Foster insisted it was “a bit of a nonsense, frankly, to talk about a hard border”.
DUP LEADER ARLENE Foster has been expanding on her earlier comments that there was never a hard border on the island of Ireland during the Troubles.
Speaking at an event in London earlier, Foster reiterated that her party believed there was no need for a backstop provision to form part of the UK’s deal to exit the EU.
“As someone who lived through the Troubles we never had a hard border. There were 20,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and they couldn’t hermetically seal the border in Northern Ireland so it is a bit of a nonsense, frankly, to talk about a hard border,” Foster said.
BBC Northern Ireland’s political editor Mark Devenport, speaking to her afterwards, put it to the DUP leader that many people would remember having a much harder border during the period of the conflict.
“Yes but it was for completely different reasons,” Foster said.
. @DUPleader explaining to me her comment that “we never had a hard border” during the Troubles – more on @BBCevex later pic.twitter.com/bBqNJj0b5C
Both the Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister Theresa May have repeatedly said there can be no return to the borders of the past in the wake of Brexit.
The backstop provision, which is included in the Withdrawal Agreement struck between May’s government and the EU, is an insurance policy designed to avoid border infrastructure in Ireland “unless and until” another solution is agreed.
Many routes between the Republic and the North were closed at the height of the Troubles, with smaller roads either blocked, spiked or blown up by the British Army. Full-scale military checkpoints were erected on many of the main routes that remained.
Routes along the length of the border began reopening from the 1990s – with the last few roads and bridges being repaired and reopened around a decade ago. 275 land border crossings now exist between the North and the Republic – more than along the whole of EU’s eastern border.
The debate around how to define a hard border was discussed recently by the UK Parliament’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which observed:
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
SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh Justin McNulty has branded the comments as “grossly inaccurate”.
“The DUP Leader has unashamedly not let the facts get in the way of a good soundbite,” he said.
Alliance and Sinn Féin representatives also criticised her comments.