It’s vital cross-border health projects aren’t jeopardised by Brexit: EU Committee

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An EU Committee at Westminster has described Brexit as a ‘huge challenge’ for Ireland after being warned cross-border health initiatives in Derry and Donegal will come under threat due to their reliance on funding from the European Union and cross-border labour.

In a report published this morning, the committee cited the Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, Ruth Taillon’s, warning, that groups such as Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT) will have the funding rug pulled out from under them in the event of Brexit.

The report noted how between 2003 and 2015, 40.45million euros in INTERREG funding was invested in cross-border health via the CAWT organisation.

“Ruth Taillon praised the work of CAWT in encouraging health authorities to work together,” the House of Lords EU Committee report stated.

“She pointed out that children regularly crossed the border for cardiac surgery in Dublin, while a new radiology unit in Derry was a crossborder initiative funded, staffed and available to patients on both sides of the border.

“She argued that such initiatives were under threat because of their reliance on EU funding. The increased and successful provision of cross-border healthcare is a demonstrable success story of effective cross-border cooperation,” the report added.

The Committee commented: “The launch of such projects has largely been dependent on the provision of EU funds, and it is vital that these and future projects are not placed in jeopardy by Brexit.”

Elsewhere, the report noted how former Derry police officer, Peter Sheridan, now Chief Executive of Co-operation Ireland, told the committee that with Brexit there came the “danger of political and economic isolation for Northern Ireland.”

Mr Sheridan also told the committee the authorities shouldn’t be complacent in terms of the peace process.

“While the risk of civil unrest should not be overstated, Northern Ireland was a fragile place, and it was incumbent on organisations such as Co-operation Ireland to build formal and informal cross-border and cross-community relationships,” the committee reported.

Lord Boswell, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, said: “The burgeoning peace process following the Good Friday Agreement has improved people’s lives right across the island of Ireland.

“That progress has in part been based on the fact that both the UK and the Republic of Ireland are EU Member States, with free movement and trade across an open border. Brexit means that there is now a question mark over these achievements. 

“Both the UK and Irish Governments desperately want to avoid a return to hard borders. But the Republic of Ireland will remain in the EU, and any agreement to allow an open border to remain will have to be agreed by all the other EU Member States. That’s not a given.

“We need early agreement on all sides that the UK and Ireland should be allowed to reach a draft bilateral agreement, one that protects the unique nature of UK-Irish relations, of Northern Ireland, and of North-South relations on the island of Ireland.

“It should guarantee open land borders and sea boundaries, support cross-border trade, and preserve EU funding for cross-border projects. That agreement can then be put to the other EU Member States and agreed as part of the wider Brexit negotiations.

“Closer UK-Irish relations and stability in Northern Ireland are too important to put at risk as collateral damage of the Brexit decision.”

Chief Executive of the Chamber of Commerce, Sinead McLaughlin, said: “The select committee has made very sensible and very welcome proposals on arrangements for Northern Ireland, under Brexit.

“Key to this is the continued open land border within the island of Ireland and also the potential devolution of powers in relation to EU migrants’ right of residence and work within Northern Ireland.

“The Chamber believes that these proposals - if agreed by the UK government, the Irish government and the EU - would resolve some of the biggest hurdles facing Northern Ireland after we leave the EU.

“We urge our politicians from all parties to give these proposals serious consideration as a basis for moving forward.”