UUP in call for peace centre at old court as part of Brexit
The Ulster Unionist Party has demanded a massive tripling of investment in Northern Ireland's infrastructure and a peace centre at the site of the derelict Crumlin Road courthouse as the UK starts Brexit negotiations.
In its strategy to steer the province through withdrawal from the European Union, Stormont's main Opposition party also said there must be a "Brexit war room" to ensure our interests.
The UUP said Northern Ireland was due to receive almost €3.4bn over the current EU budget period 2014-20, with additional funds from centrally-managed programmes.
But it said there are real fears over the future of this money.
The party has developed 10 "key asks". They include:
- A trebling of infrastructure development.
- An NI-wide enterprise zone.
- Financial guarantees for those in receipt of EU funding.
- No hard borders at our ports and airports.
- Unfettered access to the EU's single market.
Leader Mike Nesbitt summarised its vision as aiming to make Northern Ireland the "UK's gateway to the EU".
The party has claimed we will be the most impacted region of the UK, yet are the "least well prepared".
Last week First Minister Arlene Foster told the Belfast Telegraph she will ensure that Northern Ireland's voice was heard in the Brexit negotiations.
But the UUP has challenged her Executive to undertake "urgent, comprehensive, coherent action".
In its new policy document published today - A Vision For Northern Ireland Outside The EU - the party urged the Executive to deliver a "positive for the people of Northern Ireland in the post-Brexit environment".
It wants the Executive to create a "Brexit war room with the skills and capacity to ensure the Executive identified the best policy options and priorities for Northern Ireland", and to "define key 'asks' of the Government and EU to maximise the potential benefits for Northern Ireland".
Some of the most ambitious of the UUP's 10 key 'asks' include trebling investment in infrastructure - upgrading the road network, the rail link to Dublin, energy and superfast broadband.
The party has also suggested reopening bids for EU funding of a peace centre. No agreement could be reach over the creation of a peace centre at the Maze, now the UUP is suggesting one be built on the site on the old Crumlin Road courthouse.
The building - where many of the biggest trials of the Troubles took place - is opposite Crumlin Road Gaol, now a popular tourist attraction, and the two are connected by an underground tunnel that brought prisoners to the dock.
"The previous proposal to build a so-called Peace Building and Conflict Reconciliation Centre at the Maze is discredited," the document says. "Rather than allowing the debilitating stalemate at the Maze to continue, the Executive should engage the EU in funding a peace centre at an alternative venue, reclaiming the former Crumlin Road courthouse, reopening the tunnel connecting the courthouse to the highly successfully reimagined gaol."
The UUP also proposes that, as a "final pre-Brexit legacy project", the Executive should seek EU funding for a People's Park, "celebrating the global impact across all aspects of life of the people born in the north east of this island".
"It should be based at Titanic Quarter, where record numbers of tourists arrive on cruise ships," the document says.
"As one example of the proposal's potential, many visitors are American but unaware of the heritage of the Ulster-Scots US Presidents whose homesteads they pass close to, en route to the Giant's Causeway."
Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph last week that although Brexit negotiations between London and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales had not yet begun, she was expecting a fair and constructive dialogue.
"The UK devolved regions must be involved, but it is also important that we all come with a positive approach and work to secure the best possible outcome for our individual regions and for the UK as a whole," she said.
"I am confident there will be a two-way conversation between London and each of the devolved administrations. The negotiations have not yet commenced and they will not be carried out via the media. Those of us who want to see a successful and strong United Kingdom must work to achieve that outcome."