CCBS Director Ruth Taillon was invited to give oral evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, which held a session on “Brexit: UK-Irish relations” at Stormont on 31 January. Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body also gave evidence in this session.
CCBS has previously submitted written evidence to this Inquiry (18 January 2017) http://crossborder.ie/house-of-lords-european-union-inquiry-on-brexit-uk-irish-relations/ as well as to the committee’s Devolution Inquiry (3 March 2017) – http://crossborder.ie/house-of-lords-devolution-inquiry/ . At this follow-up session, the committee were interested in how people on both sides of the border see Brexit and on the implications for north/south relations on the island of Ireland. In response, Ruth Taillon expressed concern that Brexit has made the border contentious, and with it community relations in Northern Ireland as combined with austerity, people’s rights and entitlements to public services, housing and jobs are disputed. Asked about the 8 December Joint Report on progress so far in Phase 1 of the negotiations, Ruth stressed the importance of getting what was agreed in the Joint Report written into the legal treaty of the Withdrawal Agreement. “…there has to be good faith in the sense that that has been agreed. We will now build on that and move forward rather than trying to unpick it before we have even got through the Withdrawal Agreement.” She stressed also, the commitments made to protect the Good Friday Agreement ‘in all its parts’. Asked to comment on priority issues for the next phase of negotiations, Ruth referred to issues still to be finalised from Phase 1 that are to do with citizens’ rights – in both the Ireland/Northern Ireland strand and the separate but overlapping discussions about citizens’ rights.
The committee was also interested in the impact of EU funding in the past and both Gina and Ruth explained how important the programmes have been. Ruth talked about the importance of Peace and INTERREG to normalising cross-border cooperation and suggested that a similar programme or programmes was needed to build relationships between the island of Ireland and Britain. She also explained how valuable other programmes such as the Structural Funds had been, referring, for example to the benefits of the Rural Development Programme and the European Social Fund. Importantly, in addition to the funding that has been available to ‘bottom-up’ projects, EU programmes had significantly changed the political culture on the island through introducing new ways of working, such as the partnership principle.
The full session is available to watch here.
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