All-Ireland Brexit forum requires unionist co-operation, says Flanagan
The prospect of a new North-South forum on Brexit hinges on the backing of unionist parties in Northern Ireland, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has admitted.
Mr Flanagan said the support of "all parties" will be required for such a body to be set up, but that a forum is not necessarily essential to the post-Brexit negotiations.
"As regards the forum, I don't believe any forum is workable without the involvement and full engagement of all parties. But I do believe and certainly recognise the need for dialogue, North and South," Mr Flanagan said.
Pressed on whether this means the DUP must agree in advance for such a forum to be set up, Mr Flanagan replied: "Obviously the position of the DUP is significant in the context of it being the largest party holding the most ministerial positions."
His remarks put himself at odds with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who has said he wants to see a forum established in the autumn - and that the DUP's support is not necessarily required.
Reacting to the Fianna Fáil leader's remarks this week, the DUP questioned the need for a new body at all.
Meanwhile, on the issue of the border, Mr Flanagan said he could not elaborate on remarks by Enda Kenny in Downing Street that a virtual border could be agreed.
He said these issues will only be ironed out once Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50.
"On the matter of Brexit, we need to acknowledge the fact that negotiations haven't even commenced," Mr Flanagan continued.
"It's going to be early next year before Theresa May formally serves the notice under Article 50 which will result in the commencement of the negotiations which may take a number of years.
"It's too early to speculate on the type of detail you refer. I believe a heavily fortified EU frontier, whether it be for security and immigration on the one hand, or for trade and economic development on the other hand, I don't see it being workable. And we need to work on appropriate alternatives."
Mr Flanagan yesterday discussed the fallout from Brexit with his EU counterparts.
Asked whether he secured guarantees that there would be no hard border, Mr Flanagan replied: "They offered me an appreciation of the unique position of Ireland on the island of Ireland and the need to ensure that whatever shape or form that EU frontier takes, that it doesn't militate against what has been a hugely successful engagement across a range of economic and social issues," he said.