#EUDebateNI Energy security, cross-border health & transport investment, FE opportunities

EUDebateNIEUDebateNI ran the first of six events this morning. Over the coming weeks they’ll be travelling around NI, with each event focussing on a different sector affected by a potential exit from the EU.

The format was interactive, with seven or eight people around each table in Belfast City Hall listening to a quick pitch from a contributor before fifteen minutes of discussion. And like a giant game of civic speed-dating, the process was repeated with another two contributors. Views were shared from Centre for Cross Border Studies, CBI, NI Prison Service, Leave.EU, NI Science Park, Diamond Recruitment, Community Foundation and Young Influencers. The audience at this first event – you could apply online to attend – were mostly drawn from business and voluntary sectors, NGOs and public bodies (including Belfast City Council).

EUDebateNI Belfast City Hall from backAside from the very basic arguments …

  • NI is a net beneficiary
  • UK is a net contributor
  • Freedom of movement for people, capital and services is a good thing
  • UK should control its own borders
  • We cannot afford to be insular and cut ties with Europe
  • EU is a democratically unaccountable superstate and the UK should be freed from its shackles
  • Switzerland has better trade deals with US and Canada than the EU
  • EU has more clout when it negotiates trade deals than a single country could manage

… there was more nuanced debate and discussion. When was the last time energy security came up in an EU referendum conversation? Some thoughts from Table 9 …

EUDebateNI leafletsThe EU currently provides a common framework that facilitates cooperation between the two jurisdictions. For example, common regulations make health collaboration practicable between the north and south of Ireland.

Cross-border cooperation becomes more complicated when the systems and rules are different. Would cross-border funding for transport and health continue to be supported by the UK Government? And without the EU funding, would Ireland be able to find the funds internally?

EUDebateNI fisheyeEU funding for transport infrastructure has eased access between the two jurisdictions (though there’s more work to do in the north west). The UK can currently avail of support from Trans-European Network for Transport. Would the impetus to improve business links to make commerce viable remain in a post-EU UK?

Energy security – particularly with Europe’s reliance on Russian gas – is a risk that is not often discussed. The EU would lose the UK’s diplomatic expertise and the UK would lose EU’s ability to threaten/impose sanctions. As an island off an island off the European mainland [Ed – the ‘Continent’ as we used to call it] would that leave NI exposed to the vagaries of international politics over which the UK would have less leverage?

Wikipedia - Structural evolution of the European UnionWhile leaving the EU would see the UK depart from the seven EU institutions (European Parliament, European Council, Council of the European Union, European Commission, Court of Justice of the European Union, European Central Bank and Court of Auditors), which – if any – of the forty or more agencies associated with the EU would the UK leave (many of which have members and observers outside the EU)? Would we remain in the European Environment Agency? The European Aviation Safety Agency? And what about the European Atomic Energy Community which wasn’t folded into the EU as part of the Lisbon Treaty? (Tim Peake can sleep easy on the International Space Station knowing that the European Space Agency isn’t an agency or body of the EU.)

The community sector see the level of regulation and paperwork around accessing EU money as considerably substantially more onerous than the arrangements around funding from UK or Irish governments. Organisations often ask whether applying for EU Peace money is worth the effort required to access funding.

A small but growing number of UK students are taking advantage of the courses taught in English that are popping up across European universities. Lower fees, reasonable accommodation and international expertise are attractive. Local FE institutions benefit from the fees of European students coming to study in the UK. European universities can collectively market themselves to international students (outside the EU). Would separate recruitment activity be as effective?

EUDebateNI before and afterLucidTalk polled the audience before, during and after the table discussions.

(Everyone had a handset so the statistics reflect the full audience rather than just being a sample … though a few folk left before the final poll.)

EUDebateNI remainThe top reason for staying in the EU was NI’s gains from the EU.

Remaining in the same trading block as the Republic of Ireland was more important to the City Hall audience than staying in the EU to retain the cohesion of the UK (ie, avoiding Scotland leaving UK).

EUDebateNI leaveThe top reason for leaving the EU was immigration – wanting the UK to control its own borders – closely followed by the EU’s democratic unaccountability. Free trade and having full control of the UK’s benefit payments scored the lowest.

This morning’s event was organised by the Centre for Democracy and Peace-building with support from Belfast City Council, NI Environment Link and Diamond Recruitment Group. Look out for details of the other EUDebateNI events on the programme’s website and social media channels.

[EU graphic credit – Wikipedia]

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  • chrisjones2

    Great. Can you please confirm who is funding all this and why?

  • Ernekid

    read the last paragraph

  • Karl

    The EU would lose the UKs diplomatic expertise.
    I can take a lot of reasons the EU would want the UK to stay. That ain’t one of them.

  • mike

    Agenda was somewhat constrained by the predetermined questions at this mornings session. Perspective of a 28 state European Union stretching from the Atlantic to the Black Sea not fully explored. Still much confusion between role of the separate Council of Europe Institution and the European Unions Council(Heads of EU States and structure of Councils of of EU member states sectoral Ministers) mainly around commitments on human rights.

  • chrisjones2

    I did …where are they getting the funds from please?

  • chrisjones2

    Forgive me but there is an (ominous?) silence here. Where are the bodies supporting this getting the money to do so? I make no judgement on it – I just want to understand who is funding this

  • There’s a similar (though simpler) confusion locally about the different between NI Assembly and the NI Executive … which is all lumped into ‘Stormont’

  • mike

    Not at all comparable.
    The Council of Europe is an entirely separate organisation (based Strasbourg)founded in 1949 (focus on Human Rights)and includes 47 member states including Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as Moldova where instability is currently brewing .
    It was a year later when the Coal and Steel Community was founded and the European Economic Community(EEC) leading to the present European Union organisation was not founded until 1957.

  • mike

    well, as far as the Belfast event concerned, I for one, went there under my own steam on the invitation of organiser.

  • mike

    Karl, From earlier experience perhaps should not reply but, on this issue, don’t take my word-refer to article in todays FT from Radek Sikorski, Polands ex Foreign Minister

  • mike

    Alan, replying to myself a cause for concern but …Fridays event was interesting, needs better information to be useful, but as you may have noticed, in my view hugely important! – so some clarification on the European Court of Human Rights which causes so much rancour in UK find attached:

    The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty under which the member States of the Council of Europe promise to secure fundamental civil and political rights, not only to their own citizens but also to everyone within their jurisdiction. The Convention, which was signed on 4 November 1950 in Rome, entered into force in 1953.




    The European Court of Human Rights is an international court set up in 1959. It rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

    Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly.

    In almost fifty years the Court has delivered more than 10,000 judgments. These are binding on the countries concerned and have led governments to alter their legislation and administrative practice in a wide range of areas. The Court’s case-law makes the Convention a powerful living instrument for meeting new challenges and consolidating the rule of law and democracy in Europe.

    The Court is based in Strasbourg, in the Human Rights Building designed by the British architect Lord Richard Rogers in 1994 – a building whose image is known worldwide. From here, the Court monitors respect for the human rights of 800 million Europeans in the 47 Council of Europe member States that have ratified the Convention.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I want to make a point about migration in Northern Ireland.

    There is no real net migration in Northern Ireland, so where is the bloody justification for a Malthusian dilemma?

    We do have serious migration problems though…EMigration and poor social migration from an economic standing.

    1. Brain drain. No reason for skilled people to stay here.

    2. Lack of social mobility. No reason for unskilled people to move anywhere else to learn new things.

    3. Lack of cross community mobility particularly on skills. Social dogmas destroying partnerships and cross-disciplinary endeavors.

    4. The economic disparity between Belfast, and Not-Belfast in the Northern Irish economy driving one way migration to the one City.

    We live in an internet age were more people can work at home and make software or online businesses in offices that avoid the BCC’s office rates out from the city and yet there is the persistence to go to Belfast and go to shops that are closing down due to competition from Amazon and out of town retail outlets.

    5. Young people going out of rural areas and Elderly people going into them from the city. Rural industries like Agri-foods, Tourism, Renewables, even Sports associations decline, leading to rural isolation and deprecation.

    6. Enhancing a reputation that is dis-encouraging to skilled migrants from England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, never mind from the EU, Commonwealth or where-ever, by flag and marching disputes getting out of hand.

    7. Lack of travel and networks between this region and basically anywhere else including Strand 2 commitments to ROI and Strand 3 commitments to GB.

    8. Closed border regions in several cities destroying the free movement of people, services, money and goods.

    Pretty much all bigger migration issues for Northern Ireland than “Damn Foreigners” which are tackled by the e-border scheme and UK immigration and border control.

  • mike

    Its an interesting agenda for a group debate but I have the impression not many reading this.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The point being is that migration from the EU to Northern Ireland isn’t hurting us, we’re hurting ourselves. There’s xenophobia, a fear of strange people and strange ideas … not sure how people are going to learn new things if the stick to what’s familiar to them. I for one would prefer to learn new things than simply reinforce the familiar.

  • mike

    I agree-it is changing but certainly tends to be a bit backward,