In the Titanic district of Belfast, the orange of the sky is reflected in a sea of oil. On the old docks that saw the construction of the giant ocean liner at the turn of the last century, clusters of children try out their brand-new bikes and scooters. On Thursday, December 31, at 11 p.m., the United Kingdom left the European Union. A bitter day for Northern Ireland which voted 55.8% against Brexit.
A six-week lockdown and a curfew have emptied the city of its young people, but families intend to take advantage of the slightest ray of sunshine. Maria, in her forties, Philadelphia Eagles beanie pulled over her ears, shrugs her shoulders. “To be honest, I don’t understand a thing”, admits this saleswoman in a cosmetics store. “I still don’t know how it will affect my work. However, things are bound to change because we have European and British clients. “
“It’s a sad day, because we are European! “
The lack of clarity annoys him: “To believe that the government leaves us in the dark so that we can make mistakes and get fines!” “. But the prospect of having to apply for a visa to enter Europe leaves her unmoved: like 700,000 North Irish people, she holds an Irish passport which allows her to travel and work freely in the 27 countries of the Union. .
At the end of the pier, you can see the port. Huge cranes are busy there to unload the cargo ships. Not far away, the ferry terminal welcomes the few passengers from Scotland and Liverpool. “Yesterday, we were on a bench watching the boats coming from Sweden, Germany… I can’t help but think that it will be more complicated now”sighs Pol, who works at the local university. “It’s a sad day, because we are European! “
His mate, Colum, nods. “Being part of the EU made us feel more important than just being Northern Irish, he slips. People here tend to be islanders, and if they stay together it all ends up revolving around the question of Irish or British identity. We have just lost something important, all for a vague ideal of British sovereignty. “
The fear of the reawakening of “old wounds between Catholics and Protestants”
Like many, Colum is concerned that the new deal will “Awakens old wounds between Catholics and Protestants”. Because, if the former want the reunification of the Emerald Isle and are delighted that the land border remains open, the latter are worried about seeing their privileged relationship with Great Britain undermined by controls at sea. Ireland. “We still have hope”, tempers Pol. “Whatever happens, the world will not stop turning, the business will continue and we will always have the opportunity to go on vacation to Spain or France! “
At 19, Karl Duncan shares this optimism. Committed to the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), he wants to imagine a future where “Prosperity would replace divisions”. Too young to have voted in the referendum on Britain’s exit from the EU, he has followed the negotiations closely. “Much has changed in the past four years: the political scene has changed, in the south and in the north of Ireland. “ Thanks to Brexit? Maybe, he admits, even though he’s fiercely opposed to it. “I especially have the impression that we are at a turning point in our history”, he rejoices.
On the docks, the museum dedicated to the rutile Titanic, opposite the ultramodern studios that hosted the filming of the successful series Game of Thrones. Two projects which have participated in the transformation of the city, since the Peace Agreement of 1998. If pragmatism prevails today, who knows what new industries will complete this district in the coming years?