Belfast Telegraph

Community leaders tell Theresa May of their fears about a hard Brexit

The Prime Minister met community leaders at the 174 Trust in north Belfast during her visit to Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Theresa May at a community centre during her visit to Belfast.
Prime Minister Theresa May at a community centre during her visit to Belfast.

Community leaders have warned the Prime Minister about their fears of the impact of a hard Brexit on Northern Ireland.

Theresa May spoke to a number of community leaders during a visit to the 174 Trust in north Belfast on Tuesday.

Pro-Palestine supporters held a protest outside the venue during the visit, and were held back by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

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Pro Palestine campaigners held a protest in north Belfast as Prime Minister Theresa May visited a community centre. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Inside the community centre Mrs May took part in round table discussions.

Seamus McAleavey, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) said he told Mrs May that there is a real fear in Northern Ireland over Brexit.

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“We told the Prime Minister what we thought with regard to the issues, there is a real fear in Northern Ireland that if we leave the EU with no deal it would have a catastrophic impact on Northern Ireland in particular and the UK,” he said.

“We did support her Withdrawal Deal and we do think the backstop is very important as well.”

Peter McBride, chief executive of Inspire, said he told the Prime Minister of a “palatable sense of frustration” in the community about how Northern Ireland’s views are being represented at Westminster.

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Prime Minister Theresa May at a community centre during her visit to Belfast (Clodagh Kilcoyne/PA)

“There is one side that is being represented in Westminster but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of all the people in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“This was an opportunity to describe to her some of the risks that there are in the face of a no deal, and as Seamus said, the backstop arrangement is something that is attractive and probably is necessary, and certainly better than no deal.

“My experience of her was that she listened intently, engaged with us, asked questions and was very keen to hear what it was like on the ground.”

Nora Smith, chief executive of CO3, a membership organisation for charity leaders, said it was a really important opportunity to engage directly with the Prime Minister.

She said there are real fears and concerns among the charity sector over Brexit.

“If we are looking at a no-deal Brexit scenario, that is really worrying on a number of different levels, in terms of access to funding, our peace process and just how divisive that is for wider society in Northern Ireland,” Ms Smith said.

“So the opportunity to speak directly to the Prime Minister and share those concerns was invaluable.”

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Stephen Mathews and Nora Smith (PA)

Stephen Mathews, chief executive of the Cedar Foundation, which supplies services to people living with disabilities, said the organisation works with many in the border counties and is concerned about the impact of Brexit on that work.

“We are very concerned that opportunities that have been developed through European funding over many, many years are going to be lost,” he said.

“We provide services in the border counties and I told her about the reality of the situation where people work and live on different sides of the border, and that really the border isn’t something that has been part of people’s lives for a generation now.

“She certainly was very willing to listen to our point of view and seemed to understand the importance of making sure that services that we provide are protected.”

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