Sunday 25 August 2019

Chancellor vows to help us weather the storm to avoid human impact of no deal

Shared ‘lived experiences’: Former police chief Peter Sheridan. Picture: PA
Shared ‘lived experiences’: Former police chief Peter Sheridan. Picture: PA
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Dark clouds gathered over Farmleigh House and the heavens opened while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked inside.

Perhaps it was a metaphor as Europe's most powerful leader visited the capital of one of the smallest EU member states, which is caught up in the swirling tempest that is Brexit.

Either way, the large contingent of German and international press were treated to some very Irish weather. They got drenched as they waited outside for a press conference with people from Border communities who had just met Ms Merkel.

Perhaps it was thought the images of picturesque Farmleigh and its rolling grounds would play well on German TV and might attract a few tourists.

For whatever reason, the decision was taken to persevere with the outdoor question-and-answer session.

Reporters sheltered under coats while someone from the Taoiseach's office handed out some umbrellas.

It was a struggle to hear the representatives of Border communities over the noise of the downpour, which intensified as the press conference continued.

They can't have been too thrilled about the circumstances of their encounter with the media either, but they did have a serious message.

There were people who lost loved ones in the Troubles among the 15-strong contingent that met Ms Merkel, as well as representatives of farming and business who fear the impact of Brexit.

Peter Sheridan, a former PSNI assistant chief constable, said they shared their "personal lived experiences" of the Border with the German leader.

It was a bid to ensure the potential human impact of the UK leaving the EU will be taken into account as the Brexit process enters its most crucial phase yet.

She met Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists and appeared to understand only too well what they were saying.

Ms Merkel did after all grow up in Cold War-era East Germany complete with the Berlin Wall, which finally tumbled in 1989.

Mr Sheridan said: "I think her own background living on one side of a wall, she understood the very personal stories we shared with her".

The chancellor's later remarks suggested the message sunk in.

She said that she lived behind the Iron Curtain for 34 years and knows what it means "once borders vanish, once walls fall".

She spoke of the need to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement.

Asked whether it's possible to protect the EU single market while ruling out a return to a Border in Ireland, she said: "We will simply have to be able to do this."

Mr Varadkar will meet Ms Merkel again at next week's EU summit, two days before the next deadline for the UK's departure.

If there's no plan to avoid a crash-out Brexit by then, Ireland will be hoping Ms Merkel brings an umbrella to help weather the storm.

Irish Independent

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