14/09/2018

Brexit Could Impact NI Peace Process - Study

Brexit could have detrimental consequences for the peace process in Northern Ireland, according to a new study.

The 'BrexitLawNI' partnership, made up of researchers from the Schools of Law at Queen's and Ulster University as well as human rights experts from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), have concluded there is widespread anxiety about the long-term impact of Brexit on relationships on the island of Ireland.

Over the past 18 months, the team has been conducting in-depth interviews, consultations and town hall meetings to explore the possible impact of Brexit on human rights and the peace process. In addition, researchers have met with politicians and officials in Belfast, London, Dublin and Brussels as well as with business representatives, trade unions and community activists.

Consisting of a series of six interlinked reports, the study looked at the potential impact of Brexit on social and economic rights, North-South relations, the Irish border, human rights and equality protections, racism and xenophobia, and the peace process.

Professor Colin Harvey, from the School of Law at Queen's University, said the partnership found Brexit will "threaten the peace process and weaken protections for human rights and equality".

"This is a profound constitutional moment for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland," he said.

"It risks disrupting North-South cooperation, increasing racist immigration enforcement and dividing British and Irish citizens. It could also reduce international oversight of human rights and introduce a new focus for conflict between divided communities.

"Many of these matters have simply been neglected in the discussions thus far and that must change."

A number of key recommendations are included within the study, such as;
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• A hard border would further undermine political relations within NI, between NI and the ROI, and between the UK and Irish governments. It would also, inevitably, become a target for dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

• EU freedom of movement should be retained in NI. It has so far not proven possible to envisage any other solution that is not going to create multiple new differentials in entitlements - making further racial profiling and broader discrimination even more widespread.

• NI should remain within the single market and customs union and there should be no new barriers to trade either North-South or East-West.

• There is a need to legislate for a Bill of Rights for NI to enshrine socio-economic rights and help build a rights-based society that will ensure sustainable peace.

In addition, the study also found Brexit has had a political impact across the island of Ireland in 'mainstreaming' discussions on Irish reunification.

Professor Rory O'Connell, Director of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, said: "The 1998 Agreement found nuanced solutions to difficult issues of sovereignty, identity and the border, embedding these in a rights-respecting framework.

"Brexit risks unpicking these carefully, painfully-worked out solutions. These reports identify recommendations that, going forward, maintain the centrality of rights and equality."

Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, added: "There is a real danger that Brexit could re-ignite conflict here. As the leaving process lurches ever nearer to a "hard" or "no-deal" Brexit, there is a risk of nationalists becoming more and more disillusioned at the disregarding of the will of the majority here while unionists coalesce in defence of Brexit and the Border.

"The last thing we need is a new bone of contention between our people. We need to stop, take stock and together work out solutions for this region."

(LM/CM)

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