Brexit 'a boost' for dissident republicans opposed to peace process
Brexit has provided a boost for dissident republicans opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process, MPs have been told.
The UK's vote to leave the European Union is being used as a rallying call by groups trying to get a grip on communities unhappy with the referendum result.
Professor Peter Shirlow, director of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, said dissidents had been handed a token to promote their anti-EU, anti-British message.
He said: "If you look at the dissidents, Brexit has been a boost to them in terms of their organisational capacity."
Prof Shirlow was among three leading academics giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee at Westminster which is examining the future of the land border with the Republic of Ireland.
He added: "There was a settlement which may be altered by the oncoming of Brexit. What we know about our society is that there are people who are sectarian entrepreneurs or conflict entrepreneurs.
"If we look at the evidence we have, they are clearly using this as an opportunity to rally.
"They are small groups, they are very unpopular groups, but there is also other evidence in some areas that people are moving to these groups.
"There is a section of our society which is rubbing its hands at Brexit for its own ends and they are entrepreneurs who will try to use that propaganda to influence young minds."
Earlier this month Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton expressed concern about the possible loss of European Arrest Warrants.
In a written submission to the House of Lords, the senior officer said there had to be international legislation to allow police on both sides of the Irish border to effectively tackle organised crime.
The committee was told co-operation around security issues would be limited after Brexit.
"Clearly the PSNI and Northern Ireland Policing Board have very, very strong concerns," added Prof Shirlow.
During the two-hour meeting there were some tense exchanges between SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell and Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley, who was chairing the session.
At one point the Mr McDonnell rose to his feet to express outrage when evidence on self identity was branded "for the birds" and "scaremongering" by Mr Paisley.
Michael Dougan, professor of European law at the University of Liverpool, told MPs that possible changes to the UK's immigration policy could have huge ramifications.
He said: "If a future UK immigration policy were to change and Irish nationals were to be lumped together with ordinary EU nationals and subject to a much more restrictive immigration regime, that poses real problems for Northern Ireland, because the Good Friday Agreement says that you can self identify as British-Irish as a dual citizen and that will be respected come what may.
"If you have a differential immigration regime for residency, for employment, for social security, for health, where Irish nationals are treated differently to UK nationals, you are basically forcing a significant section of the population of Northern Ireland to change their self identification because it is very difficult to see how those differences could be enforced."
Deflecting Mr Paisley's criticism that his comments were "hypotheticals", the professor added: "Several months ago, who would have thought we would have voted to leave the EU - hypotheticals can come true."