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Brexit puts future of £14m pot for Northern Ireland victims' groups in doubt

By Noel McAdam

Published 29/06/2016

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Victims of the Troubles could be hit hard by the UK's exit from the EU, it has been warned.

The future of a programme designed to pump €17m (£14.1m) into victims' groups in Northern Ireland is now in doubt, it has been claimed.

Wave - one of the major groups dealing with victims' issues - has raised concerns that funding will be frozen following the decision to leave the EU.

Wave said the result could affect its trauma training programme imminently and revealed that youth work provision had already ended.

The group demanded that Stormont ministers find out whether the planned Peace 4 money will be forthcoming.

Chief executive Sandra Peake said: "As far as we are aware, €17m had been earmarked for the victims' and survivors' sector, but there is very real concern over whether this will happen.

"For us, it was to be a five-year programme, which was very welcome, but if the UK is to pull out after the next two years the funding may be only for that period."

In the past, money from the EU would have funded up to 50%, and at times 60%, of Wave's budget.

"We have no EU money now but had been in the process of applying for the Peace 4 funds.

"In the past, EU money allocated to us would have paid for our development work."

Belfast centre manager Alan McBride added: "We are far from the only organisation in the community and voluntary sector which is seeking answers, but solutions at the moment seem thin on the ground.

"It isn't that we were certain of gaining access to these funds, but given our track record we were fairly confident that we would qualify and now there is a huge amount of uncertainty.

"A big question mark has been put over all of this and no one seems to have any answers.

"None of those who were in support of the withdrawal from the EU seems to know what is going to happen."

Mr McBride, whose wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond Frizzell were among the victims of the IRA's Shankill bomb in October 1993, said: "We are working with very vulnerable people. There is a lot of fear and trepidation out there."

The board of Wave, a voluntary cross-community organisation initially formed to support people who lost spouses as a result of violence, is meeting later this week to discuss the potential funding gap.

After it was formed in 1991, the group was expanded to include children, young people and anyone injured or traumatised during the Troubles.

It now has offices in Armagh, Ballymoney, Londonderry and Omagh.

Europe has paid €1.3bn since 1995 to support peace in Northern Ireland and the border counties in the Republic of Ireland through both the PEACE and Interreg initiatives.

It has also helped build a peace bridge linking mainly Catholic and Protestant communities in Londonderry and also the Skainos Centre in East Belfast.

While she backed a Brexit, First Minister Arlene Foster previously praised the PEACE scheme.

Communities Minister Paul Givan told MLAs yesterday he had asked officials to take action to "scope out the impact" of EU withdrawal across the range of community groups.

"Uncertainty can create anxiety, and we need to make sure that we give them the best support that we possibly can," the DUP man explained

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Secretary will today say that the bond between the UK and Ireland can survive a Brexit.

In a speech at Stormont House, Theresa Villiers, who campaigned to leave the European Union, will say she looks forward to strengthening the relationship between the two neighbouring countries.

The Secretary of State will add: "We have seen all too well how history can divide.

"Our ambitious goal throughout this decade is to seek to use history to unite.

"To build on the political progress that has been made here, to strengthen further the strong bilateral relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and Ireland... a relationship that will endure long beyond the UK's exit from the EU.

"And to bolster the special ties that exist throughout these islands as we look forward to our next century of co-operation, partnership and friendship."

The speech comes as the UK and Irish Governments prepare to discuss the likely fallout from the Brexit vote for the first time today.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and Ms Villiers will talk about the impact of the referendum on cross-border relations when they meet in Belfast.

Meetings will also take place with the First and Deputy First Ministers and other parties.

Belfast Telegraph

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