10am, Tuesday 10th October.
Healing, Learning and Citizens’ Rights: Crossing Borders was the theme of this year’s CCBS policy seminar at the office of the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the EU in Brussels on 10th October. Despite a public transport strike, the event attracted more than 40 people, and was very well received by those in attendance. This was the third year that CCBS has organised a policy seminar in Brussels to coincide with the Committee of the Regions Open Days. In her opening remarks CCBS Director Ruth Taillon reminded the audience that the three priorities set out by the EU Commission for the exit negotiations with the UK Government were all relevant to Ireland/Northern Ireland and interlinked. While much of the discussion about “Ireland/Northern Ireland” has been focused on the issues of the border, in fact citizens’ rights and the UK’s financial obligations are also extremely relevant for us. The Centre for Cross Border Studies is advocating that not only is it essential that the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) – in all its parts – be protected by all parties to the negotiations, but also that it provides a framework for resolving some of the most challenging problems related to Brexit and the island of Ireland.
Judith Thompson, Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, outlined how the Commission was working with victims of the conflict, in particular through the Victims and Survivors Forum and with service providers addressing the psychosocial challenges affecting Victims and Survivors of the Troubles. The Commission has received a substantial allocation of EU PEACE IV funding, some of which is being used for three interlinked research projects (Review of Trauma Services; Trans-generational Legacy and Young People; and Advocacy Support Services). However, commitments made in respect of victims and survivors and “dealing with the past” — Acknowledgement, Reparation; Truth and Justice – remain unfulfilled.
Kevin Hanratty, Director of the Human Rights Consortium, warned that Brexit is a clear threat to existing rights in Northern Ireland and stressed the need for retention, protection or replication of EU derived rights. He reminded listeners of the explicit references to the EU in the Belfast/GFA and the Northern Ireland Act. But also, other rights, such as protection from discrimination on the grounds of sex or disability are derived from EU legislation. He went on to explain that while the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is intended to transfer acquis of EU law into UK legislation, it will not incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. Nor does it allow for a role for the Court of Justice. The Bill gives no formal recognition or protection to the GFA but does amend the NI Act to remove the restriction on the Assembly to act in accordance with EU Community Law. The controversial “Henry VIII” provisions give UK Government Ministers wide powers and the Bill blocks the automatic download of competencies to devolved administrations and retains centrally at Westminster.
In his presentation on Higher Education and Brexit, Ryan Feeney, Head of Public Engagement, Queen’s University Belfast highlighted the contribution of Higher Education Institutions to the Northern Ireland economy. He noted the importance and quality of research being done at QUB and other Universities, very often in partnership with institutions in other parts of the EU. Mr Feeney referenced the work QUB academics are doing in relation to analysing the implications of Brexit and outlined QUB’s four Brexit Priorities: Access to EU Funding; Status of Current and Future EU Staff; Student Recruitment and Mobility; and Ireland North/South Relationship.
Anthony Soares, Deputy Director, Centre for Cross Border Studies returned to the theme of the GFA “in all its parts”. Noting first of all that the EU Council, the EU Parliament, the UK and Irish Governments to respect and protect the Agreement, Dr Soares then recalled the Agreement’s three strands: relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands “as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union”. Outlining CCBS’s proposals for the GFA as the framework for a “flexible and imaginative solution” to some of the challenges posed by Brexit for the island of Ireland, he stressed again that protecting the integrity of the Agreement requires more than simply ensuring the continued existence of the institutions established to underpin the Agreement. It is essential that the social and economic relations between both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, and between the island of Ireland and Great Britain, are not interrupted.
A lively discussion took place after the final presentation with great discussion between the panel and the large audience before Ms Taillon made her closing remarks on the successful seminar.
All of the presentations from Healing, Learning and Citizens’ Rights: Crossing Borders are available below.
Supporting Victims & Survivors of the Troubles/ Conflict in Northern Ireland
Judith Thompson, Commissioner for Victims and Survivors
Brexit: The Human Rights challenges for Northern Ireland
Kevin Hanratty, Director, Human Rights Consortium
Higher Education and BREXIT
Ryan Feeney, Head of Public Engagement, Queens University Belfast
Total Recall: The 1998 Agreement in all its parts
Anthony Soares, Deputy Director Centre for Cross Border Studies