Sinn Fein has called on the Taoiseach to press ahead with a plan to convene a national, all-Ireland forum on dealing with the fallout of the British vote to leave the EU.
Despite being dismissed by DUP leader Arlene Foster, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said that three opposition leaders in the Dublin parliament have expressed their support for a national Forum.
“There is clearly a consensus that maximum cooperation and coordination is needed across the island of Ireland to meet the many challenges arising from the Brexit vote,” he said.
He described the British referendum result as probably the “most serious political and economic crisis to face this island in many years” which was bad for the island of Ireland, North and South.
He said the idea of a national forum had been proposed by him to the Taoiseach.
“In his response today the Taoiseach accepted that it was ‘a good idea’ and an ‘idea with merit’,” he said. “In this context the DUP rejection of it must not be allowed to stand in the way of its establishment.”
Foster pointedly told a joint press conference following a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) on Monday that she had no interest in the forum.
“With respect to the forum that seemed to gather steam over the weekend, it wasn’t discussed with me over the weekend, or indeed before, and it wasn’t discussed at the NSMC today,” she said.
The unionist hardliner said there were already “more than enough” bodies and mechanisms through which the two administrations could co-operate. “I don’t think there’s any mechanisms needed because we can lift the phone to each other,” she said.
VILLIERS SAYS NO
The British Direct Ruler in the north of Ireland was also hostile to the idea. Theresa Villiers said her government saw “no case” for the forum and no need to add to the current structures.
Mr Adams was still positive about the idea, despite the rebuffs. “The ‘remain’ vote, like the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, uniquely brought together unionists, nationalists, republicans and others in common cause,” he said.
“I also believe that there will be enormous goodwill for a Forum that seeks to defend the North’s vote to remain and to protect the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, its institutions and the two economies on this island.”
He said that Villiers should “butt out”.
“The Brexit vote - which Theresa Villiers campaigned for - presents significant challenges for the people of the island of Ireland. Having contributed to the current crisis Theresa Villiers has no right to dictate to the Irish government and the rest of us how we should respond.
“Ms Villiers lost the Brexit vote in the North. She should butt out. A National Forum is the right approach for all the people of Ireland - North and South, if we are to minimise the likely damage that Brexit will bring with it.”
Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said Villiers should follow the lead of UKIP leader Nigel Farage and resign.
“The people of the north voted in favour of remaining in the EU and that democratically expressed vote needs to be respected,” Anderson said. “She has no legitimate claim to represent the best interests of the people of the North on the EU and, as a result, her position has become untenable.”
UNIONISTS ‘ON A VOYAGE’
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein appears to have inched away from its demand for an immediate ‘border poll’ to be held within the Six Counties as a result of the Brexit vote to take the North out of the EU.
Unionists and the British government have routinely rejected the idea of a vote on reunification. But there have also been some within the two nationalist parties at Stormont who argued that a low turnout by their community, as has become the norm in recent Six County elections, could backfire on them.
In an interview this week, Gerry Adams said he still thinks it was a good idea to call for a border poll in the aftermath of the EU referendum.
“There obviously is a challenge trying to get a majority in the north to support us, but it’s a very legitimate demand and we will continue to pursue it,” Mr Adams said.
He believes that for people in the North, the Brexit referendum was about people’s identity, as well as economics.
“I’m not suggesting for a second that those who voted to remain from a unionist perspective have become united Irelanders, they patently haven’t. But they’re on a little voyage in the next two years, as these negotiations go on,” he said.