Protestant unionists are queuing for Irish passports in Belfast and once quiet Catholic nationalists are openly campaigning for a united Ireland, signs of deep shifts in the United Kingdom’s most troubled province since Britain voted to leave the EU. Eighteen years after a peace deal ended decades of fighting between mainly Catholic nationalists who favour a united Ireland and mainly Protestant unionists who favour remaining part of the United Kingdom, Britain’s Brexit vote is making people on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland think the unthinkable. Northern Ireland, like neighbouring Scotland, voted to stay in the European Union, with 56 pecent in favour, even though Britain as a whole voted to leave the bloc.
“I was always a ‘small u’ unionist. But I could not in all good conscience say I could vote for Northern Ireland to remain a member of the United Kingdom,” said Christopher Woodhouse, a 25-year-old from Belfast. “I am softening to the idea of Irish unity, purely on economic issues,” he said. “I am a European.”
For years, a firm majority of people in Northern Ireland — many Catholics as well as nearly all Protestants — have favoured continuing as part of the United Kingdom, drawn to the status quo as a guarantee of stability and prosperity.