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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 9 July, 2020

In a 'moving' meeting with North community members, Merkel compared border issue to Iron Curtain

Ahead of the formal meeting, Merkal and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar participated in a roundtable discussion with people from Northern Ireland and the border area.

Image: Sam Boal

ANGELA MERKEL WAS given a history lesson about Northern Ireland from people who live along the border region while visiting Dublin today.

Ahead of the formal meeting, Merkel and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar participated in a roundtable discussion with people from Northern Ireland and the border area.

The 15 member panel comprised Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists, from the border region north and south.

Members of the public who live along the border area shared their personal experiences and perspectives on the impact any return to a hard border would have on border communities and businesses. 

These included a peace worker in Belfast who lost close family members in a bomb attack, a Unionist farmer and haulier from Inishowen in Donegal and a GP from Inishowen who now lives in Derry.

Some of the people had direct personal experience of the conflict before the Good Friday Agreement.

Aware of what is at stake

Speaking alongside Varadkar this afternoon, Merkel said a solution to maintaining an open border must be found, stating that she is aware of what is at stake.

The Merkel visit attracted the world’s media to Dublin, with many caught up in their country’s own concerns in the Brexitshambles. 

ANGELA MERKEL DUB 16_90568012 Source: Pool Picture/

The German journalists (after being left in dismay at how it can take 45 minutes to travel through Dublin traffic to Farmleigh) asked about what their Chancellor thought of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans along with a domestic issue surrounding some famous paintings.

Meanwhile British journalists were wondering what Merkel thought of the play-acting in Westminster (although one British journalist in the press room seemed rather concerned on the telephone while discussing the possibility that Irish potatoes would not be allowed to be imported into the UK).

The impact on real lives

But the Northern Ireland community group were clear. They believe one message is the most important.

“This impacts on human beings”, they told reporters.

Standing in the pouring rain outside Farmleigh House, the seven-strong group said that is the message they want Merkel to take back to Europe.  

While economics might be important, the human aspect and life on the border regions should be protected, they said. 

That is the message that should be conveyed to the European Council meeting next week and should be “central” to any discussions about reaching a solution to the impasse. 

Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland and a former assistant chief constable with the PSNI, who mediated the meeting said the Chancellor absolutely understood the personal messages that people gave her.

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.

Seriousness of the border issue

Patricia MacBride, a Magistrate in Derry, and a former Commissioner for Victims and Survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict, said it was clear from their meeting with Merkel today that she understood the seriousness of the border issue. 

“Particularly given her own experience prior to German reunification,” she said, adding that during their meeting with the chancellor it was clear she also understood the challenges a hard border can bring.

It was an experience that Merkel mentioned later in the press conference with Varadkar. 

“I personally come, after all, from a country that for many years was divided by a wall,” the Chancellor said.

For 34 years I lived behind the Iron Curtain so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish, once walls fall and that one needs to do anything in order to bring about a peaceful cooperation.After all a heavy death toll has been taken here throughout the Troubles.

Journalist and broadcaster, Dearbhail McDonald, who also attended today, said Merkel obviously did not tell the group how Europe plan to proceed going forward in the Brexit talks but said the chancellor took away with her the importance of the customs union and single market, in terms of the North. 

Merkel later described the meeting with those living in Northern Ireland as “moving”, stating that she learnt about what it “means for their life” living on the border, adding that it will “encourage” her to ensure the “peaceful” Good Friday Agreement is upheld.

She said today’s meeting was a very “important experience”. Will it be something she carries with her into the European Council meeting next week. We will have to wait and see, as Brexit goes down to the wire.

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