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May's misery at the polls will lessen chances of a hard Brexit: Varadkar

By Kevin Doyle

Incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar believes Theresa May's disastrous election result should rule out a so-called hard Brexit and present an opportunity for the Republic.

As Fine Gael and Fianna Fail rounded on Sinn Fein for not using its seven seats to influence the UK Parliament, Mr Varadkar said the outcome of the snap election means "there is no strong mandate to proceed with a hard Brexit".

Throughout the campaign the Prime Minister had talked up a tough approach to the Brexit negotiations which are due to begin in nine days.

However, she is now relying on the DUP to keep her fragile administration afloat.

While pro-Brexit, the DUP has adopted a softer attitude than its Westminster allies as many of its voters are farmers who depend heavily on EU grants for their income.

Among a list of Brexit priorities identified by the DUP in advance of the election is the ease of trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and a frictionless border for people crossing the frontier.

Mr Varadkar had expected to speak with the winner of the UK election yesterday - but the unexpected result meant a phone call did not take place.

A spokesperson said they communicated by letter earlier in the week and "will be in touch again soon".

However, Mr Varadkar indicated that he sees the result as "an opportunity for Ireland".

"We must ensure that the Brexit talks are handled in a smooth and coherent manner to secure the best possible outcome for Ireland, for Europe and the UK," he said.

The DUP's central role in the shaping of the Government's Brexit policy places Sinn Fein's in a difficult position.

Gerry Adams' party gained three seats, bringing its total to seven, but the leader said there was "no danger whatsoever" of ita seven MPs taking their positions in Westminster.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused Sinn Fein of acting in a "totally illogical" fashion.

"I think it is not acceptable and I think it was a crazy (Sinn Fein) policy to say in advance 'we attack the Tories, we don't want the Tories in Government and we attack the Government in the Republic for not being strong enough with the Tories' and, lo and behold, they get a mandate and they decide not to exercise it to curtail the worst excesses, if you like it, of the Tories," Mr Martin said.

"I think it is totally illogical for Sinn Fein to say they can stay out of Westminster, given that Brexit is the single greatest issue facing our generation."

Similarly, Fine Gael minister Simon Coveney described the Sinn Fein stance on abstentionism as "strange".

He added: "I listened to Gerry Adams this morning and I think that, in the context of Brexit, it is a difficult position to understand given that how the peace process has moved forward and so on."

The criticism drew an angry response from Sinn Fein's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who challenged Fianna Fail to run candidates in Northern Ireland.

"Micheal Martin is a hurler on the ditch in this election," she said. "We will not take lectures from him.

"Sinn Fein represents the nationalist and republican people in the north of our country.

"Fianna Fail don't even attempt to represent people there, so Micheal Martin should either put up or shut up."

The Dublin TD said Sinn Fein MPs were elected with the mandate of not taking their Westminster seats.

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