Belfast Telegraph

No souring of relations between First Minister Arlene Foster and I over bombshell speech, insists Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Kenny denies rift after Foster's claim of 'investment poaching' by Republic

By Margaret Canning

Taoiseach Enda Kenny says his relationship with First Minister Arlene Foster has not been affected by her claims that the Republic has tried to poach investors from Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

But as the Fine Gael leader prepared to leave a lunch event in Newry for a meeting with ministers in Stormont, he said he would not be meeting Mrs Foster because she was "away for a few days".

And he wouldn't say if he had any views on the impact the High Court decision on Article 50 might have on the Brexit process. "It's now for the UK Government to decide if it will appeal," he said.

The Taoiseach earlier addressed a lunch in Newry's Canal Court Hotel as a guest of the city's Junior Chamber of Commerce.

The border city will be a closely-watched location as Northern Ireland enters into a new era after Brexit - and it's already attracting increased numbers of shoppers from the Republic, drawn by lower prices due to the weakening pound.

The Taoiseach said thousands of people crossed the border every day, with many crossing into Newry to work for some of the city's biggest employers, such as Glen Dimplex and First Derivatives.

He told the audience that he had just left meetings yesterday morning with businesspeople in the Co Louth towns of Carlingford and Dundalk, who had expressed concern over the impact on their trade of cross-border shopping.

But speaking to the Belfast Telegraph afterwards, he said he would not echo a call made by the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) for Irish shoppers in 2009 to "buy Irish" rather than travelling to Northern Ireland.

And he would not give any views on the High Court decision on Brexit and the UK Government's ability to trigger Article 40. "Far be it from me to interfere with the decision of the learned members of the High Court," he said.

And there would be no edict from the Taoiseach on cross-border shopping. "Look, freedom of movement of people is something that's every important to us here on the island of Ireland. Sometimes people go North and sometimes they go South...

"What we need to do is develop both economies and a continuation of an invisible border, so that's why I'm here in Newry and that's why I'm going to Stormont." He said claims from the First Minister at the DUP conference that the Republic's authorities had sought to poach investment would not affect their relationship.

"I have a very good working relationship with Arlene Foster and I respect her for the First Minister that she is. I've been to Enniskillen with her a number of times for the last six years. I hope to meet her before the next North-South Ministerial Council. I think she's away for a few days while I'm in Belfast today. Those comments do not interfere at all.

"This is about the national, the island challenge that we have, and we will be working very diligently with the First and Deputy First Ministers and with the Executive and the sectors in the interests of the economies and of the people North and South."

Belfast Telegraph