- The EESC wholeheartedly welcomes the proposal to continue the EU PEACE programme in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland after the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Appreciating the priority given by the EU to supporting the peace process, the EESC recognises the significant contribution the PEACE programme has made to maintaining peace in the region. This is in accordance with the findings of the EP in September 2018, which describe the PEACE programme as a model for the rest of the world.
- furthermore, in light of the destabilising nature of the political, economic and social uncertainty caused by Brexit, it is vital for civil society actors that the EU maintains its commitment to doing its utmost to ensure Northern Ireland will not only remain conflict free, but continue its path to reconciliation using the EU's trade-mark "bottom-up" approach to peace-building and conflict resolution;
- The European Peace and Reconciliation Programme (PEACE) is the most valuable and successful peace-building instrument ever operated by the European Union in a conflict situation. Set up in response to the ceasefires in Northern Ireland in 1995, the PEACE programme has invested over EUR 2 billion in cross-community, cross-border and other reconciliation projects in the 24 years since its inception.
- Heralded by all parties to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement as making a significant contribution to the peace process, the PEACE programme is unique in that it goes above and beyond any other EU intervention within its own territory. It brings together British and Irish stakeholders under an EU umbrella with the sole purpose of protecting the peace process.
- The urgency of the situation created by the Brexit process and the eventual UK withdrawal requires an EU response to safeguard the peace process which matches the new needs of the region in the post-Brexit context. In consolidating support for continuing the PEACE and Interreg cross-border programmes, the EU makes important strides in the right direction. While this is a commitment which, for obvious reasons, underpins a vital part of EU support for the region, there is more that can and should be done.
- The more immediate needs, both during and after the Brexit negotiations, will become evident if community tensions rise and British/Irish loyalties diverge further at street level as well as at the border. A sign of 'goodwill' from the EU could include a commitment to increase EU PEACE funding in the next round and to the siting of a European Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Belfast, as proposed in previous EESC/EP/EC reports.