Young professionals are thinking about moving out of Northern Ireland, where living costs are getting higher and old disputes surfaced after Brexit

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Belfast has attracted students and educated professionals from all over the world. Now the uncertainty of research funding has also made Finnish Senni Määtä consider leaving.

ERJA TUOMAALA

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Belfast has attracted students and educated professionals from all over the world. Now the uncertainty of research funding has also made Finnish Senni Määtä consider leaving.

He has defended his doctorate in philosophy at Queen’s University the day before the interview. In Northern Ireland, academic work is graded based on the discussion at the dissertation conference.

– I feel empty and relieved, Määttä describes.

Määttä moved to the capital of Northern Ireland in 2019. He works with 14 other young researchers in an international group in an EU project. Among other things, it examines the social effects of the energy transition and increasing the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Määtta studied social policy in Finland and was particularly interested in climate change.

As a rapidly developing region, Northern Ireland offers a great place for those interested in environmental issues.

Northern Ireland aims to be carbon neutral

Earlier this year, the first environmental law was passed in Northern Ireland. It includes, among other things, a commitment to the goal of zeroing carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

In order to respond to climate challenges, all actors in society must be involved in the talks.

Senni Määttä gives a practical example of the need for comprehensive planning. In winter, it is humid and the wind is harsh.

– It’s drafty in my own apartment. If it’s a windy day, the front door curtain swings. Especially in the older premises of the university, it is either very warm or very cold, says Määttä.

He says that proper insulation of buildings is very important.

The three-month heating bill for Määtä’s apartment is two thousand euros when the oil tank is filled. He estimates his electricity bill to be four times higher than in Finland.

Disputes between Protestants and Catholics surfaced

Northern Ireland has attracted young talents like Senni Määtä from different parts of the world. Now, however, the time is uncertain.

First Britain left the EU, then the pandemic started and Russia attacked Ukraine. The cost of living is rising. Many experts are considering moving away, Määttä is also looking at international job advertisements.

Economic uncertainty increases the threat of political uncertainty. Northern Ireland has bitter experience with that.

For centuries, the province has been divided mainly by religion: pro-British, mostly Protestant Unionists and pro-Irish, mostly Catholic republicans.

From the 1960s, the situation escalated into clashes. Britain sent soldiers to Northern Ireland, and the armed wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out terrorist attacks. A fragile peace was achieved in the 1990s.

Now the mainly pro-British unionist party DUP and Sinn Fein, who are pushing for the unification of the island of Ireland, are trying to maintain self-government. Cooperation has been difficult in the past, but now self-government has practically collapsed.

The DUP is unwilling to cooperate until an agreement has been reached on the protocol regulating Northern Ireland’s trade relations with the parent country after Brexit.

Old disputes have surfaced again.

– It is partly the reason for Brexit. It doesn’t concern me as a foreigner, but the conflict speaks. However, all the people I talk to hope that peace will be preserved, Senni Määttä says.

Around the 12th of July every year is restless. This year too, the protestant event, the tradition march of the Oranians, was disrupted in North Belfast. Stones were thrown at the procession.

– When the bonfires are burning, there are always some disagreements going on, Senni Määttä says.

He points out that the event in Orania is, on the other hand, a family celebration, when people sit outside on picnics.