Belfast Telegraph

Change of tone helpful, but whether it'll breathe life into talks uncertain

By Suzanne Breen

Relations between the DUP and Dublin plummeted to a recent low during the last round of Brexit negotiations.

Arlene Foster's short fuse and often blunt choice of language when speaking spontaneously is well-known. But it was an outburst by her predecessor that highlighted how badly cross-border relations had deteriorated.

In a Facebook post six weeks ago, Peter Robinson told the Republic to "wind its neck in" over Brexit.

Eleven years earlier, it was Mr Robinson who had made a high-profile visit to address businessmen in Dublin in the DUP's first major effort to improve its relationship with the Republic.

The 'Clontibret Cowboy', as he was branded following the loyalist invasion of Co Monaghan in 1986, had recognised the importance of building bridges with former enemies.

But Brexit had clearly raised the temperature on both sides of the border. Mrs Foster made her own attempt to reach across the divide by her address in Co Kerry on Saturday.

She could have chosen to deliver that speech in Northern Ireland. Instead, after attending a DUP event in Upper Bann on Friday, she made the 500-mile round trip to attend the event in Killarney and challenge the claim that the DUP doesn't care about North-South relations.

Party colleague Simon Hamilton, who accompanied her to the event, said she was nervous about how she would be received following recent exchanges with Dublin. She was the only pro-Brexit speaker on the panel.

Mrs Foster had no reason to fear because while the other speakers and audience strongly disagreed with her position on the EU, the DUP leader was received with respect and warmth as the queue for selfies with her showed.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney welcomed Mrs Foster's words about building better cross-border relations during the Brexit talks, but Sinn Fein said it was a change of "tone not policy" from the DUP. Yet recent history shows how important tone is here.

Britain desperately needs Dublin's support in phase two of the Brexit negotiations and London may well have played a part in encouraging the DUP to soften its language.

Yet the war of words isn't necessarily over, as defending the Republic's economic interests remains Leo Varadkar's most pressing concern and could make further clashes inevitable.

Mrs Foster's Killarney speech, combined with John O'Dowd's outright condemnation of Kingsmill last week, has improved the mood music in Northern Ireland. But whether it's enough to breathe fresh life into any new talks to restore power-sharing is another matter entirely.

Belfast Telegraph

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