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Brexit creates unease in north Belfast


The signs of division are still all too evident in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, an Irish nationalist stronghold bordering pro-British communities where Brexit is creating growing unease.

The murals celebrate guerrilla fighters from both sides, walls mark borders between Catholic and Protestant communities and riots sometimes break out during annual marches by unionist supporters.

But relative peace has prevailed for more than 20 years in an area where hundreds of lives were lost in a period of strife known as ‘The Troubles’ that largely ended with a peace agreement in 1998.

Charity workers say that is partly thanks to the European Union, which has poured hundreds of millions of euros into areas such as the Ardoyne, funding projects aimed at reconciling the two communities.

Those funds are now in question as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, and some are warning that the peace process itself could be under threat.

“Our peace process has definitely been supported by the European peace funds — it has been propped up in some respect by the European peace funds,” said Alan McBride, head of the Wave Trauma Centre, a non-profit organisation that supports the victims of violence.

The centre in north Belfast receives a “sizeable chunk” of its funding from the EU, and McBride said uncertainty about what will happen after Brexit makes long-term planning all but impossible.

“We’ve been told that our funding is probably going to be okay — at least the money coming from Europe is going to be okay — up until 2020 but beyond that, we’re just not so sure,” he said.

Wave provides counselling and psychotherapy, including for those who continue to endure intimidation from paramilitaries.

“This isn’t only about the Troubles, this is about last week,” he said.  Paramilitaries still mete out punishment beatings on those who break unwritten codes in parts of Belfast.

Andrew McCracken, chief executive of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland which disburses grants to various charities, said many organisations were facing similar problems.

“There is uncertainty about Brexit and what that would do to funding that comes from the EU,” he said.

The Republic of Ireland has also voiced concern and said it will press the EU to continue “the range of EU policy supports to Northern Ireland and the peace process, including in relation to EU funding”.

Agence France-Presse