Northern Ireland

Brexit: PM reassures DUP on peace funding

Peace bridge, Derry Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Londonderry's Peace Bridge is one of the major projects in Northern Ireland that EU funding helped to build

The government will remain committed to funding peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland regardless of Brexit, the prime minister has said.

Theresa May made the pledge in a letter to "reassure" the DUP.

It comes amidst strains in the relationship over the border backstop.

The DUP responded angrily when the Northern Ireland secretary said guaranteeing future peace funding could be difficult if Mrs May's EU withdrawal agreement was voted down by MPs.

The party, and some Conservative MPs, are opposed to the backstop proposal for the border after Brexit in part because it would mean Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the UK.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The DUP signed an agreement to prop up the Conservative government in June 2017, but there have been tensions in the relationship over Brexit

Mrs May is set to outline her next plans on how to take forward the Brexit process in the House of Commons on 29 January.

A wide range of proposals have been mooted by MPs, including making amendments to the backstop - an option rejected by the Irish government - or setting aside a full six days in Parliament before the March deadline to decide on a way forward.

Brexit delay 'likely'

However, the former chancellor George Osborne and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have both said delaying Brexit is now the "likely" option.

Mr Obsorne told the BBC: "At least that gives some space to explore whether there is an alternative deal on the table - I doubt there is but it's worth exploring - or indeed whether we need to resolve this through a referendum."

Earlier in January, the UK announced about £300m for future peace projects.

The government funding will be given to Peace Plus "as part of its unwavering commitment to uphold the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland after Brexit".

That funding followed about £100m already earmarked by the EU.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley warned that without the legal mechanism provided by the EU withdrawal agreement, providing the cash could prove very difficult.

'Unequivocal commitment'

The DUP raised the matter with the prime minister, who has now reassured them in writing that she remains "personally strongly committed" to the peace funding.

She referred to it as an unequivocal commitment made in the withdrawal agreement and added that the UK remained committed "whatever the outcome of Brexit".

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In a letter to DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, dated Monday 21 January, the prime minister wrote: "In relation to a specific issue you raised of PEACE funding, I want to reassure you that I remain personally strongly committed to this and the government has emphasised its importance at every stage.

"In the event of no deal, both the UK and the EU have categorically committed to protect funding for current programmes through to 2020, as you rightly say in your letter.

"I can also reassure you that whatever the outcome of Brexit, the UK will remain committed to contributing financially to support peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland."

Image caption Karen Bradley said funding could be "very difficult" without an EU withdrawal deal

Mrs Foster thanked Mrs May for her clarification, but repeated her party's criticism of the Northern Ireland secretary, describing Mrs Bradley's earlier comments casting doubt on the funding as foolish and irresponsible.

"It lays to rest the comments made by the secretary of state that there may be some doubt about the legal basis on which it could be delivered," Mrs Foster said.

"Such comments were not only foolish, but were particularly irresponsible given the nature of the groups who are in receipt of this funding.

"There is nothing wrong with a robust debate on the facts, but resorting to such scaremongering is not just wrong but is also counterproductive."

What is Peace Plus?

The new scheme is set to replace the current Peace scheme, which has been in operation since 1995, next year.

It applies to Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland - Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.

Currently, Peace IV is operating, which focuses on children and young people, shared education, shared spaces and positive local relations.

It is funded by the UK, Ireland and the EU.

The programme as a whole has helped fund developments like the Peace Bridge in Londonderry and numerous projects supporting victims and survivors, children, business and regeneration.

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