Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Northern Ireland needs influence and strength within EU

'Today, what we see is the failure to grasp the kinds of opportunities that John Hume secured'
'Today, what we see is the failure to grasp the kinds of opportunities that John Hume secured'

The north of Ireland needs strength again in Europe. We are in precarious times.

With a threat of a referendum on the future membership of the EU coming from London, the growing profile of Nigel Farage and Ukip, and the mooted support for a referendum from the UUP, we must recognise that Europe will be looking to us for our reaction.

Our partners, friends and colleagues in Europe, who have worked to support the North with infrastructure funding, single farm payments, research and development grants and monies to grow and support our peace, must be wondering where our loyalties lie.

The SDLP has always been clear on this. We have always been the most pro-European party in the North and, as members of the Party of European Socialists and the S&D Group, we are part of one of the biggest groupings in the European Parliament.

When John Hume was an MEP, the people of the North had a strong voice at the heart of decision-making.

Today, what we see is the failure to grasp the kinds of opportunities that John Hume secured.

For example, in terms of research funding received by the European Union, in the North it is an average of £39 per person. In the South, research funding from the European Union is an average of £185 per person.

The figures around Horizon 20/20, the dedicated fund that requires businesses, or institutions, to work in partnership across the EU, are even more stark.

The South receives 10 times the funding that we do. With this research funding comes education and employment opportunities that we in the North are missing out on due in a large part, I believe, to our weakness in Europe.

We need an MEP who can maximise those opportunities and secure better outcomes for businesses, young people, farmers and rural and urban communities.

Colum Eastwood is SDLP MLA for Foyle.

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