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We want to be good neighbours, NI First Minister Foster will tell Taoiseach Martin

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin will meet Northern Ireland politicans at Stormont today

Taoiseach Micheal Martin will meet Northern Ireland politicans at Stormont today

Taoiseach Micheal Martin will meet Northern Ireland politicans at Stormont today

Taoiseach Micheal Martin will meet Northern Ireland politicans at Stormont today

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

Taoiseach Micheal Martin will meet Northern Ireland politicans at Stormont today

Arlene Foster has said she wants to build a positive, respectful North-South relationship as she prepares to welcome the Taoiseach on his first official visit to Northern Ireland.

Micheal Martin will meet the First Minister and Deputy First Minister here today before holding separate meetings with the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance.

Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph: "We want to build a Northern Ireland where everyone feels at home and part of this community.

"Our relationship with the Republic of Ireland is an integral part of this. We want to be good neighbours. We want a relationship based on respect and mutual benefit."

She stressed that she hoped to build a level of North-South co-operation which "benefits all our people".

She said: "It should not be based on advancing constitutional politics but on mutual respect.

"Whether it is on Covid-19, infrastructure, healthcare, tourism or education, we share a land border and it makes sense to co-operate for the benefit of people living in border regions."

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken MLA said: "We've built up quite strong links with Micheal Martin over the years, but now represents an opportunity to reset the North/South and East/West relationships that are vital for everyone on these Islands.

"Much has been said about the approach of his predecessor, and that of the Foreign Minister, in their quite frankly tone-deaf approach to both Northern Ireland and unionist concerns.

"This meeting today gives us the chance to work constructively again on matters that are important for us all."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP said a strong North-South relationship was essential.

"We need to work more closely than ever to chart a course through the Covid-19 pandemic, the end of the Brexit transition and the climate crisis," he said.

"The SDLP worked to secure a shared island unit in the new Irish government and I'm looking forward to working with our new Taoiseach to deliver for people in all our communities."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry MP said: "We look forward to meeting Micheal Martin in his new role as Taoiseach.

"We will be keen to discuss a number of issues.

"They include collaboration of responses to Covid-19, preparation for Brexit, justice co-operation and how North-South relations and an all-island economy can be further developed, in areas such as infrastructure and renewable energy."

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has said he was left with "no alternative" but to sack Barry Cowen after he refused to make a statement to the Dail.

The former agriculture minister was sacked on Tuesday after he refused to provide further public statements on his 2016 drink-driving offence.

Former chief whip Dara Calleary has been appointed Agriculture Minister.

Belfast Telegraph