Northern Ireland news

DUP leader Arlene Foster criticised for Ireland `never had a hard border' claim

Kileen border crossing, heavily manned with RUC and British army. Picture by Pacemaker

DUP leader Arlene Foster has defended her claim Ireland "never had a hard border" during the Troubles, insisting even 20,000 British soldiers "couldn't hermetically seal" off the north.

She was criticised for her statement at a press conference organised by A Better Deal where she said "it is a bit of a nonsense, frankly, to talk about a hard border".

The Fermanagh South Tyrone assembly member pointed out "the Irish prime minister has indicated that he will not be putting up a hard border on the island of Ireland" as she called on prime minister Theresa May to "go back to the European Union and say that the backstop has to go".

"It has to go because it doesn't have any meaning in terms of what it's trying to do, but instead it separates Northern Ireland from Great Britain."

British Army checkpoints and watchtowers at strategic locations along the border were key targets for the IRA during the Troubles.

"The borders of the past were there for a completely different reason," Mrs Foster said as she made her party's opposition to the withdrawal bill explicit.

"They were there to stop terrorists, they were there to stop the flow of Semtex [explosives] as opposed to the flow of powdered milk."

Her comments were widely derided on social media, while SDLP Newry and Armagh assembly member Justin McNulty branded them "grossly inaccurate".

"This distorted view is both reckless and false," he said.

"... At a time like this it is sheer lunacy to think she should get her facts so wrong and be comfortable making divisive inaccurate comments. The DUP leader has unashamedly not let the facts get in the way of a good soundbite.

"Long before the troubles broke out, there was a customs border. A border existed since partition and it existed primarily as a customs border. It sought to prevent the carrying of goods across the border without paying excise duty.

" It was only in the 1970's the militarised border appeared and this lasted for over thirty years."

Meanwhile, the DUP's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson claimed a "no-deal" Brexit would galvanise the EU into fresh talks.

"Once we are in that situation, reality will kick in Brussels and they will come back and negotiate a realistic trade deal, rather than the one we have got at the moment," he told CNBC.

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