German chancellor Angela Merkel 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.”
I thought it would be important for the Chancellor to hear directly from people from Northern Ireland and the border region, people for whom the border is a very real issue & with direct experience of conflict before the Good Friday Agreement. pic.twitter.com/kSVoIhAUYs
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) April 4, 2019
She added that “everything needs to be done” to ensure a peaceful co-operation continues.
“What I have heard here will encourage me to explore ways and means to ensure this peaceful co-existence continues,” she added.
Representatives from the Irish border communities who met with the chancellor say they were impressed by her knowledge of the issue.
Ms Merkel travelled to Dublin on Thursday to meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin’s Farmleigh House to discuss Brexit, and show solidarity with Ireland amid the Brexit negotiations.
An Taoiseach and Chancellor Merkel participating in a tete-à-tete at their meeting in Farmleigh House this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/nCMjViwApQ
— MerrionStreet.ie (@merrionstreet) April 4, 2019
The border issue has remained a point of contention during the Brexit impasse, as 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, says Ms Merkel reflected on her own life growing up in East Germany.
“She absolutely understood the personal messages that people gave her,” Mr Sheridan said.
“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 Mac Bride, a magistrate in Londonderry, and a former Commissioner for Victims and Survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict 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, the issue around denial of rights, 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, and 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.