07 February 2006

Big Ian at centre of war of words as he defends his attack on McAleese

Irish Independent

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern and Ian Paisley clashed over the DUP leader's claims that President McAleese was "dishonest" - a remark for which he refused to apologise, writes Gene McKenna.

They also clashed when Mr Paisley complained about "sectarianism" in the Republic and alleged attacks on his Free Presbyterian churches.

"I'm not going to take any lectures on sectarianism from you," Mr Ahern told him bluntly.

The minister described the discussions with the DUP as "robust".

The tough exchanges resulted from Dr Paisley's controversial comments, which he made at his party's weekend conference.

The DUP leader, with his son Ian Jnr by his side was yesterday sticking by the hardline comments to his party conference that the President was "dishonest".

"I don't like the President of the Irish Republic," Dr Paisley told delegates.

He accused her of being "dishonest" and of pretending to love Northern Ireland but actually "hating" it.

Dr Paisley also accused her of breaching diplomatic protocol and of being hostile to the PSNI.

The charges were denied by Aras an Uachtarain but it issued no formal response to the DUP leader's claims.

At Hillsborough yesterday, Dr Paisley said that when President McAleese had made comments regarding Unionists and Nazis the Irish government had been strangely silent.

He said he had spoken the truth at the weekend and the Irish government was going to have to take it.

But Mr Ahern pointed out to him that President McAleese had apologised for her remarks at the time.

He said he felt obliged to tell Dr Paisley that on behalf of the Government and the Irish people, he found his criticisms of the President "unacceptable, unwarranted and untrue".

The Minister pointed out that no member of the Irish Government would speak in such terms of any head of state, not least the Queen of England.

Northern Secretary Peter Hain said the British Government held the President in very high regard and he saw last December when they met at Hillsborough that Queen Elizabeth felt likewise. Mr Hain said he personally was "a great admirer of the president".

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described the remarks as "typical Ian Paisley" while SDLP leader Mark Durkan spoke of the remarks as "ugly". Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey also distanced himself from the Paisley comments.

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