The Government has welcomed comments by DUP leader Arlene Foster endorsing a closer relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic notwithstanding their contrasting positions on Brexit.
In a major speech in Co Kerry at the weekend, Ms Foster said it was not in Northern Ireland’s interest if the Republic did not prosper and emphasised cross-Border social and economic links.
At the inaugural Killarney Economic Conference, she strongly defended her party’s support for Brexit, and added she fully understood the concerns of the Irish Government and people.
“I appreciate that nowhere will be more impacted by the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union than Ireland.”
A spokesman for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday the Government welcomed the comments “as Brexit is an ongoing challenge for the whole of Ireland”.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted that all political leaders on the island needed to work together on Brexit “to protect communities North and South”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who also spoke at the conference, welcomed the comments.
“In terms of Brexit, the focus needs to be on very practical and constructive engagement to mitigate the damage Brexit will do to jobs, North and South, and east and west,” he said.
He said he also agreed with her that less “megaphone diplomacy was needed” by parties involved in the Brexit process.
Sinn Féin’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill also commented positively on Ms Foster’s acknowledgment that our economy, community, and future, North and South, are interlinked and interdependent.
“However, this cannot distract from the fact that Brexit will be disastrous for all of Ireland. There is no good Brexit. Today was a difference in tone, but not in policy.”
The speech was received as a placatory move by Ms Foster to draw a line under the row that erupted before Christmas over Border issues post-Brexit. A series of acrimonious comments from both sides severely strained relationships between the Government and the DUP.
She acknowledged the shared links between both communities, with Ms Foster drawing on her own childhood in Co Fermanagh.
“I grew up only a few miles from the Fermanagh and Monaghan border. I saw for myself growing up how, even during our darkest days, we shared close economic, cultural and social ties across the Border.
Ms Foster also cast Brexit as an opportunity for the island of Ireland rather than as an obstacle.
“That simply isn’t true. We believe that there are new longer-term opportunities as well as short-term challenges from the UK’s departure from the European Union.”
She argued the British Irish Council provided the infrastructure that would allow both Northern Ireland and the Republic to continue working together. However, she said it needed reform, suggesting that the Nordic Council model could provide a possible way forward.
She also strongly dismissed suggestions that a second referendum on Brexit should be held.
Ms Foster said that if referendums were held to repose the questions, the process would be endless, with demands for further referendums.
“You would have a never-ending cycle of referendums,” she contended.
Ms Foster said the reason the UK voted to leave the EU was that people wanted to reject elitism. She pointed out the DUP was always opposed to the EU.
“To be clear, my party was never in favour of the EU. Right from the beginning, we campaigned against it. The proper single market for us is the UK.”