Checking into a Brexit discussion at the Hilton hotel, Belfast

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By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

Life is full of Brexit ironies.

As I entered the Hilton hotel in Belfast yesterday on a cold but sunny morning to attend a post-Brexit discussion organised by the Policy Forum for Northern Ireland, a plaque on the wall outside caught my eye.

The writing on it said: ‘Hilton Belfast. This project has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.’

The morning event, which ran from 9am to 1pm, was imbued with an air of uncertainty as the various guest speakers offered their view on what Brexit might mean for the Northern Ireland economy.

To those not in the know, the Policy Forum for Northern Ireland is part of the Westminster Forum Projects (WFP) which has its origins in the UK Parliament, but its work now extends to policy decided in UK devolved parliaments and assemblies, the Oireachtas, and the European Commission.

The session was split into two halves; the first chaired by DUP MLA Mervyn Storey and the latter by Sinn Fein MLA Michelle Gildernew.

Although there were many calls made for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the two politicians give no hint of an early settlement of the political dispute.

Esmond Birnie, economist and former Ulster Unionist MLA, said that “hard choices had to be made” whether it was from a devolved Assembly or direct rule.

His list of ‘hard choices’ included domestic water charges; health reform; free prescriptions, free bus passes for the over 60s and a corporation tax cut.

Mervyn Storey said what was needed was “fact not spin” and that Brexit presented “opportunities and challenges”.

Professor David Phinnemore from Queen’s University outlined the extent of EU funding for universities here and the problems that would cause if it was lost.

Ms Gildernew in her opening remarks said that “Tory austerity is still a big problem for a lot of us.” She also strongly condemned the recently introduced two-child tax credit limit policy.

The law limits child tax credits to two children per family unless the mother can prove she conceived the third child through rape.

“For me, that is social engineering at its worst,” said Ms Gildernew.

I’m not sure that many of those who attended the event are a lot wiser about the implications of Brexit.

One economist, Professor Neil Gibson, said it was clear that a lot of jobs which are presently being created are in the low wage category, specifically in admin and support services.

Could there be a continuation of low pay under Brexit? – surely not?

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