Northern Ireland

Belfast City Council sets up first Brexit committee

Brexit and European Union signs Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The proposal for a Brexit committee at Belfast City Council was first suggested earlier this year

Belfast City Council has become the first council in Northern Ireland to set up a committee specifically to deal with Brexit.

The idea was proposed earlier this year, and membership of the committee was confirmed at the council's monthly meeting on Monday night.

It will be responsible for "researching, monitoring and reviewing the financial, resource or operational impact" of Brexit on Belfast.

Its first meeting will be on 9 August.

While the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU in June 2016, a majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain.

The committee will be chaired by Sinn Féin's Séanna Walsh, with the DUP's Guy Spence appointed deputy chairman.

Its 20 members were allocated using the D'Hondt method - a mathematical formula which involves the principle of "highest average", meaning the party with the largest number of councillors has the most committee seats.

Seat breakdown

  • Sinn Féin - 7
  • DUP - 5
  • Alliance - 3
  • SDLP - 2
  • Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) - 2
  • Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) - 1

The names of all councillors appointed to the committee can be found here.

The committee's chairman and deputy chairman will also receive allowances of £6,150 and £3,000 respectively, in line with money made available to councillors who hold similar roles on other committees.

Mr Walsh defended the creation of the committee, and told BBC News NI it was "an entirely sensible approach for any local authority to take when confronted with something as momentous as Brexit".

"The DUP and other unionist parties need to start working in the interests of the people of Belfast and not against them when it comes to Brexit," he said.

Talking shop?

The DUP supported leave during the referendum campaign, while Sinn Féin and the other main political parties backed remain.

A DUP spokesperson criticised the council's Brexit committee, but said the party would still take its seats.

"Sinn Féin proposed this committee years into the process of leaving the EU, so why now it must be asked? It will hardly have met before the negotiations reach a conclusion in October.

"The DUP will be on the committee to represent the leave voters of our city to ensure we grasp the opportunities of leaving the EU, rather than trying to undermine the result of the UK referendum."

Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl said the committee could not "just be a talking shop".

"It's so important that we articulate the particular interests of Belfast and the wider city region, to take an evidence-based approach to mitigate the damage Brexit will cause, and to plan for the future of our city," she said.

'Brexit ready'

UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey said it would have been set up by Belfast City Council even if the Northern Ireland Assembly was still operating: Northern Ireland has been without a devolved executive since a power-sharing deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin broke down 18 months ago.

"It's important irrespective of Stormont, but with there being no assembly and there likely not to be one until next year, it's right that Belfast City Council has a Brexit committee to look at all the issues affecting the city when we leave the EU," he said.

The SDLP's Donal Lyons said the committee was necessary to ensure Belfast is "Brexit ready" by March 2019.

"My only concern is that some will approach it with a view to sabotaging its work," he said.

"It's clear that short of the UK staying within the EU, a special status for Northern Ireland is the only viable solution. We need as a city, to spell out exactly what that means and adapt our work accordingly."

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