Saturday 17 March 2018

Unionists question FF's call for Brexit forum

First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Unionists have expressed scepticism over Fianna Fáil's proposals for an all-island 'Brexit forum' to be up and running in the autumn.

The DUP last night questioned the merit in establishing a new body at all - in a move that illustrates the tensions between Dublin and Belfast.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Irish Independent this week that such a body could be essential in containing the fall-out from Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

Using the terms 'civic dialogue' or 'national dialogue' to describe the body, the Cork South Central TD has heaped pressure on Taoiseach Enda Kenny by calling for its speedy establishment.

"This is about reaching out and establishing how Brexit is affecting people and businesses," Mr Martin said.

"It should be up and running in the autumn, absolutely."

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said that the Government would be open to being involved in any forum that addresses the issues of concern.

"What the Government is keen to do is to defend Ireland's interests primarily and that means trying to maintain the Common Travel Area and also to keep the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in the free market. And that's to the benefit of everyone," Mr Varadkar said at an event in Dublin City.

"It's very important we take a particular interest in Northern Ireland and also Irish citizens living in Britain and we are open to co-operating in any way, on an all-island basis or a bilateral basis between Britain and Ireland, to achieve those objectives," he added.

However, the proposal was met with scepticism by the DUP, whose leader Arlene Foster previously shot down a similar plan. At an event in Dublin Castle last month, Ms Foster said there was no need, in her view, for all-island talks on a formal basis.

And in a statement to the Irish Independent last night, DUP MP Gavin Robinson agreed: "The United Kingdom Government will be negotiating on Northern Ireland's behalf with the European Union during the exit process," he said.

However there will be matters of mutual concern for both Northern Ireland and the Republic, Mr Robinson added.

"There are obviously benefits to discussing such issues, but the question remains why it would require a newly created body to achieve this goal," he said.

Read more: The Border issue involves principles that matter to the UK and EU states

Irish Independent

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