Sunday 21 January 2018

Sinn Fein and DUP threaten Irish Brexit deal

Secret Cabinet memo reveals concerns over Northern Assembly

FROSTY RECEPTION: North First Minister Arlene Foster gave a chilly response to Enda Kenny’s remarks about Brexit. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
FROSTY RECEPTION: North First Minister Arlene Foster gave a chilly response to Enda Kenny’s remarks about Brexit. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Philip Ryan and Wayne O'Connor

The Government is concerned that tensions between Sinn Fein and the Democrat Unionist Party (DUP) over Brexit will hamper attempts to find an all-Ireland solution to Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

Secret Cabinet briefing material seen by the Sunday Independent states that the "divergence" on the UK referendum results between the two main parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly has "inevitably impacted" on their "capacity to deal with consequences" of Brexit.

Sinn Fein has questioned the outcome of the referendum as Northern Ireland voted to remain while the DUP supported a Leave vote. The Cabinet papers note that so far the power-sharing executive only agreed to a number of 'asks' on Brexit which were contained in a letter sent to British Prime Minister Theresa May in August.

The letter asked that free movement of people, goods and service between North and South should remain in place and also pointed to a need to allow Northern Ireland to trade with EU member states.

The Cabinet papers were given to ministers ahead of Friday's North South Ministerial Council meeting in Armagh.

"In light of the internal dynamics in the Executive, however, it is still far from certain how much more detail on their priorities and 'asks' the Northern Ireland Executive will bring to this plenary meeting," the briefing stated.

The last Ministerial Council meeting was overshadowed by a spat between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and DUP leader Arlene Foster over the Fine Gael leader's all-island Brexit forum. Ms Foster also publicly criticised the Government for "talking down" Northern Ireland's economy as part of an attempt to poach investors.

However, Friday's meeting was described as constructive by all sides.

Last week, Ms Foster also met Mr Kenny in Government Buildings where they agreed to work toward securing a Brexit deal that would benefit both sides of the Border.

A separate Cabinet briefing document also urges ministers to "sensitise" EU member states and institutions to Ireland's concerns during he Brexit negotiations in the run- up to the British government triggering Article 50.

Meanwhile, Ireland's plans to capitalise on the UK's Brexit vote have taken a hit after it was proposed that a special London-only visa be created to allow the city to maintain access to foreign labour.

Many Irish companies hope to attract financial sector work and jobs to Dublin when Britain leaves the EU, but plans are being discussed to protect London's role as a key location for international banks and businesses.

While the new visa would be welcomed by the thousands of Irish people living and working in London, it would come as a blow to banks and financial businesses in Dublin hoping to compete with the likes of Paris and Frankfurt for major investment.

It comes after Finance Minister Michael Noonan warned that it could take new banks more than 12 months to get a licence to operate here.

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned Mrs May to act fast and secure practical immigration methods for the city post-Brexit.

The city fears losing 160,000 workers at a cost of £7bn (€8.15bn) to the economy by 2020 as many EU nationals in London would not meet immigration rules if they remain unchanged.

Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Howard Davies has warned Mrs May that jobs will be lost to Ireland and the EU.

He said American and Japanese banks were taking stock of how Brexit may impact on their access to European markets.

As Ireland remains in the EU, a move to Ireland would be attractive to some banks looking for security and guaranteed access to Europe.

"They are currently making contingency plans and once you've got a contingency plan - hey, there is a risk you might implement it one day," said Mr Davies. "And therefore I think that it is quite urgent."

Deloitte consultant Cormac Hughes said Dublin remained a strong option for foreign direct investment but Irish firms operating in the UK needed to consider how Brexit will affect them.

"For quite a few businesses whose main market is in the UK, what you really need to think about is doubling down on investment there," he said.

"That could mean acquiring business over there, new partnerships or looking for opportunities created by the Brexit situation.

"Uncertainty is not helpful to anyone really because it can delay decisions and looking at the UK, what we have seen is that finance directors are much more cautious now and there is a lot more 'wait and see' behaviour.

"Ireland has always been a strong location for foreign investment and during this particular period of uncertainty, Ireland is particularly attractive for companies coming to Europe."

Fianna Fail senator Terry Leyden has urged people to consider applying for a British passport once the UK leaves the EU. He said people should "not be ashamed" to apply if it meant easier access to the UK. The senator said a person born in the Republic before January 1949, with a parent born in Ireland before March 1922, was entitled to a British passport.

Sunday Independent

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