Senior DUP politicians including party leader and First Minister Arlene Foster have rallied behind North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds following his criticism of Taoiseach Enda Kenny over his Brexit remarks in London.
Ms Foster was more diplomatic than some of her colleagues in chastising Mr Kenny for warning that "serious difficulties" would be created for Northern Ireland if the UK voted to quit the European Union.
Mr Kenny issued his warning after meeting the British prime minister David Cameron in London on Monday. It prompted the DUP MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley jnr to respond, "What part of keep out does he not understand?"
“This is a matter for the people of the UK. His intervention will be counterproductive. A fool would know that. The rush to speak should be tempered by wisdom,” added Mr Paisley.
While more cautious in her comments, it was clear that Ms Foster effectively agreed with Mr Dodds’s complaint that it was counterproductive for Mr Kenny to “lecture us as to what is best for Northern Ireland”.
“It is for the people of the UK to decide what’s the best way forward and, as you know, we don’t take too kindly to people telling us what to do,” said Ms Foster in Belfast on Tuesday.
"I'm saying to Enda, if you have an opinion, that's your right to have that opinion and if you want to express it, that's your right as well, but we here in Northern Ireland will make our own determination in relation to Europe, " she added.
Ms Foster said that if Mr Kenny was interfering “he should know better”, while also saying of his remarks, “You could interpret them as interfering, but I prefer to take the benign view that he is expressing his views.”
Ms Foster said that if there were a vote now, the DUP 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," she said.
While Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan made similar remarks in a Brexit debate with Ms Foster at Queen's University in Belfast in November, DUP politicians got quite exercised at Mr Kenny's warning.
East Antrim MP and former DUP finance Minister Sammy Wilson said Mr Kenny appeared to be acting at the behest of Mr Cameron in warning about the implications of Brexit. "If he had any self-respect he would not be used as David Cameron's bogey man," he said.
“He meets with David Cameron and immediately he is out trotting out the prime minister’s line. The least you would think that if he wants to be independent from Britain, he would also be independent from the British prime minister,” added Mr Wilson, an avowed exit-from-Europe politician.
Of Brexit, he said: “He is entitled to express a view as to how he thinks it might affect the Irish Republic. He is not entitled to express a view about he thinks it might affect Northern Ireland. That is up to us.”
Mr Wilson said Mr Cameron had “now recruited Enda Kenny” to engage in the “scare tactics of the pro-Europe camp in the United Kingdom”.
He added that Mr Kenny appeared also to be saying that leaving the EU could undermine the current peace. “If he is going to scare us, let him spread credible scare stories, not treat us with contempt. To use an argument like that is really just treating the people of Northern Ireland as a bunch of morons.”
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson was also critical of Mr Kenny. "Nigel's view was accurate and crystal clear. Enda Kenny is free to comment all he likes on the affects of Brexit on the Republic of Ireland but not on Northern Ireland," he said.
“It’s an issue in our country, for our country, and that’s where the consideration should rest,” he added.
Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Strangford, also supported Mr Dodds. "It will be the people of Northern Ireland who decide. They will make their mind up on what is the best way forward - is it out or in? For us it's out," he said.