Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has called for closer Anglo-Irish relations in a speech on Brexit.
Speaking in Killarney, Ireland, Mrs Foster said there are more things to unite than divide Britain and the republic in phase two of discussions on the UK’s split from the European Union.
And she called on unionists and republicans to work together for the benefit of everyone.
DUP leader Arlene Foster (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Mrs Foster plans to raise the prospect of enhancing Anglo-Irish relations, under the auspices of the British-Irish Council when she meets Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.
‘Maintaining Northern Ireland’s economic and political status as an integral part of the United Kingdom is absolutely crucial to me and my party,’ she said.
‘To think anything else would be as foolish as believing that the Taoiseach (Leo Varadkar) or the Tanaiste (Mr Coveney) desired anything other than Irish unity.
‘But while we will always battle for our own national interests, we must also battle for our mutual interests.
Arlene Foster acknowledged that Leo Varadkar, right, and Simon Coveney, left, both desire a united Ireland
‘And our mutual interests will not end on the day the UK formally leaves the European Union. The United Kingdom may be leaving the EU but the common interests that we share across the British Isles will remain.’
Mrs Foster made the call at the Killarney Economic Conference in County Kerry where the issues around Brexit were explored in a two-day conference.
Her suggestions about deepening ties and mutual respect mark a significant departure from the fallout which marred relations between the DUP and the Irish Government towards the end of last year amid both the fractious finish to phase one of the Brexit negotiations and the Irish border question and Mr Coveney’s aspirations for a united Ireland.
The DUP suggested Anglo-Irish relations could be deepened through the British-Irish Council, which was set up as part the Good Friday Agreement to improve cooperation between the UK and Ireland in areas such as transport, the environment and energy.
‘The UK exiting the European Union ought not to become a barrier to continued co-operation on issues of ongoing mutual interest,’ she said.
‘It especially shouldn’t become a barrier when the infrastructure – in the guise of the British-Irish Council – already exists that can allow us to continue to work together as closely as ever on issues of shared interest.’
Arlene Foster said that Brexit must not become a barrier to the British and the Irish working together
Mrs Foster used the example of the Nordic Council, which includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aland to show how Anglo-Irish relation might be developed.
She noted that some of the Nordic countries are in the European Union and Eurozone, while others are not.
‘Change should not be allowed to weaken the relationships so painstakingly put together across these British Isles,’ she said.
‘As challenging as finding a suitable solution might seem, there is no good reason why our own issues on this island should present any threat to the progress we’ve made.
‘I value the relationships we have developed too much to do anything that would jeopardise them.
‘But, whether we voted to leave or voted to remain, whether we are citizens of the United Kingdom or citizens of Ireland, we must accept the reality of the referendum result, refrain from the continued re-fighting of the referendum, and seek the sensible, mutually beneficial outcomes from the complex negotiation process ahead that will serve us all well.’