DUP's Eurosceptics accuse Taoiseach Kenny of scaremongering over Brexit disaster warning for Northern Ireland
Senior DUP figures have gone on the offensive against Taoiseach Enda Kenny following his warning that the UK leaving the EU would create "serious difficulties" for Northern Ireland.
First Minister Arlene Foster told Mr Kenny to wait for the judgment from the voters in Northern Ireland.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Mr Kenny's remarks were "disrespectful" and could prove counter-productive.
MP Sammy Wilson said it showed a "degree of desperation" and panic in the ranks of campaigners to keep Britain in the EU.
In a major intervention in the issue - with the referendum on withdrawal now being planned for as early as June - Mr Kenny also warned of the potential impact on the wider British-Irish relationship.
"I think it would be catastrophic if Britain were to leave the European Union," he said.
Britain could lose out on free trade deals the EU may strike with India, Japan, Singapore, Canada and, particularly, the United States.
"I genuinely believe while it will take some time to do this, the consequence of doing a deal between Europe and the United States would be phenomenal in terms of all economies and has the potential to rise them by 2% on average," Mr Kenny said.
As he discussed the issue with Prime Minister David Cameron, the Taoiseach warned that a Brexit could damage trade in Northern Ireland and inflame political tensions if it led to more border controls.
"From our perspective, it would create serious difficulties for Northern Ireland and I don't want that happening," he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster responded, however: "The Taoiseach knows that this is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the United Kingdom to decide, and not a matter for the Republic of Ireland voters, so really he should wait for their judgment in respect of this matter.
"As a party we are Eurosceptic and indeed, if there was a vote today, we would vote to leave the EU.
"However, we will wait to see what the outcome of the discussions are between the Prime Minister and the European Council in February.
"He has said that he hopes to bring it to a conclusion there and then. We will have to see when the referendum is called."
Mr Dodds also said it was counterproductive to "lecture us as to what is best for Northern Ireland". "I trust that Enda Kenny will keep this in mind when making future comments about the EU referendum," he added.
And Mr Wilson said: "The degree of desperation in the pro-EU camp is coming to the fore.
"David Cameron knows he is losing the argument for staying in the EU in England and is now banking on persuading the Scots and the people of Northern Ireland to rescue his floundering campaign.
"We always knew that the issue would be reduced to one of scare tactics.
"In the absence of positive arguments for staying in, fear is the default position. 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."
But Fianna Fail spokesman on foreign affairs, Brendan Smith TD, said that political representatives in the Republic were entitled to offer their view on the Brexit debate.
Mr Smith added: "Whether Nigel Dodds likes it or not, the issue of Brexit is one that involves and affects all the people of this island.
"Cross-border trade, not to mention key industries like agriculture and tourism, relies hugely on the fact that both jurisdictions on the island are members of the European Union.
"The prospect of the North being withdrawn from that union is a huge strategic issue for the entire island and it is one that people in the Republic of Ireland will have strong views on.
"Nigel Dodds' contribution to the debate is regrettable, representing as it does a throwback to a time of cross-border insults and groundless suspicion."