Foster accuses Dublin government of quietly talking down NI abroad

First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster delivers her keynote speech to delegates at the DUP annual conference at the La Mon Hotel. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster delivers her keynote speech to delegates at the DUP annual conference at the La Mon Hotel. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In a tough message to Enda Kenny, the First Minister has accused his government of sending diplomats around the world to “talk down” the Northern Ireland economy because of Brexit.

Arlene Foster claimed that political instability rather than concern for Northern Ireland is driving the Dublin government’s stance over Brexit.

However, addressing the DUP party conference in the La Mon Hotel in the Castlereagh Hills above Belfast, Mrs Foster stressed that relations with the Irish administration were as good as they ever had been and she would continue to work with Northern Ireland’s southern neighbours.

But she told delegates that relations with the EU were much less important than the benefits derived from being within the UK.

“The reality is that political instability in Dublin, and fears for their own future, are driving their decision-making at present as much as any concern about Northern Ireland,” Mrs Foster, who received a rapturous reception from DUP members, said.

“And while they seek to take the views of people of Northern Ireland on the issue of Brexit at home, their representatives are sent out around the world to talk down our economy and to attempt to poach our investors.

“It is clear, conference, that the one place that a hard border does exist is in the mind of the Irish Government.

“Well, I don’t believe in a hard border and am happy to welcome shoppers looking for a bargain from across the border any time they want to come.

“And I am quite confident that the investment offer that will be available, both now and in the future, will mean our reputations as a place to invest will continue to grow.”

Mrs Foster was addressing her first party conference as leader, having replaced Peter Robinson last December.

The DUP retained its position as Northern Ireland’s largest party in the May Assembly poll, something which deputy leader Nigel Dodds used to rally the party ahead of Mrs Foster’s speech.

Mr Dodds predicted that there could be a snap General Election because of mounting pressure on Theresa May to secure her own mandate. If that is the case, he said that the DUP was prepared to go to the polls immediately.