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Fianna Fail pushing for all-island Brexit forum despite Foster warning

By Niall O'Connor and Rebecca Black

Published 02/08/2016

Talks: First Minister Arlene Foster
Talks: First Minister Arlene Foster
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has continued to press for a north-south body on the UK's Brexit vote despite the First Minister querying its usefulness.

Mr Martin indicated that his party would seek the establishment of a "national dialogue" in the autumn as the economic fallout from the EU referendum begins to take shape.

Speaking at the North South Ministerial Council last month, First Minister Arlene Foster said there was no need for any formal all-Ireland talks.

"I believe that there are more than enough mechanisms by which we can discuss these issues on a north-south basis," she explained.

"Frankly, I don't believe there are any mechanisms needed because we can lift the phone to each other on a daily basis if that were so needed."

But the Irish opposition leader persisted in calling for the speedy establishment of such a forum, which, he said, should include stakeholders such as farmers, business organisations and civil society groups.

The Fianna Fail leader claimed the all-island body was essential to help contain the aftershocks of Britain's decision to leave the EU.

His intervention came as experts said the decision was beginning to have a negative impact on many sectors across both Britain and Ireland.

Opting to use the terms "civil dialogue or "national dialogue", Mr Martin said he saw no reason why the body should not be up and running in the autumn.

"This is about reaching out and establishing how Brexit is affecting people and businesses," explained the opposition leader. "It should be up and running in the autumn, absolutely."

But the decision to call for an almost immediate establishment of such a body will heap pressure on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to act in the near future.

Mr Kenny has been less vocal about the issue since the Irish government's original proposal for an all-island forum was shot down by Mrs Foster.

Tensions between Dublin and Belfast were stoked further after Mr Kenny placed the issue of a border poll firmly on the political agenda.

But Mr Martin previously said any new body could be set up without the support of the DUP.

Last night, DUP MP Gavin Robinson responded to the Fianna Fail leader's latest call.

"The United Kingdom Government will be negotiating on Northern Ireland's behalf with the European Union during the exit process," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"However, there will be matters of mutual concern for Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"There are obviously benefits to discussing such issues, but the question remains, why it would require a newly created body to achieve this goal?

"It would be for anyone intent on pursuing a new body to explain exactly what they believe it could achieve that existing mechanisms to discuss cross-border issues cannot."

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