A speech made by DUP leader Arlene Foster focusing on post-Brexit relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland was effectively an argument for access to the EU’s single market and customs union, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said.
Speaking on Saturday morning at an event in Killarney, Co Kerry, Mrs Foster made calls for closer Anglo-Irish relations, and for political leaders across the island to work together for their mutual benefit.
The DUP leader said she would pursue enhanced relations through the British-Irish Council, when she meets Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.
“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,” she said.
Mr Eastwood said the decision by Arlene Foster to speak in the Republic “sends a signal in the right direction”.
“While much of the content of the speech the SDLP could not agree with, the willingness of Mrs Foster to accept that her party will have to work on an all-island basis with our partners in the south to deal with the challenges of Brexit is a welcome step,” he said.
“In particular, in her remarks, the DUP Leader spoke of how she personally experienced the benefit of no border and again argued against a hard border in Ireland. This is significant – Mrs Foster is effectively arguing for access to the single market and customs union.
“The SDLP has long argued that only with access to the single market and customs union can we protect our interests on this island. But we have also argued that only with a local government here to make decisions here on this island can we protect people here from the economic and socio-political disaster Brexit could bring.”
In her speech, Mrs Foster cited the Nordic Council – a forum which exists between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the autonomous territories of the Faroes, Greenland and the Aland Islands – as an example of co-operation between countries both within and outside of the European Union.
Mr Eastwood added: “The three strands of relationships, at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement’s architecture, do offer opportunity in protecting our interests in the face of Brexit. However, what Mrs Foster refers to as a replica of the Nordic Council model cannot be a substitute for political leadership and a local government.
“What this statement this morning highlights is that Brexit must be a basis for talks. No political leader here can speak for Northern Ireland alone but what the DUP Leader has exposed today is that there is some common ground. Political dialogue is needed here to explore that common ground, where there is room for compromise and if there is a way to move forward.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital