John Coyle, Erne North SDLP Councillor, has said he is “confident” that a Council delegation will be able to meet with some of the key players in Brexit, including the EU Chief Brexit negotiator, Michele Barnier, when they travel to Brussels for a three day lobbying trip in the coming weeks.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council are to work with the Northern Ireland Executive Office to secure meetings with, among others, Mr. Barnier, outgoing European Union President Jean Claude Juncker, and incoming European Union President, Ursula von der Leyen.

Three Sinn Fein Councillors and one SDLP Councillor, along with an Officer of the Council, will make the trip at a potential cost of £800 to £1,000 per person.

The decision to send a delegation of at least five people to Brussels was taken at meeting of the Brexit Committee this month, following a proposal from Councillor Coyle.

On that night Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff proposed that the Chair and Vice Chair of the Council and the Chair of the Brexit Committee be among those to make the trip.

However a Council spokesperson confirmed to the Impartial Reporter this week that Councillor Diane Armstrong, UUP and Vice Chair of the Council, will not now be part of the delegation.

At the Brexit Committee meeting where the trip was agreed to both the UUP and the DUP both voted against the motion.

The make up of the delegation was finalised at a Special Council meeting on Monday night where Council Chair Siobhan Currie, Chair of the Brexit Committee Catherine Kelly, both of Sinn Fein, Stephen McCann, also of Sinn Fein, and John Coyle, SDLP, were nominated.

An officer of the Council will also to be part of the delegation. Both the UUP and DUP said that they would not be nominating anyone for the trip.

Speaking to the Impartial Reporter this week Councillor Coyle said that he knew that some people considered the trip “to be a waste of time and a waste of money” but that he felt it was vital that the voice of the people of this district was heard in Brussels.

“I don’t believe it is a waste of money. I represent all the community. There is a narrative being used in the Brexit Committee at Council that everyone who voted to remain would also vote for a united Ireland. That is not the case, and it is disappointing that the Ulster Unionists and the DUP are not sending anyone (to Brussels).”

At the Brexit Committee meeting, where the motion to send a delegation to Brussels was passed, there was disagreement among Councillors as to the merits of the trip.

UUP Councillor, Victor Warrington, wondered what the purpose of the trip was and called into question the effectiveness of the Council’s Brexit Committee:

“If sending a delegation to Brussels from this Council area could achieve anything; great. But I think as a committee… we are a talking shop. We cannot achieve anything, and we cannot have any control over any of the decisions that are going to be taken,” he said before adding:

“At the end of the day the British government or the Irish government or the European Union don’t know where they are going to be in six weeks, so how the Dickens is a committee, or a delegation from Fermanagh and Omagh going to have any influence over the final outcome.”

The trip is being arranged via the Northern Ireland Executive Office, who facilitated a similar trip in January for Belfast City Council.

When asked if he felt the Council delegation would secure meetings with Mr Barnier and the other individuals proposed in the motion Councillor Coyle was optimistic:

“If you don’t ask you don’t get. The Northern Ireland Executive Office have good contacts and I’m confident that we will be able to secure these meetings with these people,” he said before concluding;

“Our Council area is one of the biggest land borders with the Republic so we have to make sure that our voice is heard.”

At the Brexit Committee where the proposal was discussed several councillors raised concerns about the amount of money that the trip would cost.

Alison McCullough, Director of Regeneration and Planning at Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, explained that going on the meeting arranged on behalf of Belfast City Council a two day visit cost between £800 and £1,000 per person. The Belfast trip cost £3,300 she explained.