Foster’s speech crossed a line

Posted By: November 01, 2016

Irish News Editorial (Belfast). Tuesday, November 1, 2016


It is only to be expected that party leaders will play to the gallery during their annual conferences and take the opportunity provided by their keynote address to aim a few swipes at their opponents along the way.

While this is usually a predictable and fairly harmless practice, there are firm indications that Arlene Foster crossed a line at the DUP’s weekend gathering in a way which has damaged relationships with Dublin and placed an entirely unnecessary wider strain on Stormont’s structures.

Mrs. Foster responded to the growing Brexit crisis by claiming that it had resulted in Irish government representatives being “sent out around the world to talk down our economy and attempt to poach our investors.”

Her statement, which was not supported by any form of evidence, reflected a basic misunderstanding of the role of the Industrial Development Agency, which has very successfully persuaded a range of global corporations to open bases in the Republic over many years

The IDA is a major international force which has created tens of thousands of jobs by signing deals with the likes of Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Apple and is generally regarded as operating in an entirely different league to its Belfast-based counterpart, Invest NI.

Although the latter is a respected body, which can point to its own accomplishments, its track record would indicate that, for a variety of reasons, it simply does not have the clout of the IDA.

It is very difficult to see why the IDA would have the slightest interest in unfairly luring potential business away from Invest NI and even harder to understand why the DUP should be so focused on the performance of an institution in what it presumably still regards as a foreign country.

Common sense dictates that Mrs. Foster should instead be working as closely as possible with her partners in the devolved administration, Sinn Féin, in an attempt to ensure that Northern Ireland can cope effectively with all the upheaval surrounding Brexit .

However, Martin McGuinness has revealed that when he joined Mrs Foster and the chief executive of Invest NI in a meeting with a Chinese investment delegation only last week, the concerns about the IDA which so dramatically surfaced at the DUP conference were never even mentioned.

The Irish minister for foreign affairs, Charlie Flanagan, was so disturbed about Mrs. Foster’s intervention that he made a highly unusual telephone call to the DUP’s economy minister, Simon Hamilton, to point out that no related issues had been raised with him and to stress the value of positive cross-border cooperation.

It must have been an intriguing conversation, as Mr. Hamilton is so transfixed by Brexit that, despite prolonged media queries, he has so far declined to reveal how he voted in last June’s referendum.

Mrs. Foster’s decision to turn her fire on the IDA rather than clarify the position of her senior party colleague on such a basic question may have won her a few cheers at the DUP conference but was hardly the sign of a confident and measured approach to the crucial Brexit debate which lies ahead.