CROSS-BORDER PROJECTS ALREADY NEED MORE SUPPORT
Read the full article in Issue 56 - Winter 2016/’17 of ‘Changing Ireland’!
BY ALLEN MEAGHER
Is the threat Brexit poses to communities being taken seriously?
Brexit poses a threat to the peace process on these islands. Support and funding for many community groups is at risk, despite the impact this could have.
Anthony Soares (pictured right) told‘Changing Ireland’ in late 2016 that because of Brexit’s impact to date, cross-border projects already need more funding. And this was before political power-sharing collapsed at Stormont.
In December, the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee deliberated on Brexit, saying an agreement should be drafted to “guarantee
open land borders and sea boundaries, support cross-border trade and preserve EU funding for cross-border projects”. The issue also received attention in December from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, while An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has addressed the matter as being of the utmost concern.
The UK’s Brexit minister late last year visited Belfast and Dublin, meeting with political representatives and business leaders. He did not meet Community and Voluntary Sector representatives.
This sent out a strong signal to those in the Sector that the priority is trade, commerce and business.
Meanwhile, as a direct result of the Brexit vote, community organisations are seeing an increasing workload. Witness the subsequent rise in hate crime, said Anthony Soares, deputy director of the Centre of Cross-Border Studies.
He told ‘Changing Ireland’ there are “significant concerns” for communities on both sides of the border with regard to the continuing funding of community projects if, or indeed when, the UK leaves the EU.
The ESF will continue for the ROI – “they’ll be okay”, said Anthony. However, for community groups in Northern Ireland, some of which depend almost completely on ESF funding, their very existence is under threat.
“We’re already seen organisations talking about shutting up shop – for example I’m thinking of one project focused on young people’s employability. Groups are really concerned going forward,” he said.
“For cross-border projects, without the EU funding I don’t think a lot of them would continue to run,” he said. “Putting it generously, the governments in Dublin or Belfast don’t have the funding that those cross-border projects need.”
In the most positive scenario – cross-border projects may still have EU funding – this depends on a “soft” exit. There is a precedent for this – Norway is outside the EU, but inside the single market and takes part in social programmes.
One of the two most important cross-border programmes is INTEREG – which covers NI, ROI and West Scotland – and the European Social Fund (ESF).
This promotes “inter-regional integration”, the opposite of what Brexit was supposedly about.
The other “really important programme”, according to Anthony, is the Peace Programme: “We are the only part of the EU that has such a programme.”
“The needs, rationale and logic is there, but where the funding comes from?
Even if the UK leaves completely and doesn’t want to fund any more cross-border projects, well the need will still be there,” he said.
“The Centre and other groups have been proposing – in that scenario – that the UK government should create a new Intereg – for the ROI, NI, West Scotland and also Wales. Let’s keep the projects going and new projects, by creating a new fund, we propose.”
The hole in that argument is that a new UK government may come along and at budget time drop funding for peace and cross-border activities.
“That’s absolutely true,” admitted Anthony, “In one year, the money could be taken away.”
EU funding has always been of increased value because it comes in seven-year cycles.
His organisation is “safe” as, since 2014, it has not relied on significant EU funding and it is campaigning hard with others
“A new ‘hard’ border doesn’t have to be physical, because as soon as differences around rights and regulations emerge, it becomes a much more significant border.
“We’ve already started – since June - seeing an increase in hate-crimes against immigrants – immigration became part of the discourse by those in the Leave Campaign.
“We’ve proposed that, for the current Peace Programme, the Irish and UK governments should add a special pot of money to deal specifically with the uncertainty caused by the referendum result and the erosion around social cohesion at the border and away from border.
“As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, Ireland (the Republic) could argue that it needs the EU to recognise special circumstances and the EU might continue to support the Peace Programme. We in the Centre for Cross Border Studies been arguing for that.
“Peace isn’t done. It’s a very young thing we have here. We have to continually work at it. We’re no different from other places. You can return to conflict – it doesn’t have to be violent conflict,” said Anthony.