Taoiseach will seek an all-island forum to help deal with Brexit
Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30
Taoiseach Enda Kenny will today propose the creation of an all-island forum to deal with the fallout from the decision by British voters to leave the European Union.
Mr Kenny will seek the views of the Belfast devolved government at a North-South Ministerial Council meeting in Dublin Castle. Already, the idea has been effectively endorsed by Sinn Féin, whose leader, Gerry Adams, has proposed a similar initiative in an article for this newspaper today.
But the attitude of the Democratic Unionist leader, Arlene Foster, and her colleagues will be crucial. The DUP advocated a 'Leave' vote in the referendum on June 23 but a 56pc majority in the North sided with the 'Remain' campaign.
However, senior DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has already poured cold water on the idea of an all-island forum and warned the Republic that it would not be negotiating on the North's behalf with the EU.
He said there was no need for such a forum and that the DUP would make it clear at today's meeting in Dublin Castle that the main negotiations with the EU on behalf of the North would be undertaken by the British government.
"There will no doubt be similar discussions in the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly also meeting this week at Malahide.
"These bodies were set up to deal with such issues and we don't need another one," he said.
But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed the proposed new forum was essential. "Here on the island of Ireland, we must map the challenges, purposes and priorities that could most affect us, north and south, rather than following the impulses and bad decisions of the British government," he said.
The idea of a single-island approach will also have to be sold to the London government. At a meeting in Belfast last week, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, who campaigned for 'Leave', said there can be no special exemptions for Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit.
"The EU rules are very clear - membership is at member state level, it's a national question," Ms Villiers said.
EU Affairs Minister Dara Murphy said the Taoiseach would seek to establish common ground between all parties in an effort to get an all-island response to the problem.
"We are hopeful that the Democratic Unionist Party can make common cause based on so many interests like agriculture and the fate of small and medium-sized business.
"The Taoiseach will be putting the emphasis on matters we all can agree upon. This will only work if there is 'buy-in' from all parties."
Mr Murphy said there was already an understanding by the British government of the special concerns surrounding the Border.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has today proposed a forum idea similar to that of the Taoiseach in an article for the Irish Independent.
"A forum, similar to the New Ireland Forum and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, should be open to all parties on the island," Mr Adams wrote. "It would have the clear objective of discussing the implications of Brexit and producing papers on strategies and policies that might assist in co-ordinating efforts in the time ahead."