Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein reaction to Foster's conciliatory Brexit speech 'disappointing'

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein has responded in a "predictable and disappointing" manner to Arlene Foster holding the hand of friendship out to the Republic during Brexit negotiations, the DUP has said.

Simon Hamilton said while Mrs Foster's weekend speech in Co Kerry had been welcomed by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and the SDLP, it was "regrettable" Sinn Fein hadn't received it positively.

Speaking at an economic conference in Killarney on Saturday, the DUP leader said Brexit was not about pulling up a drawbridge and cutting off Northern Ireland from its nearest neighbour.

Striking a conciliatory tone, she said there was much uniting Northern Ireland and the Republic in phase two of the EU negotiations. She suggested an expanded role for the British-Irish Council to enhance Anglo-Irish relations.

Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill said it was a change of tone, not policy, from Mrs Foster and added "there is no good Brexit".

But Mr Coveney tweeted: "Welcome comments by DUP leader. Brexit remains a challenge for all political leaders on this island to work together on, to protect communities North and South."

Mr Hamilton said: "Arlene's words were significant and will help heal relations between Belfast and Dublin that had become fraught over Brexit.

"While the speech has been welcomed by the Irish Foreign Minister and the SDLP, Sinn Fein's response has been predictable and regrettable. Unfortunately, the party hasn't accepted it in the spirit in which it was made nor have they responded in kind."

The former economy minister said he hoped there would be an end to megaphone diplomacy between Dublin and Belfast.

"Everybody has learned lessons from the tensions obvious near the conclusion of phase one Brexit talks, and how they were handled," he said.

"In phase two negotiations, it is critical we get it right. We must treat the negotiations and each other with respect. There is far more that unites than divides us."

UUP MLA Steve Aiken said Mrs Foster was now adopting UUP proposals on Brexit. "It's a pity it has taken the DUP so long to catch on and I hope their leader is speaking not just for one half of her party but for her Westminster MPs as well," he said.

"Building a strong relationship across these islands by beefing up the British-Irish Council and using existing structures is exactly what the UUP has been proposing since Brexit."

But TUV leader Jim Allister said Mrs Foster should have argued in favour of an Irish EU exit at the conference.

"While it is entirely a matter for the Irish Republic as to whether they remain in the EU, I'm disappointed Arlene Foster didn't advise her audience that if they followed our example and left, many of the issues that concern them most about Brexit would be resolved," he added.

Sinn Fein welcomed Mrs Foster's acknowledgement that "our economy, community, and future, North and South, are interlinked and interdependent".

But Mrs O'Neill added: "This cannot distract from the fact that Brexit will be disastrous for all of Ireland. There is no good Brexit. Today was a difference in tone, but not in policy.

"The DUP leader has said she is opposed to a hard border and open to novel solutions. What is required is for the cross-community vote in the North to be respected and for the North to have designated special status within the EU."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Mrs Foster's speech as "a signal in the right direction" and said she was effectively arguing for single market and customs union access.

"While much of the content of the speech the SDLP could not agree with, the willingness of Mrs Foster to accept that her party will have to work on an all-island basis with our partners in the South to deal with the challenges of Brexit is a welcome step," he said.

Fianna Fail Foreign Affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien welcomed the speech but added: "What we really need to see is those words backed up by actual action - the best way to do that is to get the Assembly back up and running, to have an executive in the North of Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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