Communication is key in affairs with the North
'Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe," said Abraham Lincoln. But Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, didn't need hours to sharpen her axe before chopping the legs off Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday. Ms Foster roundly dismissed a proposal for an All-Ireland Forum on Brexit, saying it was the first she had heard of it.
Mr Kenny understandably wanted to set up the forum to consult on the handling of the exit negotiations between the EU and the UK. But Ms Foster pointedly stated she had not been approached on the matter, and in any event there were a number of mechanisms already in place.
Given the delicacies involved, Mr Kenny might have spared himself the humiliation of such a public slap-down with a little bit of advance notice to Ms Foster. North-South relationships have gone from the glacial to good-natured; yesterday, they went from tepid to testy; and given the need for a common approach in the face of the unique problems the North faces, this is unfortunate to say the least. Managing the Border is crucial and the focus has to be on common interest. True, the SDLP and Sinn Féin both back the forum proposal but the Democratic Unionists will not tolerate the Government speaking for the region in any forthcoming negotiations. The party's Jeffrey Donaldson made it plain that the North's future can be decided only by the UK government and Stormont Executive.