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SDLP call for 'Border Bank' to help ease Brexit impact

By Allan Preston

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has urged the British and Irish Governments to create a "Border Bank" to provide protection from Brexit.

He will make his case for a North-South Structural Fund at this week's political talks.

Mr Eastwood said he had previously discussed the matter with Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He suggested that interest Dublin pays to the UK for a 2010 crisis loan could help finance the project.

The Loans to Ireland Act saw the UK give £3.2bn to the Republic as part of an international rescue fund to stop the Irish economy collapsing after the banking crisis. Interest payments of £42m have since been paid twice a year, and will continue until at least March 2021.

Mr Eastwood said: "I raised the need for both Governments to agree to use the Loans to Ireland funds to support the border areas, north and south. Areas around the border are at particular risk because of Brexit."

The Foyle MLA said he will argue that some of the interest payments can be used for cross-border development for sectors hit hardest by EU withdrawal.

"Our unique proposal would be to channel some of this money into the creation of a new North-South Structural Fund, the Border Bank," he explained.

"The new Border Bank could finally help deliver City Deals and progress projects that require funding, such as such as Narrow Water Bridge, the A5 and A6."

Fresh talks to restore the Executive are to begin on Wednesday, this time including the five main local parties and the British and Irish Governments.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has set a time limit of two weeks, as she will update MPs at Westminster on progress on February 7.

DUP MLA Simon Hamilton welcomed the talks, but called for "realism" from Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein's Northern leader Michelle O'Neill said: "We are determined to find a resolution that sees the institutions restored and delivering rights for all citizens."

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