The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI)  is urging government to put equality at the heart of new funding arrangements in the wake of the UK’s exit from the EU.

The Equality Commission  has published a research report by Prof O’Connell and Dr Tim Cunningham on the impact of the loss of EU funding on equality groups in Northern Ireland, alongside its own policy recommendations.

Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, said ‘EU funding has been significant in the promotion of equality of opportunity and good relations over many decades in Northern Ireland.  It has provided vital support to many organisations working to combat poverty, promote social inclusion, support equality and address the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Many people, including those with disabilities, members of ethnic minority communities, young people and women have benefited greatly from this funding.

‘Since the Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund was launched at the end of April this year, there has been a lack of detail about the administration and delivery of the fund in Northern Ireland. The Commission is asking Government urgently to provide greater clarity on how the Shared Prosperity Fund will continue to support the promotion of equality of opportunity and good relations in Northern Ireland.’

According to one of the Ulster research report’s authors, Prof O’Connell:

‘This report gave Dr Tim Cunningham and me the opportunity to learn more about the vital work being done by different organisations to support marginalised and disadvantaged groups in our society. Young people in care, people with disabilities and mental health issues, members of ethnic minorities and others have been supported to develop skills and enter the workplace thanks to the practical training, pastoral care and ‘wrap-around’ support that European Union funding has made possible.

‘As we have left the European Union, it is essential that new funding arrangements build on the lessons of the earlier programmes. Our report offers more than 20 recommendations for how new programmes, especially the Shared Prosperity Fund, should operate so as to promote and support equality. Authorities implementing the new programmes in Northern Ireland should be subject to the Section 75 equality mainstreaming duty and should collect robust equality data. The UK government needs to ensure that there is no financial cliff edge or break in funding that would undermine the successful work of funded organisations and leave the people they serve without access to support.’