Northern Ireland

Brexit deal: Rural and community sectors voice support

Northern Ireland countryside
Image caption Three organisations representing the environmental, rural and community sectors have backed the Brexit deal

Three organisations representing the voluntary, environmental and rural sectors in Northern Ireland have come out in support of the prime minister's draft Brexit deal.

The Rural Community Network, Nature Matters NI and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action have penned a joint letter.

The groups describe the text as "by no means perfect" but "the best option".

They said the priority is to avoid a "potentially disastrous" no-deal.

The three bodies said it is "good news that the UK and EU have agreed that Brexit will not weaken environmental protections with a mutual pledge on non-regression on current standards".

'Disproportionately impacted'

"The plan also proposes an independent body / bodies to monitor, oversee and enforce environmental obligations applicable to Northern Ireland that the EU currently oversees," the letter said.

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Image caption The joint letter warns that a no-deal outcome could be "potentially disastrous" for Northern Ireland

"It is vitally important that we retain effective environmental governance mechanisms, as we are one of the only parts of Europe without an independent Environmental Protection Agency.

"This is important because post-Brexit we will continue to have cross-border environmental management challenges on the island of Ireland not faced in Great Britain."

The joint letter warns that Northern Ireland's farming and rural communities "could be disproportionately impacted by leaving the EU without a deal".

"The proposed deal would ensure that farmers in Northern Ireland would continue to have access to EU markets and provide economic opportunities for businesses including our many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of which only 5% have a Brexit plan in place.

It added: "A no-deal scenario next year would be a severe blow for Northern Ireland in terms of both our economy and wider society with our communities and environment likely to bear the brunt."

'Calm consideration'

The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) called for "calm and careful consideration" of the draft agreement adding the the lack of devolved government meant there was no attempt to represent the views of people here collectively.

"It is very regrettable that some, for their own political ends have seen this Brexit process as an opportunity to either call for a border poll or incorrectly claimed that this draft agreement will lead to the demise of the UK," ICTU assistant general secretary Owen Reidy said.

"Brexit is a significant and sufficient challenge to Northern Ireland on its own terms without conflating it with the broader and separate constitutional arrangements of Northern Ireland.

"The implications of Brexit and in particular of no deal Brexit are so grave that they must be considered on their own terms," he added.

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