NORTHERN IRELAND’s DUP party has done a humiliating U-turn on Brexit. First Minister, Arlene Foster, and her party, campaigned vigorously in favour of the UK leaving the European Union, without giving due consideration to what that would mean for the North’s economy.
Despite the DUP’s stance, the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain within the EU, but, like voters in Scotland, will be forced out as a result of the overall UK vote to leave.
Now, the reality has dawned on the DUP that leaving the EU will have profound, negative implications for Northern Ireland.
Ms Foster and her deputy, Martin McGuinness, have jointly written a letter to British prime minister, Teresa May, outlining their concerns about what the Brexit result could pose for the North. It is unclear what they expect Ms May to do, but the letter reads like a Remain manifesto.
The letter highlights problem areas. It warns that the border must not become “a catalyst for illegal activity, or compromise, in any way, the arrangements relating to criminal justice and tackling organised crime”.
It cites concern over energy costs and laments the loss of EU funding in agricuture and fisheries.
Most surprisingly, considering that immigration was the main plank of the Leave campaign, it says that “policies need to be sufficiently flexible to allow access to unskilled, as well as highly skilled”, foreign labour.
Opposition parties are using the letter to argue that Ms Foster, who led her party in supporting Brexit, now regretted taking that position.
“The letter reads like a pro-Remain information leaflet,” said SDLP Assembly member, Claire Hanna, pointing out that her party campaigned on every one of the issues addressed in the letter — particularly on the border, avoiding labour shortages, and the loss of EU funding – “and the DUP dismissed us at every turn”.
What is not addressed in the letter, but should have been, is the danger that Brexit poses to the peace process.
Peace in the North is not a done deal and remains an ongoing process. What sustains that process is not just the efforts of the peacekeepers, but also funding. The peace process has been receiving financial support from the EU since 1989, through both EU regional policy and EU contributions to the International Fund for Ireland.
The EU Peace Programme has funded a wide range of projects, including those that support victims and survivors, young people, small business enterprises, as well as infrastructure and urban-regeneration schemes.
For those who never experienced it, it is impossible to imagine the horrors of life in the North less than two decades ago, the daily grind of fear, and the familiarity with death and destruction that ordinary people had to endure.
It took years of hard, and often fractious, negotiations before the gun was finally taken out of politics in Northern Ireland and it would be horrifying if Brexit contributed to the return of the bomb and the bullet.
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