Northern Ireland's Euro MPs: their positions


Q) Was the Republic of Ireland’s six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union a success?

“I commend the Irish Republic for the manner in which they have conducted their time in the Presidency. We have seen agreements reached on very difficult issues, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy and the MFF, and that is no mean feat. Specifically on CAP, I welcome the agreement reached; however, I remain particularly anxious about the lack of detail regarding what was actually agreed. Moving forward, greater clarity is needed in order to better inform farmers and implement a CAP which delivers.

“The Irish Presidency set out with specific targets around stability, growth and jobs. While not expecting overnight results, the real success of the Irish Presidency, measured against its own targets, will be seen in the coming months, and indeed years.

“The economic situation facing EU citizens is still critical – now is therefore not the time for congratulatory back slapping, but for the hard work to continue that we can help our constituents meet the challenges each day brings.”

Q) In what ways will Northern Ireland be impacted by the decisions made during the Irish EU presidency?

“Certainly the two big reforms – of agriculture and fisheries policy – have a huge impact on those sectors of the Northern Ireland economy.

“Agriculture in Northern Ireland is a vital part of our economy. Farmers, farm businesses and the agri food sector can help grow the economy and a CAP which encourages a sustainable, competitive agriculture sector is vital in taking this forward. The CAP deal is both complex and bureaucratic. In Europe and at Westminster the DUP will be pushing for the regional flexibility needed to make this important policy suit the differing regions of the United Kingdom.

“In relation to fisheries, we need to allow our fishermen to fish. The myth is presented that fishermen are leaving stocks vulnerable, but it is in fishermen’s interest to ensure fishing is sustainable and our local fleet take this issue very seriously. Sadly because of the CFP we have much fewer boats in our local ports. The policy needs scrapped but failing that there should be decentralisation of the policy from Brussels to the regions. A one size fits all policy does not work.

For business, the Irish presidency did prioritise support for SMEs. We are an SME economy in Northern Ireland and I do hope that the support provided under the Irish presidency and in the new MFF can work on the ground in businesses across the Province."

Q) If the UK votes to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum – what will this mean to the local economy, the “north-south dimension” and people’s daily lives in Northern Ireland?

“Firstly, a referendum is by no means guaranteed. That is why the DUP is co-sponsoring a Private Members Bill at Westminster that will commit the Government, regardless of what party or parties are in office, to a referendum before the end of 2017. The people want a say on our relationship with our European neighbours and it is important that a referendum goes ahead.

“For our local economy access to the single market is important, that is not something that can be denied. As a small region our industry relies heavily on exports. However, exports can happen inside or outside the EU through free trade agreements. And let’s not forget EU membership and access to the single market comes at a high price, in terms of added cost of bureaucracy and regulation.

“Europe should be about co-operation with our European neighbours rather than the federalism and ever closing union that is the agenda of those in Brussels. For that reason we can maintain a healthy relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, whether that is inside a reformed EU or not.

“I think if we do leave to vote the EU, the people of Northern Ireland will do as they always have done amid political upheaval and change – get on with their day to day lives and do their best to make the most of the opportunities they face.”

Q) Is Northern Ireland better off in or out of the EU?

“We need to see a major reform of our relationship with the rest of Europe. The federalist agenda, of ever closer union, of single currency, of elected EU Presidents and more and more centralisation of authority in Brussels is not in our best interests.

“The Prime Minister has promised that he will deliver change to the way Europe operates and we await with interest to see how successful he is in doing so.”


Q) Was the Republic of Ireland’s six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union a success?

“The Republic of Ireland had a difficult task on their hands with the outstanding MFF issues, the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy all requiring resolution under their watch. They displayed incredible diligence and persistence throughout their six-month presidency and achieved a tremendous feat in completing on all of the above.”

Q) In what ways will Northern Ireland be impacted by the decisions made during the Irish EU presidency?

“As a Member of the European Parliament’s negotiating team on the CAP, I was able to fight to ensure that the needs of Northern Ireland’s farmers were not overlooked at the negotiating table. What we have now is a CAP that, while still imperfect, is flexible. This flexibility will ensure that local officials implementing the reform on the ground will have room to construct a policy that is country specific and workable at farm level in Northern Ireland.”

Q) If the UK votes to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum – what will this mean to the local economy, the “north-south dimension” and people’s daily lives in Northern Ireland? Is Northern Ireland better off in or out of the EU?

“Northern Ireland has benefited for many years from the financial support of the EU of which the rest of the UK has not been party. The most prominent example of this is the PEACE Funds, though the Regional development funding streams have also proved to be an important inflow for our Province. The terms of the PEACE IV program are currently under negotiation. PEACE IV is a terrific opportunity for Northern Ireland; it is essential that education, along with the future of our young people, be prioritised as the objectives of this program are formulated.

“A key consideration for the EU in/out question is whether money would still be provided for these programs should it no longer come from the EU. It is vital for our farmers, fishermen, young people and communities that such funding remains available. I would want clear assurances that our citizens will not be adversely affected by the referendum, whatever the outcome of the vote.

“As the only part of the UK sharing a land border with another Member State, the outcome of an in/out referendum would be particularly important. We take for granted the ease with which we trade and travel throughout the EU and a referendum could have serious and far-reaching consequences for citizens of Northern Ireland.”


Q) Was the Republic of Ireland’s six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union a success?

“It would be difficult to characterise the Irish Presidency as a success. While it may have been competent in bringing forward certain aspects of the business of the EU, there were a number of failures.

“The Irish government has a duty to first and foremost protect and defend Irish citizens interests. Holding the Presidency should have provided the opportunity to do so on a number of key issues. But instead, the government seems to have abdicated its domestic responsibilities as soon it inherited the EU Presidency.

“I am particularly disappointed about the poor outcome of the negotiations on the EU’s seven year budgetary framework, which simply is not fit for purpose. The Irish government also failed to take advantage of the opportunity provided by its Presidency to influence the decision makers in an effort to break the link between sovereign and banking debt.

“I am also disappointed at the failure to move forward the agenda on domestic violence.

“Despite the failures I will gladly acknowledge that there were some positives, including getting agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy and taking a lead in relation to plain packaging of tobacco products, an issue I am leading on in the European Parliament.

“I was pleased that there was at least a nominal effort at an all-Ireland dimension to the Presidency, but I would have preferred a bit more emphasis on this aspect of it.”

Q) In what ways will Northern Ireland be impacted by the decisions made during the Irish EU presidency?

“The main impact of developments during the Irish EU Presidency on the North will be in the reduction in EU funding over the next seven years – a cut of almost ?34billion compared to current figures.

A 6% reduction to the EU budget for 2014 – represents the first time the EU budget has been cut in 56 years and the Irish Presidency has the dubious distinction of allowing it to happen on its watch.

“This will have the effect of Cohesion Funds being cut next year from ?55billion to ?47.6billion and a billion Euro will be chopped off the agriculture and fisheries budgets. The lead advocate for cutting the EU budget was of course the British government. The draft figures for next year show that the British government has agreed a huge reduction of 22% in real terms in the field of rural development – the biggest reduction any member state will experience.

“Funding for the PEACE Programmes will also be reduced from ?225million to ?150million which will undermine a lot of the good work which has been done through previous PEACE funding.

“The Joint First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness succeeded in mitigating this reduction by negotiating as part of the recent Economic package with the British Prime Minister, a £50million contribution towards PEACE programmes. But this still leaves these projects £25million short of what was provided in the last seven years with no allowance for inflation.

“Unfortunately the Unionist MPs at Westminster and their MEPs are enthusiastic cheerleaders for the British government push for cuts to the EU budget as part of its general austerity agenda. Unless the EU Budgetary framework is revised following the next European Parliament elections the cuts will bite deeper as the years roll by.”

Q) If the UK votes to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum – what will this mean to the local economy, the “north-south dimension” and people’s daily lives in Northern Ireland?

“It will most certainly have a negative impact. But the fact is that the impact of any decisions taken by successive British governments – particularly Tory Governments- on the North of Ireland is never a factor in their decision making process. Whether it is fiscal, political or constitutional, British government decisions are always made with its own selfish political and economic interests at the core of its thinking. The North of Ireland is only peripheral and incidental to British thinking.

“The referendum on EU Membership will be conducted on the same basis and even if everyone in the North of Ireland voted to stay in the EU, If the majority in Britain and the North combined, votes to leave then our opinion – as with those on anything – will be ignored.

“But irrespective of what we want, a British exit from the EU could have serious ramifications for our regional economy. One of the consequences of British withdrawal from the EU would be the prospect of the re-imposition of travel and trade restrictions, as well as immigration control which could see the return of border controls at Newry, Strabane and Derry.

“It is widely acknowledged that the removal of border controls in Ireland was key to developing all-Ireland trade and all-island tourism. Any return to border controls would have a devastating effect on economic recovery and growth.

“A British exit from the EU could also lead to import tariffs being imposed on our manufacturing and farming sectors by other EU countries and States such as the South of Ireland. Such tariffs placed on our products could deliver a body blow to our dairy products in particular.

“Would this restrict our opportunities for marketing products from across the whole of Ireland as Irish?

“There is evidence that “Brand Ireland” is recognised and appreciated worldwide. Harmonisation and regularisation in every area of economic activity is the logical direction of travel for the island of Ireland economy. Attempting to market similar products with differing tarrifs and price structures as both being ‘Irish’ would knock the years of the good work building the island economy back immeasurably. It would be a bonanza for fuel/tobacco and counterfeit goods smugglers, while imposing unnecessary social, economic and travel restrictions on law abiding citizens.

“Already there is a population of almost a million people in Ireland dealing with issues such as inadvertent roaming charges, carrying two currencies, incurring additional bank charges depending on which bank machine they need to access, and facing barriers to service provision because of their address. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU while continuing to claim jurisdiction in this part of Ireland would only create more restrictions and more barriers.

“But what of the impact on Britain itself:

- 40% of “UK” exports go to the EU tariff-free

- What would be the effect on the over 300,000 “UK” Companies operating in EU countries?

-What effect would it have on the 50% of foreign direct investment in the “UK” which originates in other EU Member states – worth £351billion per year?

“Of course Britain could negotiate a free access agreement within EU markets which could mitigate against the worst impacts of its exit from the EU. But there is no guarantee that most or all EU countries would be willing to offer preferential treatment, if it is believed that Britain, in leaving the EU was acting purely in its own selfish economic interests with no consideration for the rest of the EU. However, in the eventuality that Britain did negotiate continued free access to EU markets for its goods and services it would have to continue to apply EU rules but without having any input. This is the situation with Switzerland and Norway presently. Ireland would also have to consider negotiating a similar relationship with Britain. But to achieve this Britain would have to continue to contribute to the EU budget, as Norway does at present

“A British withdrawal from the EU should also be part of the discussion on holding a border poll on Irish reunification. Ireland north and south should get involved in the debate as any British withdrawal will have serious implications for all of Ireland.”

Q) Is Northern Ireland better off in or out of the EU?

“We are better off in the EU. Even though Sinn Féin’s position has always been and will continue to be one of critical engagement with the EU we recognise that the North while under British jurisdiction and particularly outside the EU, would continue to be a remote region, neglected and totally removed from the thinking of British government decision makers in Downing Street and Whitehall. Inside the EU we have the opportunity to pursue closer north-south relationships, economically, socially, politically and culturally.

“In the development of an all-Ireland economy and particularly in the north and border areas the whole island being part of the EU offers the greatest potential for economic growth.

“In addition in the event of Britain’s withdrawal it is unlikely that its government would replace the funding we receive directly from the EU – agricultural funds, fishery funds and structural funds to name but a few. More reason why we should be preparing for British withdrawal from the EU by campaigning and preparing for its withdrawal from this part of Ireland also!”