26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today described a scathing attack on President Mary McAleese by Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley as immature.
In a second attack on the President in less than a month, Mr Paisley accused Mary McAleese, who is from Belfast, of having a deep hatred of the North.
And he went on to say Mrs McAleese had breached protocols, a point later rejected by Mr Ahern.
The President was on a one-day working visit to the Six Counties to help launch a new programme of cross-community relations.
Mr Ahern suggested the DUP leader may have been attempting to divert attention away from other things.
“I think again its deeply regretted that the remarks were made. As I have said previously the President has done more than anyone to reach out courageously and imaginatively to all communities in Northern Ireland,” Mr Ahern said.
“I don’t really know why they [criticisms] are made. Quite frankly they are unwarranted, they are not very helpful, and it looks as if for some reason it’s to divert attention from some other things.
“I don’t really know why, it’s not a very mature way of acting.”
The Taoiseach insisted President McAleese always followed protocols when travelling north and had done so this time.
The criticisms came as President McAleese visited a cross community project in the hardline unionist Duncairn Gardens area of north Belfast.
“The protocols of course are out the window when it comes to visits by the Irish President,” said Nigel Dodds, DUP member of parliament for the area.
“Every other foreign head of state goes through the proper protocols, but as far as Mary McAleese is concerned all of that is cast to one side. I think that is reprehensible and I think she should be subject to the same protocols as any other head of state.
He asked: “Why should she get any privileged position just because she is from the Dublin capital?”
Ian Paisley added: “The fact that she takes protection from the police of Northern Ireland but refuses to go into a police station when they are changing [security upon crossing the border], the fact she does that shows how deep her hatred is of Northern Ireland.”
It was the second such attack by Paisley in less than a month. Addressing the DUP party conference on February 4, he said he did not like the President and said she was “dishonest”.
However, the recent attacks are moderate in comparison with Paisley’s previous outbursts, which have famously seen him denounce the Pope as the anti-Christ and “whore of Babylon” at the European Parliament.
On her arrival at Belfast Airport, President McAleese was met by Lady Carswell, the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, and the official representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
The following is British policy on visits by a foreign Head of State to the Six Counties:
1. When a Head of State makes an official visit to Northern Ireland full protocol is observed. The visitor is met by the lord-lieutenant of the county or county borough. The sheriff for the county or county borough, the mayor of the borough or chairman of the district council, the chief executive of the council and the Member of Parliament for the constituency are invited to take part in the presentation lines. Northern Ireland Office Ministers and devolved Ministers are also invited to take part in presentation lines as appropriate.
2. Where a visit is private, there is no requirement for protocol.
3. When a visit is classed as a working visit, a lord-lieutenant greets the Head of State. Members of Parliament, Northern Ireland Office Ministers and devolved Ministers are advised, for information only, of the Head of State’s attendance at public venues within their constituency or areas of responsibility.