Belfast Telegraph

Brexit contributing to sectarian violence, warns key player in Northern Ireland peace talks

A car is set alight in the Creggan area of Derry last Thursday, the night Lyra McKee was shot dead
A car is set alight in the Creggan area of Derry last Thursday, the night Lyra McKee was shot dead

Former government advisor Jonathan Powell has said Brexit is contributing to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, although he was careful to stress it was not the cause.

Jonathan Powell worked as Downing Street Chief of Staff under then prime minister Tony Blair from 1997 to 2007 and played a key role in the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

He told the BBC's Today programme that Brexit was one of a number of factors leading to increased violence in Northern Ireland.

"I think it would be quite wrong to say either the political crisis in Northern Ireland - the institutions having fallen over and not being put back up again, the essence of the Good Friday Agreement - nor Brexit caused this," Mr Powell said.

"The trouble with it is it's sitting out there as a political crisis and this sort of mindless violence can then fall into that."

Mr Powell said further violence could be prevented if the Government take action.

"If we (the Government) took stupid steps this could lead to a real crisis," he said.

"I don't believe for a second the British Government will do that, but the fact the political crisis is out there - both Brexit and the failure to put the institutions up again - is a real problem and that is a tinder for this kind of violence.

"This kind of violence is pointless by itself but it could affect this political wasteland out there, which is not really being addressed by the British Government in a sufficient way."

Following the murder of Lyra McKee in Londonderry last Thursday Mr Powell dismissed the New IRA as "pathetic" and with little support from the community.

Jonathan Powell was chief British negotiator in the Belfast Agreement talks
Jonathan Powell was chief British negotiator in the Belfast Agreement talks

"This is a pathetic little group that has very little capacity," he said.

"It isn't really a threat to the long-term peace in Northern Ireland - it's not like the IRA in the bad old days.

"The IRA - Sinn Fein used to get 30% of the Catholic support in the elections at the height of the Troubles, so they had real and genuine political support. They represented a real strand of opinion in Northern Ireland.

"This group can barely get a couple of councillors elected, it does not represent a political strand in Northern Ireland so I don't think they are a threat." 

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