The North’s First Minister Ian Paisley has lobbied British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for an assurance that planned new border passport controls will not be established between Britain and Ireland but between the North and South of Ireland.
The DUP leader wrote to Brown following recent reports about the effects of the stringent new British Borders Bill. The bill, requiring new US-style ‘electronic border’ controls, is at odds with the long-standing ‘Common Travel Area’, which allowed for unhindered travel throughout the two islands.
The 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has referred to the potential effects of the new British policy on cross-border travel in Ireland. Meanwhile, some reports have suggested that the British plans might see passports required for the first time in order to travel from the North of Ireland to Britain.
Mr Paisley warned Mr Brown that “it would be very dangerous if, as a result of improving controls for Great Britain, Northern Ireland was to be treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom”.
Paisley also told Mr Brown “the UK’s land border with the Republic” would “have to be taken into account” in ongoing discussions between the two governments.
Significantly, the First MInister did not seek to include the Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, in his letter. Sinn Féin has not yet commented on the matter.
Meanwhile, Mr Paisley has told a conference in Dublin he chose to enter into government with Sinn Féin without all issues being resolved in order to make gains on the issues which, he said, were an “absolute necessity”.
These were, he said: “That everyone must accept the police service of Northern Ireland as the legal law enforcement force; everyone must accept the fact that we as a people must obey the law; and everybody must support the law.”
This week has seen the anniversary of the first six months of power-sharing in the North.
Mr Paisley told the conference on dispute resolution, organised by the Irish branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, that he was still surprised at the speed at which a deal was done.
“I agreed I would move and we did move. I didn’t think we were going to move at such speed but we did. I don’t know what happened. The vehicle went faster than ever before and I am here today as proof positive that Northern Ireland has a Government, Northern Ireland has an Assembly, and Northern Ireland is going to go down further and further the road of peace and prosperity.”
Mr Paisley said he looked forward to the day when everyone on the island shared “a common denominator”.
Disputes and differences can only be resolved and proper foundations built when there is full awareness and good faith, Mr Paisley said.
“I believe we have got the proper foundation, the foundation stones are being laid and I believe that one day the building will be completed.”
Martin McGuinness, also taking stock of the first six months, has praising the Ian Paisley for the good rapport betweeen the two.
“I think I can say without fear of contradiction,” he says, “that in the last six months Ian Paisley and I have not exchanged an angry word between us. That is the truth of the matter and I think the public will be pleased to hear that.
Mr McGuinness and Mr Paisley travel to the US early next month to meet President George Bush, and to make a push for the major investment conference in Belfast next May.
In converation with reporters, Mr McGuinness explained the so-called “Chuckle Brothers” relationship.
“I have always believed throughout the course of my political life that Ian Paisley was a very bitter, very harsh person who was only really interested in his political opinion holding sway. Obviously he had as poor an opinion of me as me of him,” he says.
“There is a transformed political situation and he and I are now working together. In that situation opinions change. I certainly don’t see the harsh, bitter Ian Paisley that I saw prior to March 26th this year. I see someone who is civilised and cordial in his dealings with me whilst maintaining his own political position.
“I know where he is coming from and he knows where I am coming from: his allegiance is to what he describes as the United Kingdom; my allegiance is to Ireland. But we have joined together in government and thus far it is clear that both of us are very dedicated and committed to making this work, and fulfilling the desires and wishes of the electorate.”