NI leaders and Taoiseach pledge to get best Brexit deal

The First and Deputy First ministers have agreed along with the Taoiseach that they will work together to get the best deal for Northern Ireland in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

The pledge was made at the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting in Armagh on Friday, which Enda Kenny said was the best meeting yet.

The bi-annual North South Ministerial Committee meetings have in the past been somewhat routine but that has all changed thanks to Brexit.

Ministers arrived in Armagh all too aware that within months the UK government will be triggering divorce proceedings from the EU and that will have a huge impact on everyone living on the island of Ireland.

Against that backdrop there was clearly a determination to show a united front.

Any concerns about a lack of cohesion between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish government on the best way forward on Brexit were put to bed by the Taoiseach.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the meeting had been “very constructive”, adding there had been “a great deal of common ground”.

"One point that we all stressed at this meeting was that it is really important, from an island of Ireland perspective, that there be that strength of solidarity in respect of those common interests.

"So, when discussions do start, and I as Taoiseach will be sitting on the European side of these arguments, will be able to work to get the best deal possible for the island of Ireland north and south.

"That was a common consensus of the outcome of the meeting today which I very much value."

Mr Kenny did however, warn that Europe would not allow the UK to “cherry pick” specific deals.

"If the UK want access to the single market, they must come with that freedom of movement of people and that is a challenge and an issue that the British Government has got to focus on," he said.

The First and deputy First ministers were clear that while they do not share the same stance on Northern Ireland leaving the European Union - they both agree they need to work together to get the best deal possible.

Martin McGuinness revealed the NSMC has agreed to set up a high level working group of civil servants to prepare for Brexit.

He added that apparent confusion from Westminster on the issue meant “everything is on the table”.

"Today's meeting was of critical importance and I think huge progress was made," the Sinn Féin MLA said.

Arlene Foster, who earlier this week dismissed suggestions of a frosty relationship with Dublin, described the meeting as useful.

She said: "The Taoiseach has been very good to share some of the discussions that are going on at a European level in terms of the Republic of Ireland's government and we are very grateful to hear that.

"We shared our position in terms of Northern Ireland and indeed in terms of the discussions that are going on a UK basis as well.

"So, it was a very useful meeting. We await to see what happens in terms of the Supreme Court and we'll take it from there."