Republic can be NI’s voice on the inside of the EU, says DUP MP

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny following a press conference in Dublin, after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny following a press conference in Dublin, after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Despite Arlene Foster’s rejection of a cross-border Brexit forum, there is an “absolute understanding” within the DUP about the need to work with Dublin over the issue, a DUP MP has said.

Three weeks ago, the First Minister publicly rejected a proposal from Taoiseach Enda Kenny for an all-Ireland forum to discuss a post-Brexit strategy.

Although Mrs Foster stressed at the time that she recognised the need to discuss developments with Mr Kenny’s government, nationalist parties and some commentators took Mrs Foster’s comments to signal something of a return to the DUP’s previously hostile stance to Dublin.

But, setting out a far more pragmatic approach than that which some have attributed to the party, East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson has said that the DUP even sees the potential for the Taoiseach – who will retain a seat at the top European table for discussions in which the UK is excluded – to advocate for Northern Ireland, with the Executive’s agreement.

The former Lord Mayor of Belfast told the News Letter that one of the DUP’s concerns about the forum idea was that it could have included Stormont’s opposition parties.

He said: “There is an absolute understanding that there needs to be dialogue and thoughtful work over the next couple of years and in fact more of the discussions at Northern Ireland Questions [in the Commons on Wednesday] were about that very thing - discussions with the Republic of Ireland government.

“But there’s a distinction to be made between how we as Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom engage with the Republic of Ireland and how the Republic of Ireland tried to set up the forum which was involving itself in the internal considerations of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Robinson, who before becoming an MP was a long-standing adviser to the then First Minister Peter Robinson, said there was a need for a “thoughtful and constructive cross-border discussion” about how to handle Brexit.

However, he said that it would be “wrong for the Irish Government to facilitate a role for parties which have excluded themselves from government in Northern Ireland...for those who exclude themselves and go into Opposition, it’s not for Enda Kenny to give them a role”.

Mr Robinson said that the SDLP was now “very vexed by Brexit” but that the party had “excluded itself from government” and therefore would not have any direct role in negotiations about leaving the EU.

He added that on some EU matters “the Republic of Ireland can be our voice on the inside”, but stressed that that would be something to be decided between the Stormont Executive and the Republic’s Government.

He stressed that there are “many forums for these conversations to take place” such as the North-South Ministerial Council.

Mr Robinson also said that the Republic is now concerned that it will be losing its “big brother” with which it has shared many positions at the EU negotiating table since both the Republic and the UK joined the European project in 1973.

Irish passports give best of both worlds: MP

Remain voters in Northern Ireland can have the best of both worlds by retaining their EU citizenship while also remaining a part of the United Kingdom, a DUP MP has said.

There has been a surge in applications for Irish passports since June 23. This week an article in Time Magazine drew attention to the fact that “at least two post offices in Belfast to run out of application forms” in the days after the vote and speculated as to whether that indicated a shift towards Irish nationalism.

Gavin Robinson, who in the last month has signed forms for several people – including BBC presenter Stephen Nolan, said that if people are concerned that Brexit means they will lose their EU citizenship, then getting an Irish passport is a practical way of retaining the benefits which go with that. The East Belfast MP said that an Irish passport was “an easy way to assuage those concerns” and said that in his view the rush for Irish passports “has nothing to do with the constitutional stance of Northern Ireland”.

He added: “I’m personally not applying for one; I’m not interested in applying for one but [in terms of] these genuine concerns about losing European citizenship, then there is an easy solution and I suspect that is why many people are taking what is an easy solution.”