Pro-remain NI parties ‘positive’ after Dublin meeting

Representatives from Northern Ireland parties have said that the draft agreement for Brexit is an opportunity to look at the glass “half-full”.

Members of the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Alliance and Northern Ireland Green Party met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Thursday in Dublin.

(left to right) Northern Ireland Green Party Leader Steven Agnew, SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood and Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill leaving Government Buildings in Dublin, following a Brexit briefing with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday November 15, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ulster. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

(left to right) Northern Ireland Green Party Leader Steven Agnew, SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood and Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill leaving Government Buildings in Dublin, following a Brexit briefing with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday November 15, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ulster. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

After the meeting, Sinn Fein leader for Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill said: “We have had a very positive meeting, where we were able to seek some assurances over what has been achieved in the agreement so far.

“We set out as four pro-Remain parties with a common objective, in the first instance we speak for the majority in Northern Ireland, and we’re conscious that the DUP do not speak for the majority in the north.

“We come at it from a number of bases, firstly that we need to protect the Good Friday Agreement, we need permanency in the backstop and no room for withdrawal from the British Government, and that has been achieved thus far.

“We are broadly positive.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called on those in Westminster to consider Northern Ireland’s position in Brexit negotiations.

“I would say to the people in Westminster, I know you have your own constituencies but we have a responsibility, and I think everyone has a responsibility to avoid a hard border, this does that,” he said.

“We cannot risk the peace and progress we have made.”

The four party representatives have travelled together over recent weeks to state the case for Northern Ireland, where 56% voted to remain in the EU.

Stephen Farry, from the Alliance Party, called for cool heads as negotiations continued in Westminster.

“For those people who are trying to dramatise this, they are getting that badly wrong, they have to have a cool response to this, a rational consideration of the issues before us,” he said.

“This is not a change to the constitutional position, this is all about pragmatic interventions to protect our economy.”

The group said the agreement was “significant” for citizens in the North and not the time for “incendiary language”.

“I think it’s a day for a glass half-full approach,” Ms O’Neill said.

The group appealed to unionist representatives to join them at the table to protect Northern Ireland’s future.

“This deal has the potential for us to have the best of both worlds, to be a bridge to the market in Ireland and Great Britain, a source of potential investment” Mr Farry added.

“We’re very open to unionism engaging in this process, we have a common interest in protecting Northern Ireland.

“Our message is that unionism should come and join us at the table and let us have a collective effort to stand up together.”

Ms O’Neill added: “Brexit is not orange or green.

“It effects all of us equally.”

None of the parties had yet spoken to anyone from the DUP since the draft text agreement was announced.