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Dublin: 16°C Tuesday 3 August 2021

Arlene Foster says no desire to be 'cut off' from Republic after Brexit

The DUP leader said “I lose none of my unionism” by her desire to protect the Peace Process.

Image: PA Images

DUP LEADER ARLENE Foster has said that she doesn’t want to “lose” the close relationship that has formed between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The former First Minister of Northern Ireland was speaking at the Killarney Economic Conference this morning, where she made her views on the ideal future relationships of Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit.

It follows months of debate around how the status of Northern Ireland should change in the wake of Brexit so that it can both leave the European Union and maintain peaceful relationship with the Republic – two things that many political commentators say is impossible to implement.

During her speech, Foster said that ties between Northern Ireland and the Republic have grown into an “unimaginably positive” relationship.

“I don’t want to lose any of that.

The progress we have made together was hard-won.  I lose none of my unionism by saying that I am proud of that progress.

She outlined five key principles that the DUP have in relation to Brexit, which include Northern Ireland leaving the EU, and that a Brexit deal would recognise the Irish history.

She added that although she didn’t share people’s concerns about Brexit, she did understand them.

In December, the DUP found elements of an agreed wording between the EU and UK problematic, leading to a last-minute change that allowed Brexit talks to progress to Phase Two.

The DUP are currently propping up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory government, giving Foster and her party more leverage over the UK’s decisions than would otherwise be the case.

Foster has been steadfast in maintaining that Northern Ireland would leave the EU with the rest of the United Kingdom, and said that there shouldn’t be a border “along the Irish Sea” – meaning there shouldn’t be a great separation between the North and Great Britain.

But there has been little suggestions or solutions from the DUP on how the issue of the Irish border could be solved – today’s speech gives some insight into what unionists will want from the second phase of Brexit talks, and the future they envisage for Northern Ireland after it leaves the EU.

Semi-detached Republic

shutterstock_564619639 Source: Shutterstock/Ewelina Wachala

In her speech today, Foster compared the relationship between the Republic and Northern Ireland to “a semi-detached house”.

“The houses may look the same on the outside, but, inside, they look different and we do many things very differently.

But no matter how contrasting the interiors are, they are tied together and part of the same neighbourhood and what happens on one side of the fence inevitably has an impact on the other.

In a particularly significant part of her speech, she emphasised the importance of the relationship between the North and the Republic, and said that they didn’t wish to be “cut off” from one another.

The Democratic Unionist Party supported the UK leaving the European Union, but in so doing Brexit is not about pulling up the drawbridge, building a wall and cutting ourselves off from our nearest neighbours.

Instead, they say they want the whole of the UK should leave the EU (meaning Northern Ireland isn’t left behind); any Brexit deal must recognise the geography and history of the region; to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.

“We want to maximise the opportunities that will flow from our exit from the European Union. More powers in the hands of devolved administrations.

“More flexibility for locally elected Ministers to set policies that work for our regions. And the ability to pursue ambitious new free trade agreements around the world.”

 But we also want to be able to continue to trade as freely with the EU as possible.
We value the contribution that EU migrants have made and continue to make to our economy and society and we will support a new border policy that is strong but sensible.

The Killarney Economic Convergence is described as an annual dialogue between political, economic and civic leaders from Britain and Ireland – with Brexit dominating the topics being discussed this year.

Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin, who also spoke at the Killarney conference, said that it was a failure of the current government that it hasn’t engaged adequately with the North, “other than in the context of major crises”.

“The narrative of conflict has been followed by one of complacency,” he said.

Read: Nigel Farage says maybe there should be a second Brexit referendum

Read: ‘Shambolic’: Theresa May calamitous cabinet reshuffle heralds fresh calls for her to step down

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