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Brexit: Belfast council to seek special status for Northern Ireland

By David Young

Belfast City Council is to press for special status for Northern Ireland in the EU as part of the Brexit process.

The council agreed the proposal at last night's AGM - which means it will now be seeking meetings with Prime Minister Theresa May, Irish Premier Enda Kenny and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The Sinn Fein motion was proposed by Geraldine McAteer and seconded by Deirdre Hargey.

Ms McAteer told the meeting that Brexit posed an economic threat to the city of Belfast, offering huge challenges in relation to trade and risking a loss of foreign direct investment in the city - both from losing firms already located here, and by putting off others who might think of investing.

The Sinn Fein councillor said that special designated status for Northern Ireland within the EU "did not affect the constitutional status of the north of Ireland within the UK".

She said that the designation of 'special status' for Northern Ireland could mean:

l retention of access to the EU single market;

l retaining the common travel area between the UK and Ireland;

l continued free movement of people and goods;

l the protection of the peace process; and

l continued access to EU funds for agriculture, 'peace-building' and university research.

She worried that Northern Ireland was "sleepwalking into a process which will damage our economy and social future".

An SDLP amendment proposed by Donal Lyons said special status for Northern Ireland should uphold human rights and the Good Friday Agreement.

"We need to do more than throw our hand in the air and wait for the EU to come and save us," said Mr Lyons.

Both the Alliance and Green Party representatives backed the proposal, while unionist representatives opposed it.

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds - who was a prominent campaigner for a Leave vote in last year's referendum campaign to leave the EU - said the motion was a "regurgitation of Project Fear".

"It didn't work before, it won't work now," he said.

"There is not a single piece of evidence to sustain it. Support for leaving the European Union has actually increased.

"We should be going to London to secure a city/region deal to deliver the growth we all want. Instead, we're going to waste our time and effort on something that isn't going to happen. The UK is leaving.

"The best thing for Northern Ireland to do is to get the best deal between the UK and the EU 27.

"The Republic of Ireland is as worried about a sea border as they are a land border. There is not a need for special status for Northern Ireland in the EU - but there may very well be a case for a special status for the Republic of Ireland in the EU."

The motion was carried by a vote of 27 to 19.

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