EU funds should continue to support peace building work, says Sinn Fein
European Union funds should continue to support peace building work in Northern Ireland post-Brexit, Sinn Fein has said.
The maintenance of funding streams that have paid for reconciliation initiatives throughout the peace process is a key plank of the republican party's vision of special designated EU status for the region in the wake of the UK's exit.
The party's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said the issue of whether Northern Ireland would make a financial contribution to EU institutions as part of any potential deal would have to be worked out in Brexit negotiations.
Sinn Fein has published a policy document outlining what special status might look like ahead of Saturday's special EU Council meeting in Brussels when the Union's negotiating position on Brexit will be agreed.
Mrs O'Neill said there was a willingness within the EU to continue to support peace projects in Northern Ireland going forward.
"Europe has very much been a friend of the north of Ireland, very much been a friend of Ireland," she said.
"If you look down through the peace process they have been very supportive in terms of peace funds and I think there is a recognition out there within Europe that they want to continue that support.
"What that looks like has all to be discussed as part of the negotiations but we will be arguing very strongly that we want to maintain that close friendship which we had."
Mrs O'Neill said that the EU negotiating position should include a declaration that Northern Ireland must retain special status.
"Brexit is bad for our economy, it undermines our peace process, and it denies the democratic wish of the people who voted to remain in the European Union (56% in Northern Ireland) and will create a hard border," she told an event in west Belfast.
As well as maintaining direct EU funding streams, Sinn Fein wants the region to continue to avail itself of financial support from the European Investment Bank.
Under the party's plan, Northern Ireland would also:
:: Have laws that reflected the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
:: Retain access to the single market and customs union, with full freedom of movement of goods, people and services.
:: Be subject to EU employment rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court.
:: Have a right to send Stormont ministers to certain Council of Ministers meetings.
:: Retain a form of political representation in Brussels, with EU citizens living in the region having the right to vote in European elections.
Mrs O'Neill called on the Irish government to formally adopt the call for special status as its position entering negotiations.
"There is widespread support for such a position north and south and the Irish government should now adopt it as its formal negotiating position and use their strength in the forthcoming European negotiations to make it happen," she said.