Brexit has damaged relations between Dublin and Belfast but those relations must be repaired, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
Speaking at the inaugural Daniel O’Connell forum at Glasnevin cemetery, Mr Donaldson struck a very moderate tone in seeking the re-establishment of the Stormont assembly and also in support of the Irish language.
He said the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry has given fresh impetus to try and restore Stormont but said moves to achieve that had been afoot before her untimely death.
He said: “At times when we have encountered difficulties, we tend to retreat and seek shelter in our own positions and identity. Brexit is difficult for relationships. We have had to deal with separation before. In truth, we don’t deal with it very well on all sides. Maybe this time we can do better, maybe we need to do better, especially what we have come through in recent decades.”
Mr Donaldson insisted that, despite differences, Brexit must not become a vehicle by which to undermine the progress made under the Good Friday Agreement.
“There is a need to find a sensible solution, and certainly that is not a hard border on the island of Ireland,” he said.
However, he said that elements of the Good Friday Agreement have been dormant, citing the deterioration of north-south relations.
Mr Donaldson said O’Connell and his legacy speaks more for Irish nationalism more than those who engage in violence.
To those who have advocated for violence, he said: “You will not destroy that hope.”
Responding to questions about the collapse of Stormont in 2017, Mr Donaldson said he has “no issue with the Irish language” but said he has a problem with the politicisation of the Irish language by namely Sinn Féin.
“It was men of my Presbyterian faith who kept the language alive,” said Mr Donaldson. “I want Irish speakers in Northern Ireland to be accommodated. It must be inclusive.”
Speaking at the same event, Finance Minster Paschal Donohoe said Anglo-Irish relations will be radically different after Brexit but will not be diminished.
Mr Donohoe said this is because of economic reasons, our shared culture, and our shared strategic interests.
He called on centrist politicians to take up the challenge of speaking up in favour of the EU and warned against Brexit fatigue, given the potential negative impact on the Irish economy.
Mr Donohoe said it falls to him and to the politicians and diplomats of this generation to try and insulate the Irish people from the impact of Brexit.
Also at the event were the British, German, and French ambassadors to Ireland.
Deike Potzel, the German ambassador said she is keeping a bottle of champagne in her fridge in case the UK changes its mind and decides to stay in the EU. She said Ireland will be most hit by Brexit, but that Germany and the rest of the EU stands in full solidarity with Ireland.
Ms Potzel pointed to the very strong comments in support of Ireland by German chancellor Angela Merkel when she visited Dublin recently.
French ambassador Stephanie Couzat highlighted the recent signing of a €930m energy deal to connect France to Ireland by way of a cable from Fishguard to Cork which will help to protect the single energy market on the island of Ireland.