Northern Ireland must continue to receive EU funding for programmes related to cross-Border co-operation and peace building after Brexit, a report from an Oireachtas committee has advised.
With 16 weeks until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, chairman of the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development Joe Carey said there is an "urgent need for certainty on funding" to avoid a return to the "mucky past of the Troubles".
The Government should seek agreement from the EU and UK to ensure funding streams for programmes in the North and Border areas continue after October 31st, he added.
Mr Carey, a Fine Gael TD for Clare, stressed the need for continued cross-Border co-operation, which is "vital" for the rural economy and development on both sides of the Border.
The report, Brexit and the Border – Impact on Rural Communities, was published on Wednesday.
With input from 16 groups and agencies across Ireland, it notes unanimous consensus that a hard border would have a “detrimental effect” on nearby communities.
Contributors to the report applauded EU-funded programmes, such as Interreg – which provides a policy framework for the implementation of joint actions between different member states – and Peace IV, for having an “enormous positive impact” on Border areas. The programme supports reconciliation and social progress but ends in 2020 and the committee said renewal of the scheme must be a priority.
The European Regional Development fund is responsible for 85 per cent of the scheme’s six-year budget of €269 million. In its report, the committee advises at least 15 per cent of future Peace IV funding be ring-fenced for cross-Border co-operation.
Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív said if problems arose with EU funding, it "could be replaced by national funding by the two sovereign governments".
Politicians from Brussels right down to those in local authorities have a part to play in keeping life "as normal as possible" for the people affected, added the Galway West TD.
Mr Ó Cuív also stressed that the report should be considered within the context of it being a two-year process that would not always align, time wise, with the “shifting sands” of Brexit, and that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has come to the fore in recent months.
The report advances 13 recommendations, including joint North-South tourism initiatives and the “pooling” of resources where it is practicable. This will work to enhance and strengthen rural development in areas such as heritage, arts and culture, it states.
Is the North Brexit-proofed?
Meanwhile, a report from the Northern Ireland civil service warns at least 40,000 jobs would be at risk from a no-deal Brexit.
It warns that the decision to leave the EU without a deal would have a “profound and long-lasting” impact on the North’s economy and society. This includes increased smuggling in Border counties and pressure on businesses from organised crime groups.
The analysis concludes that a no-deal would have “immediate and severe” consequences for the North’s competitiveness in the all-island economy and its place in the UK internal market.
However, despite this, the report concludes that the majority of companies in Northern Ireland have not “Brexit-proofed” their businesses sufficiently with the locally economy likely to be poorly positioned to absorb the shocks associated with no deal.
According to the report, the impact of EU tariffs could reduce Northern Ireland’s exports to the Republic by 11 per cent and the inclusion of non-tariff barriers potentially leading to a 19 per cent drop. This is equivalent to a decline of between £100 million (€111 million) to £180 million in exports to the Republic.