Republic and NI are like two houses tied together, Foster to tell southern conference
DUP leader Arlene Foster will today set out a course for north-south relations through Brexit, answering criticisms that her party is "blasé" over fears about how the process will impact the island.
In a striking metaphor, Mrs Foster will compare Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic as two houses tied together, but part of the same neighbourhood as she addresses a high-profile economic conference in Co Kerry this morning.
"I often think that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are like a semi-detached house", the former First Minister is expected to say during a keynote address at the inaugural Killarney Economic Conference.
"The houses may look the same on the outside, but, inside, they look different and we do many things very differently.
"But no matter how contrasting the interiors are, they are tied together and part of the same neighbourhood and what happens on one side of the fence inevitably has an impact on the other."
Speaking as part of a panel with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, representatives of the Welsh and Scottish governments, and the British Ambassador to Ireland, Mrs Foster will speak of "longer-term opportunities".
"There is a view that my party is blasé about those concerns", she will tell the conference.
"That we are motivated by an ideological desire to decouple the United Kingdom from the European Union without any concern for the consequences. That simply isn't true. We believe that there are new longer-term opportunities as well as short-term challenges from the UK's departure from the European Union."
Mrs Foster made the long journey to Co Kerry overnight, after speaking at a DUP event last night in the Upper Bann constituency, to give her speech at 11am.
Her comments follow a moment of rapprochement between the DUP and Sinn Fein earlier this week when John O'Dowd made his party's strongest statement to date condemning the IRA's massacre at Kingsmill of 10 Protestant workmen as "shameful" and purely sectarian. Mrs Foster is expected to personalise what she is telling her audience of politicians, academics, economists and business analysts by recalling her own border childhood and describing how she recognises the progress made in cross-border relations, and applauding the "unimaginably positive relations between our two states".
"Whilst the referendum was a vote by the British people, the ripples that flow from the referendum result will be far reaching with long-term implications for people well beyond the shores of the United Kingdom," she is expected to say.
"And I appreciate and understand that nowhere will be more impacted by the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union than Ireland. I grew up only a few miles from the Fermanagh/Monaghan border. I saw for myself growing up how, even during our darkest days, we shared close economic, cultural and social ties across the border. My own grandmother used to travel back and forward across the border on a bicycle to sell Irish lace in Clones.
"Those ties have strengthened since the Troubles ended, to the extent that in recent times we have enjoyed an extraordinarily, unimaginably positive relations between our two states. I don't want to lose any of that."
In her remarks, Mrs Foster will praise cross-border co-operation in areas such as healthcare.
"The progress we have made together was hard won," she will say. "I lose none of my Unionism by saying that I am proud of that progress.
"We should all be proud of initiatives like the Cancer Centre at Altnaglevin Hospital in Londonderry, where patients from both sides of the border are receiving the treatment they need. And whilst the UK's exit from the EU has the potential to test the progress we've made, it doesn't automatically mean that everything we have achieved is or will be undone."
Turning to the post-Brexit landscape, Mrs Foster will emphasise that it is not about the UK "pulling up the drawbridge" against neighbours.
"I know that we are rivals in some respects, but in so many ways success for one of us is success for the other," she will say.
"As we chart a new course for the future, it is not in our interests to see the Republic of Ireland do anything other than prosper. Nor does it help any of us if we let the challenges that Brexit brings deflect us from the opportunities that will exist in the future.
"We will continue to have our own identities and for our part we will no longer be members of the European Union, but our futures will still be closely connected.
"The DUP supported the UK leaving the European Union, but in so doing Brexit is not about pulling up the drawbridge, building a wall and cutting ourselves off from our nearest neighbours."
And while making it clear that the Brexit process is unstoppable, she will call on her southern audience to seize the opportunities it offers. "We must all recognise that change is coming as a result of the referendum. It is our job as politicians to help shape that change, but to do so in a way that ensures that those economic, cultural and social ties that have endured through difficult times and have thrived through better ones continue into the future."