Stormont needs clarity on any Brexit funds shortfall
THE Stormont executive has been urged to get clear answers from the British Treasury about guarantees over future European Union funding.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has said EU structural and investment projects signed off ahead of his autumn budget statement will still be funded after Brexit.
He said Whitehall would also match current farm subsidy levels until 2020.
But Stormont finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said the assurances do not go far enough.
The Sinn Féin minister claimed Brexit jeopardised up to £300m of funding for the north.
It is understood that around £130m through the EU's Peace IV and Interreg programmes could be at risk.
Mr Ó Muilleoir warned that any financial shortfall could exacerbate the regional economic impact of the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
His Sinn Féin colleague and former education minister John O'Dowd also expressed concern about the impact on university research.
"There is no doubt about the hugely negative impact a potential Brexit would have on our universities and higher education sector," he said.
"The Horizon 2020 funding scheme in particular offers huge potential and the possibility of losing elements of it would have a huge impact on our universities."
Mr O'Dowd said while the British government had given guarantees of funding for projects approved before Brexit, this would not help groups currently applying or preparing to apply.
Ulster Unionist finance spokesman Philip Smith welcomed the Treasury assurances but also said the executive needed to seek immediate clarity on what funds were guaranteed.
"The priority of the Executive, and specifically the finance minister, must now be to secure a commitment from the Treasury to fund the Peace and Interreg programmes," the Strangford MLA said.
"While the Treasury letter maintains the status quo for certain funding streams until Brexit, it does suggest that EU funding including that for agriculture will change once the UK leaves the EU."
The SDLP meanwhile voiced concern about conflicting signals coming from the executive.
South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said the finance minister's tone differed from that of agriculture and environment minister Michelle McIlveen who had welcomed Mr Hammond's statement on matching Common Agricultural Policy funds.
"One minute Mairtín O Muilleoir say he is unhappy with what the Treasury is guaranteeing but the next, his fellow minister Michelle McIlveen is welcoming Philip Hammond's guarantees," she said.
"How can we have any faith with the executive's ability to negotiate on our position in Europe when the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing?"
Last week First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May highlighting their concerns about the implications of Brexit.
They noted how the north's land border with an EU member state meant its position within the UK was unique.
The Stormont leaders also highlighted the potential impact on the all-Ireland energy market and EU funding for the agri-food sector.