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Ahern criticises Paisley’s ‘immature’ attack on McAleese

By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
THE Rev Ian Paisley unleashed a fresh war of words against President Mary McAleese yesterday, prompting a stern rebuke from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in response.

The DUP leader insisted the President had a "deep hatred" of the North as she made an official visit to Belfast.

The ugly row mirrored a diplomatic bust-up two weeks ago when Rev Paisley accused the President of "dishonesty".

The loyalist leader’s latest outburst centred on DUP claims that the President insults the North’s police force on her visits.

"The fact that she takes protection from the PSNI but refuses to go into a police station when they are changing (cars) shows how deep her hatred is of Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr Ahern described the attack as "unwarranted, unhelpful and not very mature."

He also remarked that similar "provocative" comments from nationalist leaders to a visiting member of the British royal family would not be liked by loyalists.

The DUP’s North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds also criticised the President, saying she did not follow the correct protocol as he had only learned of her visit to his constituents via a leaflet.

"Why should she get any privileged position simply because she is from the Dublin capital as opposed to any other capital in the EU or anywhere else?" he asked.

Mr Dodds added that Mrs McAleese had "a problem to overcome because of her attitude to unionists in what she has said about unionists and likening them to Nazis."

A spokesman for President Mary McAleese said she would not be responding to the remarks.

The Taoiseach said the President’s visit to Belfast followed all the normal protocol and procedures.

He added that President McAleese had done more than anyone else to reach out to both communities in the North.

During her one day visit, which included a stop-over at a cross community project in North Belfast, the President travelled in a convoy of cars provided by the PSNI.

The row seems to confirm fears the DUP has singled out the President as a hate figure as it vies for position during talks to revive power-sharing at Stormont.