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Northern Ireland firms included in 15 Republic trade missions, figures show

Arlene Foster at the DUP annual conference at the La Mon hotel last month

TRADE missions from the Republic have included representatives from Northern Ireland on 15 occasions, despite Arlene Foster’s claims of “poaching” by the southern government.

Figures released by the Irish government show that companies from Northern Ireland have been involved in 12 Enterprise Ireland trade promotion visits and three IDA missions in the last six years.

It comes in response to the allegation by First Minister Arlene Foster that the Republic was ‘poaching’ investment away from Northern Ireland.

“(The Republic’s) representatives are sent around the world to talk down our economy and to attempt to poach our investors,” the DUP leader told her party conference last month.

The claim was met with criticism from the Irish government and Martin McGuinness, her Sinn Féin partner in government.

Chairman of the committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade Fianna Fail TD Brendan Smith has said he was "extremely disappointed by the disparaging and untrue remarks" made by Mrs Foster when she accused the Irish government of 'talking down' the Northern Irish economy.

Ms Foster, addressing the DUP party conference, accused the southern government of 'poaching' trade from Northern Ireland during foreign trade missions.

However, Mr Smith said questions asked in the Daíl show that far from poaching business from Northern Ireland, state agencies in the Republic were working with Invest NI to attract foreign investment to the island.

The Cavan-Monaghan TD asked the Minister for Jobs, Mary Mitchell O’Connor the number of trade promotion visits which had representation from Northern Ireland.

The minister confirmed both, Enterprise Ireland (EI) and IDA Ireland, have engaged with relevant bodies in Northern Ireland "to pursue areas of mutual advantage".

"Developing all-island initiatives and cooperation can, in certain circumstances, better build our competitive advantage internationally".

She added that in the period 2010 to 2015, Enterprise Ireland had representation from Northern Ireland on 12 trade promotion visits while IDA involved companies from the North on three occasions.

"It has never been the case that an Irish government has had an agenda to sully the reputation of Northern Ireland in order to compete for jobs", said Mr Smith.

"In fact, the over the last six years, companies from Northern Ireland have been involved in at least 12 Enterprise Ireland trade promotion visits and three IDA missions.

"I have always been a strong advocate for intensifying relations between the various business and economic agencies North and South to enable them to sell an all-island product.

"This was something I was particularly conscious of during my time as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Over many years there has been a close working relationship between the Agriculture Departments North and South of the border.

"First Minister Foster's comments were designed to drive a wedge between economic and business relations on either side of the border, when what we need to attract investment to the island is a stronger bond between the various agencies and bodies.

"This approach will build on the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement and has the potential to reap huge rewards for the entire island", Mr Smith added.

SDLP, assembly member Patsy McGlone said the figures obtained by the Fianna Fáil TD show "just how petty and childish" the first minister's comments really are.

"Most people know that business owners in Ireland don't know borders.

"In the agri-food sector many of the big businesses are owned by southern based firms.

"It was crazy to allege that the Irish government isn't working for the interests of all those businesses.

"The figures obtained through Daíl questions show clearly that Enterprise Ireland have been working hard to bring investment across the island with no regard for the border and the DUP have produced no evidence to suggest otherwise."

However, a DUP spokesman defended the party leader's comments saying: "It is very clear from the Irish Government Contingency Framework that it was seeking to exploit the EU Referendum result and attract business to locate there instead of within the United Kingdom.

"Publishing figures which don't include the year in which the referendum took place is unlikely to shed a great deal of light on the Republic of Ireland's approach."

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