No cooling of relationship with Arlene Foster, says Taoiseach

Sinn Féin says it will not change Westminster policy even if it could help prevent Brexit

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the All-Ireland Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the All-Ireland Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has batted away any suggestions of a frosty relationship between him and the First Minister Arlene Foster due to differences over the UK referendum result to take Britain and Northern Ireland out of the European Union.

There were indications of a cooling of their relationship following her dismissal of the value of Wednesday’s civic forum on Brexit in Dublin and her claims that the Government was trying to poach existing and potential foreign direct investment away from Northern Ireland. The fact that Ms Foster did not meet Ms Kenny at Stormont on Thursday, while finding time to meet the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos at Stormont, also was remarked upon as pointing to a possible deterioration in the Dublin-DUP relationship.

“I am not in the business of having any rows with First Minister Foster. This is much too important in the context of the island of Ireland. I have a very good working relationship with Arlene Foster, both before she became First Minister and now,” Mr Kenny said at Stormont where he met other party leaders.

Mr Kenny said while he did not meet Ms Foster on Thursday that he is to meet her in Dublin on November 15th just three days ahead of a North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting on Brexit in Armagh on November 18th. He also again planned to travel to Enniskillen for Remembrance Sunday on Sunday week where he would again meet her.

Working together

Mr Kenny said that regardless of the London High Court decision ruling that the British parliament must vote before article 50 on exiting the EU can be triggered what was important was to concentrate on working together to get the best result for the island of Ireland.

“Time is short and we don’t have any time to waste. What we are looking for is co-operation with everybody so that we know exactly what are the priorities we should be following in order to get the best result for the people of the North and the people of the island,” he said. Mr Kenny said he had mandated all Government Ministers to have discussions about Brexit with their Northern Executive counterparts ahead of the NSMC on Friday November 18th.

“My focus is determining with all of the parties here what are the priorities that need to be discussed and debated and negotiated because when Article 50 is eventually triggered obviously from my perspective we will be negotiating from a European Union point of view,” he said. “But given our priority of maintaining an open Border, maintaining the common travel area, maintaining the trading links that we have, and making decisions that will work in the interests of the two economies here, North and South, that’s where my priority is,” added the Taoiseach.

Special status

Mr Kenny and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan met leadership delegations from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. After his meeting the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams referring to how a majority of people in Northern Ireland – 56 per cent – voted for Remain said that the North “needed to have a specially designated status within the European Union which doesn’t cut across the constitutional arrangements at this time”.

The London High Court Brexit result referring the matter back to the British parliament once again prompted discussion about whether Sinn Féin should end its Westminster abstentionist policy if the votes of its four MPs could force a rejection of the referendum result in the House of Commons. Asked would Sinn Féin consider changing its policy in such an eventuality Mr Adams replied, “No – and you knew the answer to that before you asked me.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood after his meeting said the SDLP’s three MPs would represent the Northern Ireland majority Remain constituency in any future Brexit vote in the House of Commons.

Asked should Sinn Féin end its absentionist policy to try to overturn the Brexit decision he said “Sinn Féin have a long history of ignoring their responsibilities in Westminster”.

“We would implore other people to listen to the will of the people in Northern Ireland and do everything they can to protect their interests,” he added.