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Varadkar shows EU27 dinner guests border bomb horror picture - Brexit deadlock over Ireland backstop

By Gareth Cross

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar presented EU leaders with a copy of an Irish newspaper featuring the story of an IRA bombing of a border customs post during a dinner in Brussels on Wednesday.

The Irish Prime Minister brought a copy of an Irish newspaper edition to the summit dinner to emphasise how far Northern Ireland and Ireland had come since the Troubles.

The article shared the story of an IRA bombing at the Newry Customs Office in 1972.

Nine people were killed and six injured in the attack when a bomb exploded prematurely on August 22.

It was the worst attack on a customs post during the Troubles and the single biggest loss of life of customs officials (four).

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said that he held up a hard copy of the newspaper to show "how far we have come in 30 years, from violence to peace".

Customs posts were regularly targeted by the IRA throughout the Troubles as they viewed them as symbolic of the division between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Another IRA attack on Cloghoge checkpoint near Newry in May 1992 resulted in the death of one soldier and the wounding of 23 others.

There have been fears that checkpoints could return to the Irish border in the event of a hard Brexit and that this could again lead to violence.

Brexit negotiations have been dominated with discussion about the Irish backstop, a mechanism designed to avoid a hard border.

The backstop would keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union and single market in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The DUP, who prop up the Conservative Government as part of a confidence and supply agreement, have urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reject the backstop and any proposal which would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton warned earlier this year that if border posts and security installations were created as a result of a hard Brexit that they would be seen as "fair game" for attack by dissident republicans.

“The last thing we would want is any infrastructure around the border because there is something symbolic about it and it becomes a target for violent dissident republicans," the police chief said.

“Our assessment is that they would be a target because it would be representative of the state and in their minds fair game for attack. I would assume that that assessment is shared by senior politicians and officials who are negotiating Brexit."

The Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland Mark Lindsay said that border posts would make "sitting ducks" out of police.

“If we are saying in the future that police officers could be deployed to customs posts and other fixed points on a hardened border then they would become static targets. They would in effect become sitting ducks for the terrorists,” he said.

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