Varadkar warns risk of return to violence ‘very real’ if hard border emerges
Leo Varadkar brought a copy of the Irish Times featuring the story of a blast which killed nine people in 1972 to a summit dinner.
Ireland’s premier has warned there is a “real risk” of a return to violence in Ireland if a hard border returns.
Leo Varadkar was speaking after he used a newspaper article on an IRA bombing of a customs post as a “prop” to emphasise the importance of the Irish border issue to EU leaders.
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Mr Varadkar brought in a copy of Wednesday’s Irish Times, which featured the story of the blast which killed nine people in August 1972, to a summit dinner on Wednesday evening.
I just wanted to make sure that there was no sense in the room that in any way anybody in Ireland or in the Irish government was exaggerating the real risk of a return to violence in Ireland Leo Varadkar
Four customs officials, two lorry drivers and three IRA men died in the explosion at Newry customs clearing station in Co Down.
Mr Varadkar said: “I just wanted to make sure that there was no sense in the room that in any way anybody in Ireland or in the Irish government was exaggerating the real risk of a return to violence in Ireland.
“I pointed out as well that we have gone now for nearly two years without a functioning Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland.
“The two parties representing the two communities in Northern Ireland have been unable to come together to form a coalition government, which they have been able to do for most of the last 20 years.
“I met both leaders of the two main parties and they were both in agreement that the uncertainty around Brexit was one of the major reasons why they haven’t been able to form an Executive, so we can see the uncertainty of Brexit is already having an impact, if we were to have a hard Brexit you can imagine the effects that could potentially follow.”
He described the article as “a useful prop to demonstrate to all the European leaders the extent to which the concerns about the re-emergence of a hard border and the possibility of a return to violence are very real”.
The family of one of the lorry drivers killed said they feared Brexit could spark renewed violence along the border.
Jack McCann, from Co Monaghan, died in the explosion, which was the worst attack on a Northern Ireland customs post during the Troubles.
Mr McCann’s daughter Mary Casey, who was 21 when her father died, spoke of her fear of border custom posts returning in the wake of a no-deal Brexit.
She told the newspaper that she believes there will be a hard border.
“I don’t know how else it is going to work, to be honest. It would be scary. I imagine it is going back to the way it was.”
She made the comments ahead of a two-day European Council summit in Brussels where EU leaders are discussing the Irish border issue.
Four customs officials were killed when the bomb exploded prematurely, including Frank Quinn, Patrick Murphy, Michael Joseph Gillesse and Marshall Lawrence.
The three IRA members – Noel Madden, Patrick Hughes and Oliver Rowntree, all from Newry – were also killed.
The two lorry drivers who were killed were waiting for customs clearance when the IRA men entered the building and ordered everyone to leave.
Mrs Casey spoke of how young people may react to a hard border and Brexit.
“An awful lot of people around here wouldn’t know,” she told the Irish Times.
“You see if Brexit brings the violence back, they will be younger and they will have no fear because they won’t remember.”
Mr Quinn’s brother Artie also spoke of his fears of the possible Brexit outcome.
“I would have concerns that the symbolism of checkpoints, queues and lorries having to wait to get checked out – the symbolism of division and disruption – that would not be desirable,” he said.
“It would bring back memories of a time before, when there was that visible division, and nobody wants to see that again.
“If you take a straw poll around Newry, no-one wants to see a return to that kind of violence no matter how romanticised it may be in the eyes of some. Only a minority would go to those lengths.”