Local politicians, community and business representatives from Derry and Donegal have gathered at Stormont this afternoon to protest over the triggering of Article 50.
The major protest in Belfast was staged as Theresa May formally notified the European Union that the UK will be leaving.
The unprecedented move by the British government to press ahead with Brexit has been met with anger and dismay from many quarters locally, as Foyle registered one of the highest ‘Remain’ votes across Britain and the north in the Referendum last summer.
Overall, a majority of people across the north of Ireland voted in favour of staying in the EU, as did voters in Scotland.
Among those who took part in the protest today were Sinn Fein leader in the north Michelle O’Neill and her Foyle MLA colleagues Elisha McCallion and Raymond McCartney as well as local Councillors.
SDLP leader and Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood and his party colleagues were also among those attending.
There were also a strong representation from the local Border Communities Against Brexit movement, while a mock checkpoint was set up outside Stormont to highlight the potential return of border controls.
Mr Eastwood described the triggering of Article 50 today as being against the wishes of people in the north and as “an act of savagery against our democracy”.
Mr Eastwood called on all parties in Northern Ireland to unite around a common position on Brexit to promote and protect the interests of people here.
He said: “Brexit is the single greatest threat to prosperity and stability facing this island since partition. People here recognised that and voted to remain in the European Union, to remain in the single market, to continue to enjoy the benefits and protections of EU membership.
“The British government’s Brexit juggernaut is about to smash through the fragile complexities of Irish politics.
“But worse than that, Theresa May is planning to trigger Article 50 while we face a political crisis in the North. Dragging us out of Europe against the will of our people and while we have no Executive isn’t just an affront to the principles of devolution, it’s an act of democratic savagery.”
He added: “The ignorance of this government must be met with strength from parties here. The referendum result is a mandate to take a stand against Theresa May’s tunnel vision and defend devolution. This challenge must unite us all.”
Derry Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper, who also attended the protest, has said: “Locally there are serious fears along the Derry- Donegal border about the impact of Brexit and the urgent need for these concerns to be addressed by the Irish and British Governments.
“In the aftermath of the recent EU referendum Sinn Féin held a series of public meetings in Derry and across Ireland and it’s clear there is a great deal of concern about the prospect of being dragged out of the EU.
“In border areas in particular there is huge uncertainty over the impact on agriculture, business, trade, travel, tourism and those who cross the border on a daily basis.
“The uncertainty which is already damaging trade and investment and impacting on cross-border business will be nothing compared to the hardships which will ensue with the imposition of tariffs and the restriction of the free movement of goods, services and people on this island.
“The local council will lose a massive amount of EU monies which are currently used for job creation, Rural Development and infrastructural programmes. When this money disappears post-Brexit the council will have little choice but to downsize these initiatives or else increase rates to allow these programmes to continue.”