish voters. After the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998, the physical border was removed. It became a symbol of a new Ireland leaving its disputed past behind.
The restriction of free movement of people and goods that Brexit implies might mean checkpoints reappearing along the border. As well as harming businesses, trade and the estimated 30,000 people who travel across it to work every day, a physical border could impact upon the hard-won peace process.
However, Orlaith Delargy, also an Irish citizen living in London, believes the Northern Irish question has largely been settled as the two main political parties running in the General Election will continue with the Brexit process.
“I think Labour are more likely to factor in Northern Ireland into the negotiations and secure a deal that will lower the impact on the Republic of Ireland and the border with the North,” she said.
The outcome of the election won’t affect Delargy’s decision to continue living in the UK.
“Ultimately there are many more jobs to choose from in London and because the city is largely Labour leaning, the atmosphere in the city hopefully won’t be adversely affected by a Tory victory.”
Cecilia Gallagher, Chair of the Women’s Irish Network (WIN), a voluntary organisation, intends to vote Labour as she has always supported the party and fears a Tory win could lead to a hard Brexit.
“The Irish traditionally voted Labour in the past. However, the demographic has changed in the last 10 years, so the votes are very much based on what the individual feels is the best for them,” she said.
Whatever the outcome of the General Election, the Republic of Ireland’s relationship with the UK will be affected. With Brexit unlikely to be removed from the agenda, the Irish vote is a small but significant voice in the political fray.