Sinn Fein say Foster speech in Co Kerry 'different in tone but not in policy'

Arlene Foster acknowledged that Northern Ireland and the Republic have 'mutual interests'. Picture by Valerie O'Sullivan/PA Wire

SINN Féin has described a speech by Arlene Foster acknowledging mutual interests across the border as "different in tone, but not in policy".

Addressing the Killarney Economic Conference in Co Kerry on Saturday, the DUP leader said there were more things to unite than divide Britain and Ireland in phase two of Brexit negotiations.

She suggested political leaders on both sides of the border work together for the benefit of everyone and she planned to raise the prospect of enhancing Anglo-Irish relations, under the auspices of the British-Irish Council, when she next meets Dublin foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney.

But she insisted that maintaining the north's economic and political status as an "integral part" of the UK was crucial to her and the DUP.

"To think anything else would be as foolish as believing that the taoiseach or the tanaiste 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," she said.

"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 said Brexit should not become a barrier to co-operation.

"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."

She said cross-border relations had made great advances and that she did not wish to jeopardise them.

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster arriving at the inaugural Killarney Economic Conference in Co Kerry, where the DUP chief called for closer Anglo-Irish relations.  Valerie OSullivan/PA Wire..

However, the DUP leader said people needed to accept the June 2016 referendum result and instead seek "sensible, mutually beneficial outcomes" from the forthcoming negotiations between the British government and the EU.

She also dismissed the idea of a second Brexit referendum.

Mrs Foster also held talks with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin at the conference, who agreed with criticism of "megaphone diplomacy" in the heat of Brexit negotiations.

"Some of what has gone on has been, in my view, damaging enough in terms of articulating positons too freely in public, to be frank, in advance of negotiations being complete. It's not the way to do business," he said.

Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O’Neill welcomed the former first minister's acknowledgement of north-south interdependency.

"However, this cannot distract from the fact that Brexit will be disastrous for all of Ireland – there is no good Brexit," she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the "willingness of Mrs Foster to accept that her party will have to work on an all-island basis to deal with the challenges of Brexit is a welcome step".

“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."

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster talking with Mayor of Killarney Munipical Area Cllr Niall Kelleher (left) and Conference Organiser, Simon Kingston at the inaugural Killarney Economic Conference, Co Kerry. Valerie O'Sullivan/PA Wire

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster talking to Managing Director of The Gleneagle Hotel group, Patrick O'Donoghue, at the inaugural Killarney Economic Conference in Co Kerry. Valerie O'Sullivan.

Arlene Foster talking to the British Ambassador to Ireland, Robin Barnett, at the inaugural Killarney Economic Conference in Co Kerry, where the DUP chief called for closer Anglo-Irish relations. Valerie O'Sullivan/PA Wire

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