Activists demand voice for Northern Ireland in Europe as ‘fight goes on’

Anti-Brexit campaigners have demanded Northern Ireland continues to have a voice in the EU after the UK leaves.

During one of a series of protests planned at the Irish border through Friday, Border Communities Against Brexit activists unveiled a new billboard declaring the “fight goes on”.

They urged the Irish Government and the restored Stormont Executive to push for some form of continued representation in EU structures.

It comes as the region’s three MEPs leave the European Parliament ahead of Brexit.

Border Communities Against Brexit expressed relief that a hard border with security check points appeared to have been avoided but warned the process was not over and there remained the risk of a damaging no-deal on trade.

Speaking on the Northern Ireland side of the border, campaigner Declan Fearon said: “Today we meet all the parties at Stormont and one of things we would like to impress upon them is the urgent need for both the Executive in Stormont and the Irish Government to address the issue of representation for communities.

“We are entitled to be represented in Europe, we are still part of the single market, we should have that representation at the table, even in an advisory role.

“We have actually spoken to Mr Verhofstadt (former Brexit co-ordinator for the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt) and members of the European Union on that issue and he said they had absolutely no problem whatsoever in allowing that to happen.

“It’s up to the Irish Government especially and indeed to the new Executive at Stormont to make sure that they push for that to happen.”

Mr Fearon said people living in Northern Ireland would be “poorer” as a result of lost EU funding and their children would be denied opportunities enjoyed by young people living nearby in the Irish Republic, such as the ability to study in the EU.

“We are concerned for the people who live here and the difference there will be in the rights people will have from 50 yards on the other side of the border to where we stand now,” he said.

“We will not be entitled, going forward, to the rights we were under membership of the European Union.

“So it’s a sad day for this area and it’s a day where we are determined to continue to press all involved to make sure that we can mitigate against as many of the issues that Brexit has brought to the people of these areas.”

Brexit
Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (centre), flanked by his successor Mary Lou McDonald (right) and deputy leader Michelle O’Neiil at the unveiling (Brian Lawless/PA)

The campaigners were joined by senior Sinn Fein figures on Friday morning on the Armagh/Lough border, among them party president Mary Lou McDonald, her predecessor Gerry Adams and vice-president Michelle O’Neill.

Ms McDonald said: “Today is a very sad day, people in the North did not consent to Brexit.

“This is not something that people on the island of Ireland want, bar a small minority.”

She praised the work done to avoid the return of a hard border but added: “The job isn’t done. Brexit is a game-changer, it’s not a one-off event, it completely recasts and reshapes the political and economic conversation across the island, between the island of Ireland and Britain, and right across the continent.

“So this isn’t an end point, this is very much a beginning.”

The Sinn Fein leader said Brexit had accelerated the conversation for unification but she denied it might actually be seen as a good thing in the context of the campaign for achieving unity.

“No thoughtful person would regard Brexit as anything other than bad news for the island of Ireland,” she said.

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