Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone DUP councillor questions treatment of Derry and Strabane Council during Barnier visit

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A DUP councillor has questioned if councils were treated differently during the visit of Michel Barnier to Northern Ireland.

Dungannon councillor Kim Ashton has asked why Derry City & Strabane District Council was given prior notice of the visit of the EU's chief Brexit negotiator and alleged it was involved in putting the itinerary of the trip together. 

In a statement, Ms Ashton said Mid Ulster District Council - which she serves on, and which was visited by Mr Barnier - was not given prior notice for the visit.

"On Michel Barnier’s visit to Londonderry he was greeted by the Mayor of the city and the Council was involved in putting together the itinerary for his visit. On the other hand for Mr Barnier’s visit to Dungannon the Council has not even been told that it is to happen," she said.

"The European Commission in Belfast need to explain why they believe a rural council is somehow less important than one covering a city. Is Mid Ulster looked upon by the Commission as a lesser part of Northern Ireland? They should explain why Mid Ulster Council has been snubbed."

Ms Ashton added it had been a "very poor visit, mired with controversy" and accused the European Commission of making it "more about photographs rather than substantial issues".

During this week's visit, Mr Barnier has taken in stops north and south of the border.

On Monday he attended the fourth All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dundalk, before crossing the border to visit InterTradeIreland in Newry. 

On Tuesday Mr Barnier has has been making stops in Londonderry and Ms Ashton's constituency of Dungannon in Co Tyrone.

Writing in Tuesday's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Barnier said: "I am committed to finding such a solution that protects the Good Friday Agreement, north-south cooperation and the functioning of the all-island economy, while respecting the UK's constitutional order."

Speaking just prior to Mr Barnier's arrival in Northern Ireland, DUP leader Arlene Foster said he was "not an honest broker".

Mrs Foster said: "He is hearing a very strong message from the Republic of Ireland government, he is hearing it from Sinn Fein. We have tried to get him to understand the unionist position here in Northern Ireland but he hasn't responded to that."

Speaking after a meeting with Mr Barnier during his visit to the border areas on Tuesday, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said he had heard the case for special status.

"I welcomed Michel Barnier to Derry this morning and it is important that he had the opportunity to see at first hand the disastrous impact Brexit would have here," she said.

"During his visit Michel Barnier heard the concerns of local stakeholders about the impact of Brexit and the prospect of the imposition of a hard border and the need for the north to secure special status within the EU."

Mrs Anderson also said she had "made it clear" to Michel Barnier that the DUP "do not speak for the people of the north" - the majority of whom voted to remain in the EU - and that she was pleased he had shown support for the backstop option.

“Throughout this visit Michel Barnier heard the clear message that people do not want a hard border, they want to see the Good Friday Agreement protected in all its parts and that do not want any reduction in our rights,” she added.

Derry and Strabane District Council and the European Commission in Belfast have been contacted for comment.

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