First Minister Arlene Foster has said that she takes a “benign view” of the Taoiseach’s comments on the EU referendum, rather than view them as interfering in the UK’s affairs.
But Mrs Foster’s remarks, which followed Enda Kenny’s intervention in London on Monday, put her at odds with another senior DUP figure.
Former finance minister Sammy Wilson, who is the most hawkish DUP voice on Europe, was yesterday scathing about Mr Kenny’s remarks – and argued that they constituted an “invasion of our affairs”.
Mr Kenny said on Monday that a UK exit from Europe would create “serious difficulties” for Northern Ireland and said that the issue was of “critical” importance to the Republic.
In a hard-hitting statement which was released by Mr Wilson himself, rather than via the DUP press office, the East Antrim MP said accused the pro-EU campaign of adopting scare tactics.
He said: “No doubt Enda Kenny’s ludicrous and totally inappropriate invasion of our affairs after his meeting with the PM is part of the scare campaign.”
Mr Wilson accused Mr Kenny of adopting the “absurd” claim that leaving the EU could jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland.
He added: “Such an argument treats us all with contempt. Does he think he is talking to morons who will react like Pavolov’s dogs just because the ‘Peace Process’ is invoked as an argument as to why we should stay in the EU?
“I suppose the only value of his intervention is that it highlights the depths to which the increasingly desperate Europhiles will stoop to in this referendum campaign.”
But, speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Mrs Foster sounded significantly less angry about the Taoiseach’s comments.
“It is for the people of the UK to decide what’s the best way forward and, as you know, we don’t take too kindly to people telling us what to do,” she said.
“I’m saying to Enda, if you have an opinion, that’s your right to have that opinion and if you want to express it, that’s your right as well, but we here in Northern Ireland will make our own determination in relation to Europe.”
When asked if Mr Kenny’s remarks constituted “interfering” (as Mr Wilson claimed), Mrs Foster said: “You could interpret them as interfering, but I prefer to take the benign view that he is expressing his views.”
Ukip Northern Ireland leader David McNarry accused Mr Kenny of “wild assertions and false claims”.
But SDLP leader Column Eastwood claimed that the DUP response to Mr Kenny’s remarks indicated that the party was being “disrespectful” to farmers who get EU subsidies.