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Concern over ‘myriad of issues’ post-Brexit, such as guide dogs crossing border

Equality and Human Rights body chiefs raised the concerns with the Executive Office’s scrutiny committee at Stormont on Wednesday.

Concerns have been raised that a “myriad of issues” could arise at the end of the Brexit transition period, relating to the tens of thousands of people who cross the Irish border every day.

Senior officials from the Equality Commission and Human Rights Commission have said they will monitor the impact as the transition period ends on December 31.

The two organisations have been given a mandate to monitor, advise, report on and enforce the UK’s adherence to the commitment that there will be no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity.

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Dr Evelyn Collins, Chief Executive of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. (NI Assembly/PA)

Dr Evelyn Collins, Chief Executive of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. (NI Assembly/PA)

Dr Evelyn Collins, Chief Executive of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. (NI Assembly/PA)

Giving evidence to the Executive Office’s oversight committee at Stormont on Wednesday, Dr Evelyn Collins, chief executive of the Equality Commission, said she expects a “myriad of issues” to arise.

“One of the concerns that people with disabilities have raised with us is the difficulties that they’ll have with taking their guide dog across the border,” she said.

“The issues, if they don’t get resolved, will create real every day difficulties for people who use guide dogs to travel or go to work across the border.

“If that isn’t dealt with in the trade agreement, then that will be an issue.

“There is a myriad of issues like that, that will come up, we think, as a result of leaving the EU, which we hope will be addressed.”

Dr David Russell, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, said there is potential for an issue around access to childcare provision, health and social care and access to education.

“We have significant numbers of people moving across the frontier every day for all sorts of things, work as well as exercise and social and economic rights,” he said.

“Those are the sorts of things that potentially could raise difficulties and will fall within the scope of the new mandate of the two commissioners.”

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Dr David Russell, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. (NI Assembly/PA)

Dr David Russell, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. (NI Assembly/PA)

Dr David Russell, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. (NI Assembly/PA)

He added: “The removal of the European Court of Justice and the removal of the charter of fundamental rights is removing an aspect of the overarching architecture of human rights protections that we have benefited from for a long time.

“That in itself is a serious concern, but it is absolutely clear that that was a red line in terms of Brexit, that battle has been lost, and therefore the Article 2 commitment will kick in now to ensure that what Government has stated, which is in their view does not substantively impact on the protection of right, we’ll have to test the mettle of that come January 1.”

Geraldine McGahey, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, said she did not believe people are aware of the possible implications of Brexit.

“I don’t think people are aware of any of these issues, that’s why we feel it is really important to get this awareness raising campaign up and running very very quickly,” she said.

“It’s not just wider public but it’s also departments within the civil service, it’s all public sector organisations who have a role in devising public policy.

“So I think the sooner that we can get that programme up and running, the sooner the wider public can become aware, the more they are going to be tuned into looking for issues that are going to become different, and that’s the piece of work that we need to continue with at pace.”

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Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (NI Assembly/PA)

Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (NI Assembly/PA)

Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (NI Assembly/PA)

Ms McGahey said they aspire to establish a memorandum of understanding with the EU.

“It’s my view that true collaborative working makes sure that everyone knows their roles and their responsibilities and someone can be held to account if it doesn’t work, so that’s something that we would be working towards and hope to encourage others to see that way forward,” she said.

Committee chairman Colin McGrath backed that as “very useful to clearly define exactly what the roles are on either side”.

Concluding the meeting, he said: “I hope that the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office, Boris Johnson and the British Government are listening and getting appraised of presentations such as yours where the protection is in international law that they are suggesting they might have to break, and maybe then they’ll begin to understand why we are so concerned and so worried.”

PA