Future Issues

Brexit and the Absence of Government in Northern Ireland Viewfinder 2018

As part of NICVA's State of the Sector research portfolio, each year a viewfinder survey is undertaken to provide a snapshot of current issues that may potentially impact our member organisations and those they serve.

In late 2018, NICVA undertook a survey to determine our member organisations' views on the Brexit process and the current absence of a government in Northern Ireland. The viewfinder was disseminated to NICVA member organisations (n=1,019) using online survey software between August-September 2018 and achieved a response rate of 16% (n=163). This data represents a sample of the NICVA membership and is not necessarily fully representative of all VCSE sector organisations in Northern Ireland.

 1.0  EU Referendum Vote and Brexit Negotiations

Almost three quarters (71.3%) of organisations believed that the UK made the wrong decision to leave the EU

  • Almost three quarters (72.7%) of organisations indicated that if the 2016 referendum on Brexit was repeated, they would vote to remain in the EU
  • A small proportion of organisations (18%) indicated that they did not know how they would vote if the referendum was repeated
  • A large proportion of organisations (71.3%) stated that they believed that the UK made the wrong decision to vote to leave the EU with a further 20% of organisations indicating that they did not know

A large majority of responding organisations (60.9%) believed that there should be a second referendum on Brexit

  • Many of the organisations (60.9%) who responded to this survey indicated that there should be a second referendum and a smaller number (20.5%) said that they did not know
  • Organisations stated that in the case of a second referendum, 69.5% would vote to remain in the EU, 23% did not know how they would vote and 5% would vote for a hard/no deal Brexit

When provided with a range of options for what they thought the government should do next in relation to the Brexit process, the most popular choice by 53.7% of organisations was that the UK government should offer a second referendum to determine whether the UK should proceed with Brexit or not

  • Many of the organisations (53.7%) indicated that the government should offer a second referendum to determine whether the UK should proceed with Brexit or not
  • A small number of organisations (16.7%) indicated that they did not know how the UK government should proceed with Brexit
  • Organisations (15.4%) believed that the UK government should reconsider its aims in the Brexit negotiations and seek a “soft” Brexit
  • A smaller number of organisations (4.9%) said that the UK Government should harden its position and leave the UK with no deal
  • The combined figures of the percentage reported for “somewhat worse” and “much worse” suggest that a significant majority of organisations believed that the UK will be worse off socially (68.5%), economically (67.3%) and environmentally (61.7%) when it leaves the EU
  • The combined figures of the percentage reported for “somewhat worse” and “much worse” suggest that an even greater majority of organisations also believed that NI will be worse off socially (71.4%), economically (71.4%) and environmentally (64.8%) when it leaves the EU

 2.0  Brexit Concerns and Issues for VCSE Sector Organisations

Almost half (45.5%) of organisations indicated that they were 'very concerned' about the potential effects of Brexit

  • When asked to rank organisations' top three areas of concern, the 'impact of Brexit/hard border on peace and stability' was cited as the top concern for 35.6% of organisations. This was followed by the risk to 'NI economy/public funding' (19%) and the potential 'loss of grants and subsidies' (12.9%)
  • Half of organisations (50.3%) indicated that Brexit would have a significantly negative impact on the availability of 'grants and subsidies'
  • Similarly, 48.4% of organisations believed that Brexit would have a significantly negative impact the 'NI economy/public funding'
  • Almost half of organisations (47.7%) believed that Brexit would have a significantly negative impact on 'peace and stability'

 3.0  Brexit Implications for the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector

A third of organisations (33.3%) were 'very concerned' about the potential effects of Brexit on their organisation

  • A third of organisations (33.3%) were 'very concerned' about the potential effects of Brexit on their organisation
  • Almost half of organisations (41.0%) believed that Brexit will have a 'negative impact' on the future success of their organisation
  • A smaller number of organisations (16.7%) said that they 'don't know' what impact Brexit will have on their organisation
  • Only 1.9% of organisations reported that Brexit may have a 'positive impact' on the future success of their organisation
  • The combined figures of the percentage reported for “negative impact” and “significantly negative impact” suggest that 81.9% of organisations stated believe that Brexit might negatively impact on 'accessing grants' and 64.1% on 'fundraising'
  • The combined figures of the percentage reported for “negative impact” and “significantly negative impact” suggest that nearly half of organisations (49.4%) felt that Brexit would negatively impact on 'partnership working/collaboration', just over a third that it would have a negative impact on 'staff recruitment and retention' (34.6%) and over a quarter on 'volunteer recruitment and retention' (28.1%)

Over one fifth of organisations (21.4%) said that they had already been impacted by the Brexit process to date

  • 21.4% of organisations indicated that they already been impacted by the Brexit process to date
  • A fifth of organisations (20.8%) indicated that they 'don't know' if their organisation has been impacted by Brexit to date

Organisations provided further details about the challenges of Brexit and the impact on them to date;

  • Organisations had difficulty accessing funding and grants and, in many cases, had lost funding
  • Many organisations suspended future project planning as a result of the uncertainty around Brexit
  • The stress from border communities was higher than expected
  • Organisations indicated that there will be a loss of EU student placements e.g. Erasmus students
  • Organisations are witnessing uncertainty amongst people from the migrant community
  • Some organisations believed that Brexit is the cause of the failure to establish an Executive and Assembly in NI
  • Some organisations had to register as separate charities in ROI
  • Charities are putting resources into Brexit related activities resulting in less resources for other issues
  • Brexit has raised questions around identity and nationality, impacting on peace building
  • Some organisations reported racism and discrimination in the workplace
  • Brexit is discouraging young people and leading to despair about the future of NI
  • Some people have left NI as a result of Brexit

 4.0  Political Impasse and Lack of Northern Ireland Government

 4.1  Lack of a Devolved Government in NI

Almost three quarters of organisations (73.7%) indicated that they were 'very concerned' about the absence of a devolved government in NI.

  • 73.7% of organisations stated that they were 'very concerned' about the absence of devolved government in NI
  • Only 2.6% indicated that they were 'not concerned' about the absence of a devolved government in NI
  • 48.1% of organisations believed that the absence of a devolved government had a 'negative impact' on their organisation
  • A very small number of organisations (2.6%) did not know the impact of the absence of a devolved government on their organisation

 4.2  Lack of Government and Political Decision Making

  • Over three quarters of organisations (76%) were 'very concerned' about the absence of political decision making of any kind and the limitations of decision making by officials
  • Organisations were asked to rank their top three areas of concern regarding the impact of the lack of government of any kind on their organisations. Ranked in order, the impact on NI public expenditure decisions (41.7%), lack of decision making on strategic and longer-term issues (20.2%) and the new programme for Government and Outcomes Based Accountability (OBA) having stagnated (19%) were the main concerns for organisations

 4.3  Actions to Address the Lack of Government in NI

  • Organisations were provided with several choices of actions they would like to see taken to address the lack of government in NI and asked to rank them in order of preference. It is notable that over half of responses (53.4%) from organisations showed that their first or second preference would be that 'the UK and Irish governments should act to break the deadlock and facilitate discussion/a new round of political talks between the NI parties'
  • The second most popular first preference was that the that 'the Secretary of State should act to introduce a mechanism to allow political/ministerial decision-making' (21.5%)
  • 12.8% of responses from organisations stated their first preference would be 'the Secretary of State should act to introduce Direct Rule' and nearly one third (31.7%) of responses showed that as amongst their top three preferred options

Organisations provided additional information on their thoughts regarding the Brexit process and the lack of NI government.

  • Organisations felt that there was a lack of clarity about the Brexit process
  • They also felt that Stormont should be managed by lay people who have experience on the ground
  • The public should not continue to vote for political parties that deadlock the process of government and a belief that they should no longer be allowed to stand for election as they are incapable and have broken the public's trust
  • Salaries should be stopped as NI politicians have failed to earn them or act positively for those they represent
  • There should also be a call for a 2nd referendum which should be a Brexit or remain vote
  • Direct rule should be introduced as election is unlikely to result in a shift in political representation
  • Some believed that NI was leaning towards a joint rule involving the British and Irish governments
  • Fears that the lack of a devolved government means that the country is drifting towards a financial disaster
  • There were concerns about the impact of Brexit on women and children's rights especially in cases where family members have different citizenship and/or immigration rights. There was also a concern regarding the human rights of transgender people e.g. access to healthcare
  • Others felt that young people were excluded from the discussions, there was a need for a youth assembly and that the voting age should be reduced to 16 years old
  • A rights-based return to government including a bill of rights and proper implementation of the Petition of Concern procedures should be undertaken
  • Some believed that the EU is a corrupt mechanism that does not generate enough revenue for itself