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Sunday 4 December 2016

Kenny's North-South forum in Brexit wake not necessary - Foster

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster at Dublin Castle
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster at Dublin Castle

Northern Ireland's First Minister has in essence rejected Taoiseach Enda Kenny's idea for an All-Ireland forum in the wake of Brexit.

The idea was first raised by Mr Kenny last week and the plan gained momentum over the weekend, with support from Minister for EU Affairs Dara Murphy and Health Minister Simon Harris on Sunday. Sinn Fein was also for the scheme, as was the SDLP.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster said yesterday that there was no need for such a body.

Mechanisms

The DUP leader was in the capital along with members of the Northern Executive for the meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, which was set up under the Belfast Agreement to discuss matters of common interest.

Ms Foster said that although the idea had been aired over the weekend, it was news to her.

"That seemed to gather some currency over the weekend, but it was not discussed with me at any time over the weekend or indeed before. It was not discussed today," she said.

"There was no proposal at the North-South Ministerial Council in relation to the forum. Therefore, there was nothing to be rejected, as it were."

Ms Foster added that there were already "more than enough" bodies and mechanisms through which the Dublin and Belfast governments could cooperate.

The Taoiseach said it would have been an opportunity for every interest group on both sides of the border to have their say about Brexit.

"It wasn't to be. Obviously, it couldn't function effectively unless you had buy-in from everybody," said Mr Kenny.

He did have an ally, however, in Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein who insisted there should be "no veto" on the forum. It could bring together business groups and other organisations on both sides of the border, he said.

Meanwhile, the two governments have been trying to play down the potential impact of Britain's plan to cut company tax to 15pc in efforts to stave off recession in the wake of Brexit.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said British Chancellor George Osborne had two years ago signalled a phased cut to 17pc, and the move from 20pc to 15pc was not much below that earlier target.

The move by Mr Osborne is an attempt to keep investment in Britain after the shock referendum decision on June 23 for the country to leave the EU.

Speaking after yesterday's talks at Dublin Castle, the Taoi-seach conceded that the move would have implications for both parts of Ireland.

Implications

However, he said other factors influenced investors' decisions, and both the North and the Republic had been successful in attracting business investment.

"Obviously, there are implications here both for Ireland and Northern Ireland," said Mr Kenny, but he added that the gap between the Irish and British rates could be influential for business decisions too.

Ms Foster said the move could actually help the North, even if it continued with cuts down to the 12.5pc planned for Northern Ireland in 2018, which would match the rate that applies in the Republic and which is the source of much hostility within the EU.

The key now was to ensure the North got the best result in negotiations between the EU and the UK, she said.

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