Unionist parties will snub all-Ireland Brexit talks with Kenny

All of Northern Ireland's main unionist parties are to snub Taoiseach Enda Kenny's all-island Brexit talks.
Enda KennyEnda Kenny
Enda Kenny

As the Irish Government set out plans for the November 2 meeting in Dublin, the Democratic Unionists, Ulster Unionists and Traditional Unionist Voice reiterated that they would not be taking up the invite.

The day long conference is being billed by the Taoiseach as an All-Island Civic Dialogue.

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It will focus on the fallout from Brexit and the potential impact on economy and trade, the peace process, the UK-Ireland common travel area, the border and the future of the EU.

Among those invited on both sides of the border are business and employer groups, trade unions, farmers, NGOs, councils in the border region, government agencies - particularly ones with a north-south dimension, academics, universities and colleges and all the main political parties.

Mr Kenny said: “Now that we have clarity from Prime Minister [Theresa] May regarding the timetable, we will intensify our engagement and preparation for the negotiations.

“Ireland faces unique challenges from Brexit, not least given the all-island issues that arise.”

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Despite a majority of voters in Northern Ireland wishing to remain in the European Union, unionists politicians have refused to support all-island Brexit discussions.

A spokesman for the DUP said: “We would value the importance of discussions on a cross border basis on issues that would effect Northern Ireland and the Republic, but ministers can easily do that through any of the existing structures.

“We are not waiting until November. We are trying to get involved in securing the best deal.”

The party said that included First Minister Arlene Foster meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

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The Ulster Unionists said the party would not be represented at the Dublin meeting.

And a spokesman for Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice said: “It is an internal UK matter. We want friendly relations with our nearest neighbour. We want an open border, but we don’t think that a conference in Dublin is the place.”

The SDLP supports the initiative as does the centrist Alliance Party – while Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams proposed the idea of an all-Ireland forum on the issue of Brexit in July.

The meeting in Dublin will be hosted by the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

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The Government said it would be “highly interactive” with key challenges set out before discussions take place.

It said its aim was to hear from those affected by the vote and to map the challenges that Brexit poses and their potential impact on different parts of society and the economy on an all-island basis.

The Taoiseach rejected criticism from Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald that the Government was ill-prepared for Brexit, and that the only response was a one-day conference.

Mr Kenny was also briefing main opposition leaders on the Government’s approach.

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As part of the Government’s response to Brexit, it said there would be a series of round-table discussions with interested groups about sectoral issues - and next week’s budget would have measures to which will support the overall economic response.

Mr Kenny said he would continue engaging with other EU leaders, governments and EU institutions.

He said the next North South Ministerial Council in Armagh on November 18 will be “hugely significant” with a focus on protecting the peace process in Brexit talks.