Diversity Europe Group goes to Belfast to listen to concerns over Brexit

by the EESC's Diversity Europe Group

The Group met at Queen's University in Belfast on 15 February 2019 to take stock of the Brexit process and focus on its consequences for the Northern Ireland peace process.

With the current stalemate around the 'backstop' proposal, the fact-finding mission of EESC members aimed to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing the UK/Ireland border and find out more about the social, economic and political impact of the UK's withdrawal on Northern Ireland.

European representatives from business, trades unions, farmers, consumer groups and others heard local politicians, academics and local voluntary organisations describe how the UK's withdrawal from the EU would affect their lives from a professional, political and personal point of view, with less than two months to go before the Article 50 deadline for the UK/EU divorce and a settlement not yet agreed.

Guest speakers included Brian Cowen, former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and MLAs Caoimhe Archibald, Sinn Féin, and Mike Nesbitt, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

"We are here to reach out a hand to civil society on both sides of the border. We will stand by you, whatever happens in the next ten weeks. Civil society knows no borders and we should already be thinking about how to continue to work together in the months and years to come," declared the president of the Diversity Europe Group, Arno Metzler, pointing to the fears brought about by the Brexit process.

"Although not everyone here agrees on what the impact of Brexit will be on the island of Ireland, there is no doubt that all of us, the other 27 EU Member States, European civil society and the European institutions, will do everything within our means to ensure that the spirit of cooperation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement continues in your minds and in your daily lives," he added. (cl)