Belfast Telegraph

We have to avoid a hard border, says Angela Merkel on Dublin trip

By Aoife Moore

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she was moved by the stories of people living in Irish border communities who were affected by the Troubles.

Ms Merkel met with a panel of 15 people from Protestant and Catholic communities, both unionists and nationalists, from both sides of the border.

Speaking in Dublin, she said: "Today was a very important experience for me. I come from a country that for many, many years was divided by a wall.

"I lived behind the Iron Curtain, so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish."

She added that "everything needs to be done" to ensure an open border continues.

"After all, a heavy death toll has been taken here throughout the Troubles," she said.

"What I have heard here will encourage me to explore ways and means to ensure this peaceful co-existence continues."

Representatives from Irish border communities who met with the German Chancellor said they were impressed by her knowledge on the issue.

Ms Merkel travelled to Dublin to meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Farmleigh House to discuss Brexit and show solidarity with Ireland amid withdrawal negotiations.

The border issue has remained a point of contention during the Brexit impasse because an open border on the island of Ireland is a key component of the Good Friday Agreement.

Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland and a former assistant chief constable with the PSNI, who mediated the meeting, said Ms Merkel reflected on her own life growing up in East Germany.

"She understood the personal messages that people gave her," Mr Sheridan added.

"I think anyone who was there couldn't help but be impressed by her. She understood the passion of people and the very personal stories people shared with her this afternoon.

"She reflected her own understanding and her own background and what it was like to be behind a wall.

"You also couldn't help but be impressed about the range of people around that table today who were there speaking about their own personal experiences.

"I have no doubt that the Chancellor went away well informed about the impact and the people part of this, not just the technical part of it - we're trying to put people in the middle of all this."

Patricia MacBride, a magistrate in Londonderry and a former Victims Commissioner, said everyone who met with Ms Merkel was confident she took their words on board.

"It was clear from the meeting today that the Chancellor has a very thorough understanding of the issues Irish citizens face living in the North," she added.

"(She understood) the issue around denial of rights and issues around citizenship for people living in Northern Ireland and the border counties.

"She understands the challenges a hard border would bring to this island.

"I am certain she will take those messages into the meeting next week with the EU27 and what she heard today will be strongly reflected."

The group also included peace workers from Derry and Belfast who lost close family members in bomb attacks, a unionist farmer and haulier from Inishowen in Donegal, a businessman from Co Monaghan and a GP from Donegal who now lives in Derry.

Despite the desire to retain an open border, a leading European Union official said yesterday he could not rule out the prospect of customs points being built on this island.

Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said "a hard Brexit is increasingly possible".

Asked whether border posts would be needed between the Republic and Northern Ireland, he said the aim was to ensure that checks were done "away from the border, if at all possible".

Senior officials were also briefing that checks on animals and food produce, including milk, will have to take place.

The potential for a 'milk lake' has even been raised as farmers who currently sell dairy products will no longer be able to send their produce across the border.

The EU will not accept creamery tanks containing "mixed EU and third-country milk".

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