South Down MP Margaret Ritchie MP is urging the people of Northern Ireland to vote Remain this Thursday, 23rd June 2016.
This week the people of Northern Ireland will be asked to record a once in a lifetime vote – upon which the future of our society and economy will be shaped and determined.
I and my Party, the SDLP believe Northern Ireland is better off in the European Union in terms of Jobs and Opportunities; export markets and lower prices for produce; investment and EU funding in community, infrastructure and business projects; Workers’ Rights; Peace, stability/human rights and the local North/South economy on the island of Ireland
On the EU and the NI Economy:
Access to the European Common Market is crucial for the Northern Irish economy and to Northern Irish jobs. Over half of all Northern Irish exports go to the Common Market, and official figures show there are 50,000 jobs reliant on our exports within the EU.
Much of this reliance stems from our exports to the South, which is our largest export market, making up to a third of our exports, at a value of over £2 billion.
With global markets already unstable and access to new markets so difficult to secure, uprooting the very basis of our economy could only lead to job losses in our manufacturing and agricultural sectors. And for every job lost there would be knock-on effects throughout our local economy.
By staying in we can continue growing and normalising our economy and creating decent new jobs for the people of Northern Ireland.
Cross border trade and free movement in Ireland
Though often missed in the national headlines, it cannot be over-stated how common EU regulations on safety and welfare standards have helped open up the border between the North and the South for trade and business.
That’s why, if the UK tore up the Community’s various minimum standards, customs checks along the border would become unavoidable and we would return to the days of queueing for hours to declare butter to the Gardaí. This would be a disaster for the 30,000 commuters who cross the border every day on the way to work.
How can we expect to reach New York or Hong Kong when they are stuck in the queue to reach Dublin?
Product quality and rights for workers
Membership of the EU is not only a question of how much business we do, but the kind of business we do as well. Staying in the EU means our businesses can focus on high-quality, well designed and safe products, without being snared into a race that drives down product quality and employment rights.
This isn’t an abstract issue – these are rights that apply to every job in Northern Ireland.
The EU safeguards our rights to equal pay, our freedom from discrimination, our right to maternity leave and the rights given to part-time workers.
This is the ‘red tape’ that the Leave Camp wants to scrap after they take us out of the EU, motivated by a market ideology that puts political theory before real people’s quality of life.
Investment in NI
The EU has also been a much needed source of infrastructural investment for Northern Ireland and has supported efforts to help Northern Ireland come out of the shadow of the past.
The EU’s INTER-REG programme provides €240 million to help Northern Ireland improve infrastructure and connectivity.
In practice, that has meant over £10 million to improve the cross-border Enterprise Railway service and £19 million to improve the Derry/Coleraine rail line.
In my time as a Minister I was able to use money from the European Investment Bank to build houses here in Northern Ireland.
And thanks to PEACE Funding from the EU, 350 schools will be able to get involved in shared education, which means 144,000 students participating in shared classrooms and 2,100 teachers getting training in shared education.
Anyone hoping the British Government would replace this funding would be waiting a very long time indeed.
Instead, we would see money that should be spent on improving our connectivity spent on installing new custom checks on the Irish border, building infrastructure for division rather than integration.
Peace and Human Rights
While it has become politically fashionable to rail against the human rights protections the EU guarantees, we should remember European human rights protections are a foundation stone of the Good Friday Agreement.
With the current Conservative Government elected on a pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act, and with Ministers openly considering leaving the European Court of Human Rights, I believe leaving the EU would put both Britain and Northern Ireland in a dangerous direction of travel for human rights that no one can predict. A vote to Remain is a vote to defend human rights protections in Northern Ireland.
Vote Remain June 23rd
This referendum is only getting tighter as we draw close to polling day, and voters in Britain seem split down the middle.
The SDLP is certain that Northern Ireland will be hammered by a vote to leave, and I am equally certain that our issues will be far from the minds of most people voting in England, Scotland and Wales.
That means if we want Northern Ireland to avoid being hit by a closed border, the loss of the European export market and massive cuts in investment, each and every one one of us are going to have to go out and make our voice heard at the ballot box on June 23rd.