More Irish than British passports have been issued in the north of Ireland for the first time since partition.
Brexit has been cited as the key reason behind a growing appreciation of the benefits of an Irish and European identity.
Tabloid newspapers in England have been reporting difficult encounters for British passport holders facing immigration checks at EU holiday destinations.
Meanwhile, Irish passport holders have been enjoying relative ‘fast lane’ access, ironically prompting accusations of second-class citizenship for those Britons without an Irish background.
All those born in the north of Ireland, nationalist or unionist, have a right to an Irish passport. Officials statistics from both governments now show that the number of Irish passports being issued in the Six Counties has surpassed their British counterparts for the first time.
‘Her Majesty’s Passport Office’ in London has confirmed 48,555 of its ‘subjects’ in the Six Counties applied for a British passport in 2020 – at least 356 fewer than those who opted for an Irish passport the same year (48,911).
The year after Britain opted to pull out of the EU in the Brexit referendum marked a sharp turn towards people in the North preferring to travel on Irish passports.
The appeal to northerners of a British passport with a new blue cover is now far less than one inscribed with the words ‘European Union’.
Irish passport holders are projected to outstrip British passport holders in the Six Counties in the near future.
Colin Harvey, of the school of law at Queen’s University Belfast, suggests the trend signals something deeper.
“These figures are significant but not surprising – they are indicative of evolving trends in the North,” he said.
“In some sense it reaffirms the Good Friday Agreement, around the right to be British, Irish or both. But it is suggestive of the fact that people are availing of that guarantee, which is unsurprising in a post-Brexit context, where Irish citizenship also means European Union citizenship.”
“Ultimately, Northern Ireland was removed from the EU against its will. There is an attachment to the EU as well and the benefits that flow from European Union citizenship too.
“Any future Border poll will also be a referendum on re-entry to the EU, as the EU has made clear that the North would automatically re-enter in a vote for constitutional change. It would be a vote about the North, yes, but also a vote about a united Ireland within the EU.”
The latest figures have also boosted calls for the Dublin government to open a dedicated Irish passport office in the North.
“There is clearly a demand and appetite there for it, fuelled really by Brexit,” Mr Harvey said.