Ireland border poll and direct rule bad for economy, says DUP's Foster
Arlene Foster has warned a border poll would have a "destabilising" impact on business and politics. With EU officials appearing to confirm a united Ireland could seamlessly rejoin the bloc, fears of a future fragmentation of the United Kingdom are growing.
Sinn Fein has stepped up its demands for a border poll in recent weeks, but the Government has said the criteria - evidence of majority support for a united Ireland - has not been met. The DUP leader said: "There has been some talk about the prospects of a united Ireland or a border poll. Whatever anyone's reservations about exiting the EU, our union with Great Britain will continue to be massively and fundamentally in Northern Ireland's interests.
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"I have absolute confidence that any border poll would see a resounding endorsement of the pro-union position. However, I also recognise the destabilising effect an unnecessary campaign of that nature could have on business and politics here."
Her comments echoed those of UUP leader Robin Swann, who warned: "We are living in uncertain times, with no Executive in place and the potential impact of Brexit still unknown. Now, more than ever, Northern Ireland needs a strong and effective voice in Westminster.
"This election is not a re-run of last year's referendum on membership of the EU - that boat has sailed. Instead, we should be concentrating on coming together to get the best deal possible for Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit negotiations, and resist those who are attempting to use this election as an attempt to destabilise the Union."
Meanwhile, Mrs Foster also warned a return to direct rule is likely to damage Northern Ireland's economy and job creation.
In a speech in Londonderry yesterday, the DUP leader questioned whether Westminster ministers would push for improved connections between the city and the rest of Northern Ireland. "Does anyone seriously believe that our chances of getting an industrial strategy for Northern Ireland with sub-regional Industrial Strategies for places like the north west are better without devolution? Would direct rule ministers champion better connectivity between Londonderry and the rest of Northern Ireland with the same intensity as a locally elected and locally accountable minister?" she asked.
With the DUP due to launch its General Election campaign early next week, Mrs Foster picked up the party's theme that the contest is about securing the restoration of Stormont. "The DUP is placing no obstacles in the way of a Stormont Executive returning," she said. "No red lines. No pre-conditions. No demands. There is absolutely no need to wait until beyond the election. I would willingly re-establish government today. The public can decide for themselves whether the issues other parties are raising should be sufficient to stand in the way of good government for the province."
Mrs Foster also warned of "crucial decisions" ahead in education, health and the public sector, adding: "We need local people with local knowledge and understanding making those decisions. A swift restoration of devolved government with an agreed budget in place is essential."
She stressed the dangers of instability: "Local business needs stability. Our public sector workers too need stability. And those depending on the services government deliver most definitely need it. Devolved government allowed us to begin rebalancing our economy after emerging from the deepest downturn in living memory. Unemployment has been falling, economic inactivity is down, exports are growing, tourism visitor numbers and spending are up, and innovation continues to grow.
"Growing the economy and creating jobs has been my party's top priority, and determined focus and efforts have delivered strong and sustained success and helped to start rebuilding and reshaping our economy. It is not a coincidence these positive developments have occurred with sustained devolution."