Scroll down to find out more about this issue - including a summary for children and young people, background information including the relevant Children's Rights, how we are monitoring Government and our work in addressing the issue.

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Summary for children and young people

The UK has now withdrawn from the EU but there are still some things that need to be ironed out when it comes to Northern Ireland. NICCY is keen to make sure children and young people’s lives are not negatively affected by this decision. Children and young people have not been able to have a say in the decision to leave the EU so NICCY wanted to make sure their voices were heard by decision makers as they planned new ways of working together.

In 2017, NICCY and the Ombudsman for Children in Ireland worked with over 150 young people to produce a report which identifies the potential impact on children’s rights from leaving the EU. The report “Our Brexit Too: Children’s Rights, Children’s Voices”

NICCY continues to monitor how Brexit is impacting the economy and living standards in Northern Ireland, to make sure we don’t see the return of a hard border with Ireland, that all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement are protected and that cross border policing and security systems designed to protect children and young people are still in place.

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Information on Brexit

UK withdrawal from the EU raised a range of issue and concerns.  These were in relation to:

  • Children’s Rights;
  • Family life (EU settlement scheme);
  • The Economy and standards of living;
  • Identity;
  • The land border;
  • Travel;
  • Asylum seekers and refugees; and
  • Security, policing and child safeguarding.

Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU (as did Scotland) however, the overall UK vote was to leave.  The UK Government has committed in Article 2(1) of the Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement, to ‘non-diminution’ of rights and equality as set out in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

Since ‘Brexit’ these issues noted above have continued to focus attention added to which has been that of the environment, regulation and specifically the NI Protocol Article 2.  NICCY’s concerns were further heightened in April 2021 when young people were involved in civil unrest in Belfast.  Issues with the ‘NI Protocol’ are cited by one of our political parties as reason for not taking up their seats in the NI Assembly following the elections in May 2022..  Northern Ireland may face another election in late 2022 if the NI Assembly is not ‘in place’ by end October.

Relevant Children's Rights

Views from young people

Image of Children Crossing Street

“This generation of young people have grown up in a society that is very, very different from that of the generation before us and that is because of the Good Friday Agreement.” Young Person, NI

Children's Commissioners seek assurances for children's safety post-Brexit - Cover

“Identity is a huge issue in Northern Ireland and it is something that young people in Northern Ireland are becoming increasingly worried about. We work with young nationalists who are frightened about the prospect of a United Ireland coming too quickly. We speak with young unionists who say that they are frightened about losing their identity with the breakup of the union. That is something that should not be happening to young people between the ages of 11 to 18 that I speak to in schools. They should not be frightened about this, but they are.” Young Person, NI

‘No-deal’ Brexit not an Option for Children and Young People - Cover

“EU is a protective shield for minority groups. Post Brexit could see a reversal of rights and enable discrimination.” Young Person, NI

Response to the Northern Ireland Office’s (NIO’s) Consultation Paper Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past - Cover Northern Ireland Map

“If you have family / relations on the other side of the border it would be very difficult to be going often if you have to be stopped and checked at every border.” Young Person, NI

Monitoring Government – what is government doing on Brexit?

NICCY has engaged with the NI Executive on Brexit including through its Committees.  At our evidence session with the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights for NI, NICCY reiterated the call for incorporation of the UNCRC into domestic legislation through this Bill particularly given the loss of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 24).

The UNCRC Committee also called for this in its 2016 Concluding Observations i.e. for the UK State Party to:

‘Expedite bringing in line with the Convention its domestic legislation, at the national and devolved levels …., in order to ensure that the principles and provisions of the Convention are directly applicable and justiciable under domestic law;’ 7(a).

The ‘NI Protocol Bill’ brought forward at Westminster aims to unilaterally override parts of the protocol thereby breaching international law.  Concerns have been raised by members of the UK’s House of Lords over what are referred to as ‘Henry VIII powers’ in that it will effectively allow Ministers to do as they want through amending primary legislation using secondary legislation.

NI’s ‘dedicated monitoring mechanism’ i.e. the NIHRC and ECNI, have recently issued their first annual report on the implementation of Protocol Article 2 specifically the commitment to ‘non-diminution of rights’ in which they have ‘already identified ways in which new laws risk undermining the rights, safeguards and equality protections’ set out therein and weakening the commitment to non-diminution of rights.  The ‘NI Protocol Bill’ mentioned above – currently going through passage at Westminster is one example.  NICCY maintains a watching brief on developments as they relate to the rights of children and young people.

Our work on Brexit

At the outset following the UK Government’s announced intention for a referendum on withdrawal from the EU, NICCY engaged extensively with key stakeholders in NI, Westminster and at the EU levels.  We worked with young people on a project with the Ombudsman for Children (OCO) in Ireland to highlight their concerns and issues about this.

Their Report “Our Brexit Too: Children’s Rights, Children’s Voices” which included key calls endorsed by NICCY and OCO was shared with key duty bearers and decision makers in government in NI, at Westminster and the European Parliament.

NICCY also issued 2 reports:

These addressed the key concerns in respect of children’s rights noted above.  We have also engaged with EU’s Maros Sefcovic at a meeting on his visit to NI last year to highlight ongoing concerns.  NICCY continues to maintain a ‘watching brief’ on developments.

You can find out more about our Brexit work here.

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