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Claim that former taoiseach Leo Varadkar used threat of violence to influence EU leader angrily dismissed

Former Labour MP Kate Hoey. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A CLAIMc that Leo Varadkar sought to influence EU leaders by brandishing a photograph of a bombed customs post from the 1970s has again been angrily dismissed by the tánaiste's team.

The allegation that in 2018 the then taoiseach highlighted past republican violence to avoid a hard border was made yesterday by former Labour MP Kate Hoey.

Last month, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the claim had been "overplayed by unionists".

Baroness Hoey was asked by the BBC about remarks she made to The Irish News following a recent anti-protocol protest in Newtownards.

She claimed then that the media weren't "interested unless there's violence".

"That bus being burned got all over Europe and that started to make the EU start listening and thinking, now, I don't want that, but you can understand a young active sort of loyalist, who just sort of thinks, well hang on, why is it that Sinn Féin get everything," she said.

The former MP said yesterday she was speaking the "truth" because peaceful loyalist protests were ignored but street violence received news coverage.

"We saw former Taoiseach Varadkar himself... he took a picture of a customs post that had been blown up years ago... took it to the European Union, held it up and said: 'Look if we have any kind of trade border of any description between Northern Ireland and the Republic this is potentially what could happen," she said.

But Baroness Hoey's claim received an angry rebuke from the tánaiste's spokesman, who said the episode did not happen in the way it is often portrayed.

“For the umpteenth time, this did not happen," Mr Varadkar's spokesman said.

"The picture of the customs post was on the front page of the Irish Times that day.”

The Irish Times reported in October 2018 how the Fine Gael leader presented a copy of the previous day's paper to EU leaders to "emphasise the importance of the border issue in Brexit discussions".

Mr Varadkar held up a hard copy of the newspaper at a dinner of European leaders in Brussels.

The article in question related to the IRA bombing of a border customs post in 1972 that left nine people dead.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said at the time that he held up the newspaper to show “how far we have come in 30 years, from violence to peace”.

The then tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted a link to the article saying: “For anyone who wants to understand the politics and emotion behind why the Irish Govt is so clear on the need to provide a guarantee that no border infrastructure will re-emerge on the Island of Ireland please read this”.

Baroness Hoey did not respond when contacted by The Irish News.

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