Significant cross-border funding will be needed to be mitigate against the negative effects of a no-deal Brexit, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Representatives from cross border organisations Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) and the East Border Region (EBR) were before the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on Thursday to discuss the challenges facing border authorities.
ICBAN chief executive Shane Campbell said the need to foster cross-border collaboration was even more acute than ever, given the challenges of Brexit.
Mr Campbell also said the importance of investments on both sides of the border could not be underestimated and the continuation or replacement of cooperation funds must be a key priority post-Brexit.
He recommended that consideration be given to developing a cross-border investment fund to replace any possible loss of the EU’s Interreg and peace funds.
“It is hereby recommended that consideration is given to developing an island-wide territorial cohesion policy, which would include a cross-border infrastructure and investment plan / fund, to replace any loss of common Interreg and peace funds,” he said.
“However, there is little evidence of such a debate or consideration yet on either side of the border, which is very concerning.”
Councillor PJ O’Hanlon of the East Border Region said: “Cross border cooperation has never been easy and must not be taken lightly.
“Over the last 40 years the members of East Border Region have believed that cross border co-operation makes sense.
“In the face of Brexit it still makes sense.”
Committee member Brendan Smith said cohesion funding was needed to help the region.
The Fianna Fail TD for Cavan-Monaghan said: “We should be making a very strong demand for our region, north and south, to get specific cohesion funding because of the challenges we will face as a result of Brexit.”
Representatives and committee members voiced their disappointment at the Irish government’s decision to reschedule the A5 motorway in Northern Ireland due to the cost overrun in the Nation Children’s Hospital.
Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy said: “Unfortunately this week we’ve seen the lack of commitment from the Taoiseach on that one and worse again using it as a political football.”
Mr Campbell said the border area had not received its fair share of infrastructure investment compared to other areas, despite there being a high dependency on travel by road in the region.
There are more than 45 million vehicle crossings between the Ireland and Northern Ireland each year, about five million of which are freight crossings.
“Both Governments must formally recommit to the long-planned A5-N2 Dublin to Derry dualling project, highlighting its priority nature, and re-pledging what was originally agreed,” he said.
“Elsewhere, upgrades are needed to the N16-A4 from Sligo to Ballygawley, the East-West link to Dundalk, and the N4 from Sligo to Carrick-on-Shannon, with an extension of the M3 to Cavan Town.
He also said the A29 from Coleraine to Monaghan was a key road corridor for North-South freight movement in agri-food, minerals, engineering and quarry products.
Senator Gerard Craughwell expressed his fear that Brexit, whether it ended up being a crash-out or a negotiated one, would “change the relationships that exist in the border region forever”.
He said the mismatch of funding bothered him.
He said the Irish government would continue to push for funding for financial support for projects along the border but he said there was a possibility that the UK would not provide equal funding.
“You finish up with a poorer relation the other side of the border.
“You could for example end up with a decent motorway in Donegal that stops at the border,” he said.
“I remember years ago travelling through Northern Ireland you knew you were in Northern Ireland because you hit the best roads in the country, now you know you’re in Northern Ireland because you hit the worst roads in the country.”