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It's our duty to protect 'miracle' of Good Friday deal: top EU official

By Colm Kelpie

There is a "political and moral" duty to do everything to protect the Good Friday Agreement, one of Europe's top officials has said.

Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, said the EU had spent around €2bn on Northern Ireland, which he said had been a "terrible rust belt years ago, especially Belfast".

He told TDs, Senators and MEPs during a committee hearing in the Dail that Ireland is a special case in the Brexit debate, and the European Commission will be at Ireland's side.

"All during my childhood and young adulthood, I was witness to terrible violence in the north of this island. We were all brought up with that, and many of us thought that this could never be solved," Mr Timmermans said.

"I truly thought when I was young, that this is part of life and that people are going to continue murdering each other for generations to come.

"And then this miracle of the Good Friday Agreement came about. I think we have a political and moral duty to do everything within our power to maintain the Good Friday Agreement."

He also told the told the joint Oireachtas committees on foreign affairs and trade, defence and EU affairs that "the European Commission will be at Ireland's side when we need to take into account the very special circumstances that Ireland has to deal with in the Brexit debate".

Meanwhile, former Church of Ireland Primate Lord Eames has warned that Brexit threatens to damage the UK's good relations with the Irish Republic.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on the 'Brexit Bill', Lord Eames said Brexit could have a greater impact on Northern Ireland than any other part of the UK. And he said the current vacuum at Stormont with the collapse of the Assembly and Executive was "tragic".

"Within Northern Ireland, the long journey to true and strong reconciliation between its peoples continues. None of us who have been privileged to be a part of that journey and to try to give some leadership and influence in it needs to be reminded of the risks in any alteration to the sensitive relationships north-south and east-west."

He added: "It is tragic that at this decisive moment the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive has produced a vacuum in the political peace process."

The former Police Ombudsman, Baroness O'Loan, told the Lords that Brexit could see a return to the hard border, reigniting conflict and violence. She said: "I don't think we can be complacent, and I don't think we can suggest there is nothing to worry about.

"Brexit will recreate the border of north and south.

"Borders are by their very nature divisive, this border will attract protest, hostility, violence and significant economic delay."

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