I have been a floating voter up until this morning when I had to put my X on the ballot paper.
Over the past couple of weeks I have thought long and hard about the issues around bureaucracy, immigration, costs and benefits that come with being part of the EU.
Ultimately it comes down to how the EU has impacted me, my family and our future.
Growing up in the 80’s I am old enough to remember customs posts at the border crossings between Keady and Castleblaney and Middleton and Monaghan which created barriers to trade between North and South. The old customs yard where lorry loads of freight had to be checked still lies derelict at the Monaghan Road/Keady Road junction in Armagh.
I got my first break in the technology industry from Intel Corporation working at their Leixlip campus in Co. Kildare. They were an American company, attracted to Ireland for a number of reasons not least because it was within the EU and a beneficiary of huge structural funds which were being invested in new infrastructure and skills development there.
I was an economic immigrant, able to work in the Republic due to the free movement of workers within the EU at a time when career options were limited in Northern Ireland.
My second break was with a start-up company called Jinny Software, based in Dublin which was founded by another economic immigrant – a Lebanese man, from Beirut. He was welcomed with open arms into the growing tech sector in Dublin supported by and with access to the EU and its sizeable telecoms market, factors which encouraged him to move his business and family there.
The rapid improvement in peace and stability in Northern Ireland, supported by EU Peace funds, and the significant Foreign Direct Investments, again supported in part by EU Regional Development Funds, helped create significant numbers of new, high quality, well paying jobs which encouraged me to move home to Northern Ireland to further my career.
Moving forward to the present day the ECIT Institute in which I work was built using EU funds 13 years ago and today generates around one third of its income from collaborative EU Horizon 2020 and European Space Agency projects. One quarter is generated from commercial engagements with companies either based in or who generate significant revenue from the EU. Other work is supported via Invest NI with funds which ultimately come from the EU through its ERDF mechanisms. These are not handouts – they are hugely competitive research projects which we have secured by building consortia across the EU and through our research excellence, engineering capabilty and well articulated commercialisation strategies have beaten all-comers. Our staff are a mix of nationalities drawn from the UK, Ireland, Spain, Greece, Germany, Russia, India, China, Vietnam and many others.
From a cyber security perspective, UK police forces in addition to their colleagues from across the EU as part of Europol (The current Director is a UK national by the way) formed the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) which commenced its activities in January 2013. Cyber crime respects no international borders. This Centre is there to keep you and I safe and catch bad guys online who would wish to do us all harm.
When I travel throughout Europe I can use my phone to make calls, text, email and use the internet for a paltry £3 per day. Probably less if I reviewed my mobile contract. I’m able to do this because the EU have forced the telecoms companies to stop ripping off their customers wishing to use roaming services.
This isn’t about high tech jobs or my pocket however. My salary and those of my colleagues help support additional jobs in the local community through our taxes and spending on goods and services.
Fiona and I simply couldn’t continue to work full-time without significant childcare for example. We help support jobs in the nursery who we entrust the care of Ethan and Lucas, and before them Jacob, to. The staff there are a mix of local and other nationalities. Again the free movement of workers across the EU ensures the nursery can get sufficient skilled nursery staff to keep my kids happy and safe during the day. We also support jobs in the morning and after schools clubs that care for Jacob outside of core primary school hours.
Jacob, Lucas and Ethan have had their fair share of healthcare – yet again the EU and immigration have helped. With nurses, doctors, consultants and auxiliary staff all helping to keep them healthy and well. Many new medications that they have taken during their short lives have been developed with support from the EU. We have had confidence that their food and milk has been safe due to rigorous health and safety standards imposed because we are part of the EU. One only has to look to the 2008 baby milk scandal where powder was adulterated with melamine to see how this can go horribly wrong when there is little oversight.
I have direct experience of working with a variety of EU lead and sponsored institutions both here and in Brussels. There is no doubt that the EU needs reformed. Notwithstanding, we can only do that if we stay in and not run away when things are getting tough.
This morning I cast my vote for remain.
The polling stations close at 10pm. Remember to cast yours.