DUP's Arlene Foster says there was never a hard border in Ireland
Troubles border infrastructure in place for security, says MLA
Arlene Foster has said there was never a hard border in Ireland but rather security needed to prevent terrorism.
"And even in those circumstances we weren't able to stop them," said the DUP leader.
Mrs Foster told an event in London there was never a hard border on the island and how it was upsetting to hear the Prime Minister talk of the "borders of the past".
Explaining how while there was border infrastructure during the Troubles she said that was for "completely different reasons".
'It is a bit of a nonsense, frankly, to talk about a hard border’ - DUP’s Arlene Foster pic.twitter.com/UQBohB0Dzu— RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 15, 2019
"It was for the reasons of security and even then terrorists were able to come and go at their pleasure," she told the BBC.
Calling for the backstop to be binned, she said she believed there were administrative and technology options which could pave the way forward for border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic in order to prevent the need for infrastructure.
— Mark Devenport (@markdevenport) January 15, 2019
Arlene Foster was speaking ahead of the historic meaningful vote in parliament on the Prime Minster's withdrawal agreement. She accused Theresa May of not trying to get rid of the backstop in discussions with Brussels.
Mrs Foster spoke at a Brexiteer event calling for a "better deal" in London which was also attended by former Brexit secretaries Dominic Raab and David Davis.
She said there was no need for the backstop as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar vowed not to erect a hard border on the island of Ireland.
"As someone who lived through the Troubles," the DUP leader said, "we never had a hard border."
"There were 20,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and they could not hermetically seal the border in Northern Ireland
"So it is a bit of a nonsense to talk about a hard border."
Backstop does violence to the union. Arlene Foster
She said technology should be considered as an option for checks along the border adding: "The borders of the past were there for a completely different reason. They were there to stop terrorists, they were there to stop the flow of Semtex as opposed to the flow of powdered milk."
She said it was also "distasteful" when the Prime Minister talked of a no-deal Brexit changing life in Northern Ireland.
"For people who talk about the borders of the past it does quiet upset those of us who live in Northern Ireland where progress has been made in a very meaningful and tangible way," she said.
"We need to choose reason and hope as oppose to fear and narrowness and look to the future in a positive way."
Her comments sparked a huge kick back online.
Sinn Fein South Down MP Chris Hazzard shared a picture of a fortified border post from the Troubles era.
"What absolute nonsense; I’m guessing she never attempted to cross the border then?!," he tweeted.
— Chris Hazzard (@ChrisHazzardSF) January 15, 2019
Arlene Foster just said in London today that there “never was a hard border” in Ireland - what absolute nonsense; I’m guessing she never attempted to cross the border then?! pic.twitter.com/Hk1n7dsHrM
Alliance leader Noami Long described the comments as a "complete denial of reality".
The SDLP described the comments as "recklessly letting facts get in the way of a good soundbite".
Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty said: "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 1970s the militarised border appeared and this lasted for over 30 years.
“The people of Ireland, north and south do not want to go back to any form of border on this island. Mrs Foster and her colleagues have blindly followed the right wing pied pipers Jacob Reese Mogg, David Davis and Boris Johnston into a Brexit cul-de-sac.”
Responding to some of the criticism on Twitter, South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford said: "We know why there was a harder border during our recent history and it had precious little to do with trade policy. Secondly, if the Provos had tried to murder your father and escaped over it, maybe your perspective would be different."
Speaking at the press conference, Mrs Foster said she had "deja vu" having come to London to argue against the withdrawal agreement before the meaningful vote was pulled in December.
"We said to the Prime Minister she had to get rid of the backstop and get a withdrawal agreement that can be lived with," Mrs Foster said on Tuesday.
We want a deal that does not break up the UK. Arlene Foster
She said the backstop "does violence to the union, it separates us from the rest of the United Kingdom".
Confirming that the 10 DUP MPs will not back the PM’s deal, Arlene Foster added: “We said to the Prime Minister she had to get rid of the backstop and get a Withdrawal Agreement that can be lived with. I don’t think she even asked to get rid of the backstop.
She said Monday's letter from the EU did not change the legally binding withdrawal agreement and therefore her party could not support the deal.
"And I regret that because I want a deal with the European Union. I think the EU wants a deal with the UK. They want a deal that works and so do we.
"But we want a deal that does not break up the UK."