DUP leader Arlene Foster has called for closer Anglo-Irish relations as the Brexit negotiations move towards their next phase.
Mrs Foster was speaking at the Killarney Economic Conference in County Kerry on Saturday, and suggested more things unite than divide Britain and Ireland.
She suggested leaders across the island of Ireland should work together for the benefit of everyone.
“Maintaining Northern Ireland’s economic and political status as an integral part of the United Kingdom is absolutely crucial to me and my party,” she said.
“To think anything else would be as foolish as believing that the Taoiseach (Leo Varadkar) or the Tánaiste (Simon Coveney) desired anything other than Irish unity.
“But while we will always battle for our own national interests, we must also battle for our mutual interests.”
Mrs Foster’s suggestions about deepening ties and mutual respect mark a significant departure from the fallout which marked relations between the DUP and the Irish Government towards the end of last year, amid both the fractious finish to phase one of the Brexit negotiations and the Irish border question and Mr Coveney’s aspirations for a united Ireland.
The DUP suggested Anglo-Irish relations could be deepened through the British-Irish Council, which was set up as part the Good Friday Agreement to improve cooperation between the UK and Ireland in areas such as transport, the environment and energy.
“The UK exiting the European Union ought not to become a barrier to continued co-operation on issues of ongoing mutual interest,” Mrs Foster said.
“It especially shouldn’t become a barrier when the infrastructure - in the guise of the British-Irish Council - already exists that can allow us to continue to work together as closely as ever on issues of shared interest.”
Mrs Foster gave the example of the Nordic Council - which includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands,Greenland and Aland - as a means for developing Anglo-Irish relations.
She noted that some of the Nordic countries are in the European Union and Eurozone, while others are not.
“Change should not be allowed to weaken the relationships so painstakingly put together across these British Isles,” the DUP leader said.
“As challenging as finding a suitable solution might seem, there is no good reason why our own issues on this island should present any threat to the progress we’ve made.
“I value the relationships we have developed too much to do anything that would jeopardise them.”