Rural communities on both sides of the border are living in “fear” that vital funds ensuring cross-border cooperation may disappear post-Brexit, according to a report.
A parliamentary committee warned the Irish government on Wednesday of the “urgent” need to secure continued funding to protect rural communities and businesses on both sides of the Northern Ireland border after the UK leaves the EU.
It recommended that Ireland secures EU funding for a programme to address the instability and “challenges of inter-community conflict and cross-border relationships”.
Rural and Community Development Committee chairman Joe Carey said there was an “urgent need for certainty on funding” to ease “fear” in the community that there could be an end to cooperative efforts in the event of a hard Brexit.
Cross-border cooperation is vital for the rural economy and rural development on both sides of the border.Joe Carey
“It’s the committee’s view that government should seek agreement from the European Union and the UK for a way to allow Northern Ireland continued access to EU funding [programmes relevant to cross-border cooperation],” he said.
He added that in the case of non-agreement the Irish government must agree EU replacement funding with the UK government to ensure funds for the continuation of cross-border cooperation.
“Communities up to a certain point were in conflict and their fear is that these funds may disappear and they need certainty around that, they need certainty around the Common Travel Area and they need certainty around peace funding,” he told those gathered for the publication of the committee’s latest report.
Mr Carey said there was “no doubt” that the Good Friday Agreement and the EU’s support had led to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and the border region over the past 21 years.
“Cross-border cooperation is vital for the rural economy and rural development on both sides of the border,” he said.
The Fine Gael TD said that since the UK held the Brexit referendum in June 2016 the committee had been concerned “that the unintended consequence of the Brexit process would be that Northern Ireland and the border region is at risk of suffering a loss of funding and support in the short term along with EU Peace programme funding in the long term, resulting from the possible return of a hard border with all that entails”.
Mr Carey said the committee had heard from 16 bodies from both sides of the border and he said all of the organisations were worried about the potential return of a hard border and the “detrimental impact” it would have on communities.
He said the future development to the Peace programme was now the committee’s priority.
Among the report’s 13 recommendations is a call for certainty and clarity to be provided about the Common Travel Area.
It also urged businesses to “immediately” draw up strategies to be implemented once the UK leaves that would protect existing cross-border business arrangements and called on 11 border-area local authorities to develop North/South tourism strategies “applicable to their specific cross-border regions”.
The committee also wants new research to be conducted on agreements in place that affect other EU regions that share land borders with non-EU states like Norway and Switzerland.