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We'll work hard to avoid a hard border, says Varadkar in Derry

By Leona O'Neill

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is "confident, but not complacent" that there won't be a hard border in Ireland.

He said he was not preparing for a hard border and his government is working hard to ensure it does not become a reality.

Mr Varadkar was speaking during a trip to Londonderry where he visited the headquarters of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

Inside the Siege of Derry Museum, the Taoiseach signed the visitors' book, writing that he was "delighted to visit and really interested to understand more" in the comments section.

After being presented with an official Apprentice Boys crimson tie he was given a tour of the museum, a brief history of the loyal order and shown relics, including an effigy of the siege traitor Lundy.

Mr Varadkar zoned in on a brass antique container with the word Leo on it.

Apprentice Boys governor Graeme Stenhouse said it was an honour to host the Taoiseach.

"It was a privilege to have him here today," he said.

"I'm sure he enjoyed his short tour of the museum and hopefully he has went away with a better understanding of the Siege of Londonderry and the Apprentice Boys association."

After leaving the museum and memorial hall, the Taoiseach travelled to the Rath Mor Centre in Creggan, which is the north west's largest social enterprise hub.

Inside, Mr Varadkar was given a tour of some of the 60 businesses and projects that make up Rath Mor.

He met young people involved in the Lifehack Project, a personal development initiative.

He also met pupils from St Cecilia's College and St Joseph's Boys School at the Hive Studios, Creggan Enterprises' youth-led digital arts centre. He met with women from the Unheard Voices project, which gives a platform to those who were ignored during the Troubles.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Varadkar said he shared the frustrations of the people here about the lack of working Stormont institutions.

"I think people from Northern Ireland, from both communities and all communities, are losing out because we don't have a functioning Executive and Assembly," he said.

"And of course the voice of Northern Ireland isn't being heard the way it should be during the Brexit negotiations. We as co-guarantors of the Agreement want to help the parties come together to agree to get the institutions up and running again.

"But we do appreciate that the uncertainty around Brexit hasn't created a good environment for that. But Minister (Simon) Coveney and I are going to be working over the next few weeks to get an agreement between the UK and EU. And if we had some certainty about the next few years when it comes to Brexit, and certainty that there won't be a hard border between north and south, I think we may be in a good position to try and get those talks going again."

Mr Varadkar said what could give rise to a hard border is a hard Brexit.

"Or a hard Brexit that doesn't make special arrangements for Northern Ireland. I can assure you that I have spent a lot of time since I became Taoiseach trying to avoid both of those things," he added.

"I'm confident it will be avoided, but not complacent. Brexit creates an enormous challenge.

"The reason why we don't have a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or between Britain and Ireland, is because of the EU. But by maintaining full alignment, we can avoid a hard border."

Belfast Telegraph

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