Bradley casts doubt on peace project funding delivery in event of no-deal Brexit
In the exit deal, the UK and EU have committed to maintaining, up to 2027, funding streams that were first established in the mid-1990s.
Karen Bradley has cast doubt on whether £300 million of Government funding for peacebuilding in Northern Ireland could be delivered if there is a no-deal Brexit.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said the proposed Withdrawal Agreement provided the “legal basis” to offer the financial support to reconciliation initiatives in a joint-funding model with the EU and Irish government.
In the exit deal, the UK and EU have committed to maintaining, up to 2027, funding streams that were first established in the mid-1990s to support projects in Northern Ireland and the border counties in the Irish Republic.
If we leave the European Union without a deal, we will have difficulties in finding a way that the EU and Irish government can spend money jointly with the UK Government in Northern Ireland on these important projects Karen Bradley
Asked if the £300 million commitment announced by the Government on Friday was dependent on the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, she said: “The legal basis upon which this can be delivered is the Withdrawal Agreement.
“It is set out in there and if we leave the European Union without a deal, we will have difficulties in finding a way that the EU and Irish government can spend money jointly with the UK Government in Northern Ireland on these important projects.”
The proposed Peace Plus scheme will succeed the current Peace programme, which was designed to help promote economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the border region of Ireland.
The Peace programme has been running since 1995 with funding from the UK, Ireland and EU, and will end in 2020.
Last May, the EU set out its plan to make £109 million in funding to continue peace projects post-Brexit.
The overall funding commitments, if rolled out, will enable work to continue on the construction of almost £1.8 billion worth of projects in both Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Among the projects to have received funding to date has been the £14.5 million Peace Bridge in Londonderry, which was opened in 2011 and links Derry’s communities across the River Foyle.
Youth Action NI in Belfast is one of the organisations that has benefited under the existing scheme.
The group used the money to set up the Youth Network for Peace, a regional project involving 10,000 young people in a range of social action projects on a cross-community and cross-border basis.
Mrs Bradley visited Youth Action’s office in the city on Friday.
The Secretary of State did not go so far as to say the Government would stop funding the projects in a no-deal scenario, but she stressed that it would be difficult to find a way to do it.
“It’s not about the quantum or the (level of) support, it’s about how you legally deliver it,” she said.
“As a Government, to spend public money you need to have a legal basis to do so.
“The Withdrawal Agreement sets that out.
“If we leave without a deal the question will be how do you legally do these things and I am saying to people we have a way of doing it legally – it’s the Withdrawal Agreement.
“That’s why we should vote for the Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday in the House of Commons.”
Gina McIntyre, chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), welcomed the funding confirmation.
“It’s a fantastic announcement today to have the commitment from the UK and an idea of the quantum that they are planning to commit,” she said.
Martin McMullan, assistant director of Youth Action NI, explained how important the continuance of funding was.
“We need certainty about where we are going in terms of our programmes,” he said.
“We are a youth work-based organisation working with multiple partners on the island of Ireland, north and south, so I think we are really keen to look forward to how do we keep this work going because we still are in the very early days of nurturing young people’s appetite to be involved in politics and youth democracy.
“So I think the announcement today is really, really important for our society in terms of moving forward, in terms of being hopeful and optimistic.”
The DUP criticised the Mrs Bradley’s comments, branding them a “distasteful bluff”.
MEP Diane Dodds said: “Ahead of Tuesday’s crucial vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, it is disgraceful and disingenuous that the Secretary of State should use the issue of peace funding as a bargaining chip aimed at securing more votes for the flawed deal.”
She added: “The DUP believes it is wrong that the interests of individuals, projects and communities relying on peace funding should be exploited for short-term advantage at Westminster.
“The Prime Minister must move to clarify the Government position and to reiterate all-weather commitments to peace funding in Northern Ireland in all eventualities.”