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All-island economy is 'already thriving' - Murphy

People outside unionism were annoyed by the dismissal of the all-island economy in the government's deal with the DUP, the economy minister has said.

The deal described the idea of an all-island economy as a "political construct" which is "divisive in nature".

Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said "the all-island economy is already thriving".

He added the UK government's description of it is not going to stop "what is happening organically".

Mr Murphy was speaking as he visited InterTrade Ireland, the body set up under the Good Friday Agreement to promote cross-border trade.

He was joined by Simon Coveney, the Republic's Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

The UK's government command paper, which sets out the deal with the DUP, contained a symbolic legal change in respect of the all-island economy.

The 2017 EU-UK Joint Report, a sort of interim Brexit deal, contained a fleeting reference to the "the all-island economy".

The UK's 2018 Withdrawal Act requires ministers to have "due regard" to that Joint Report and therefore the concept of the all-island economy.

This angered some unionists who believed the language downplayed Northern Ireland's bigger trade relationship with the rest of the UK.

The government said it will repeal the relevant part of the Withdrawal Act meaning "a full and complete repeal of all statutory duties relating to the all-island economy".

'No real legal standing'

Mr Murphy said it was part of the government "giving cover to the DUP" as they opted to return to devolved government.

The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive was re-established last weekend after a two-year protest by the DUP against post-Brexit trade rules.

"The fact is there's a lot of rhetoric in there which doesn't have any real legal standing," the economy minister continued.

He said his job was to help businesses access all markets and "not to downgrade or downplay any aspect of our economic opportunities".

The UK government has also promised to a establish a new body, Intertrade UK, to promote trade within the UK.

It is not yet clear if it will sit primarily within Mr Murphy's department or with the UK Department for Business and Trade.

Meanwhile Mr Coveney said he hoped the return of devolution could help improve political relationships across Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain.

He said the "Brexit years" had been difficult with the polarization and corrosion of trust and relationships.