Bell first DUPer to address Fine Gael ArdFheis…

Interessant follow up to Peter Robinson’s Dublin speech… Jonathan Bell addressed the Fine Gael ArdFheis:

“I am delighted to be the first DUP representative to attend a Fine Gael conference. This demonstrates the changed times in which we live and also the confidence there is within unionism. No longer under threat, we are confident in our position.

The fact that Fine Gael is hosting this discussion on closer cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland demonstrates how the relationship within the British Isles is developing and normalising.

Ireland accounts for 5% of United Kingdom’s total exports. We export more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China put together. In Northern Ireland, two fifths of our exports go to the Republic of Ireland. These few facts demonstrate that it is not in the interests of the United Kingdom for the RoI economy to collapse. It was would be devastating for British business.

Whilst over the last century the relationship between the Republic and the United Kingdom has been strained because of the PIRA terrorism, in recent years there has been a healing in that relationship. The removal of the Republic’s territorial claim over Northern Ireland has been integral to the changed relationship.

Although we will not always agree on issues, we should agree that it is mutually beneficial for the countries within the British Isles to work together.

In world terms our individual and even combined economies are small fish in the global pool. Therefore, for us to maximise our punch, working together makes sense. We must remember that the integration of the British and Irish economies is demonstrated by our trade levels, levels which exceed our combined trade with the BRIC countries. This integration was recognised in crisis with the bi-lateral loan to the Republic of Ireland. Co-operation and collaboration is not new.

At a time when jobs are premium, our focus must be on forging relationships, which can help our economy. An example is our salmon market. If every salmon caught within the British Isles was to be sold into China we still wouldn’t be able to satisfy the demand. Whilst fishermen in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are competitors, when the global marketplace is considered, there is room for cooperation.

The scale of the new markets we are seeking to win business from has to be appreciated. The new and emerging markets, especially in the Far East, have literally billions of new consumers within them and are worth hundreds of billions of pounds or euros. There is plenty of opportunity for all.

As we embark on this common project let the wise words of Her Majesty the Queen be in our thoughts:

“Together we have much to celebrate: the ties between our people, the shared values, and the economic, business and cultural links that make us so much more than neighbours, that make us firm friends and equal partners.”

Let us demonstrate what partnership can deliver.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty