‘It is not the war’: Lithuanian president warns against hard Irish Border

Dalia Grybauskaite makes comments as she meets with Michael D Higgins on his two-day visit

President Michael D Higgins meets his Lithuanian counterpart  Dalia Grybauskaite during his two day visit to Lithuania. Photograph: Maxwells.

President Michael D Higgins meets his Lithuanian counterpart Dalia Grybauskaite during his two day visit to Lithuania. Photograph: Maxwells.

 

The European Union must find a solution to keep an open Border on the island of Ireland as people should not be separated in peaceful times, Lithuania’s president has said.

Speaking as she met President Michael D Higgins during his visit to Vilnius, Dalia Grybauskaite said neighbouring countries should not be divided “artificially”.

“It is not the war,” she said. “We cannot separate the people of two countries in peaceful times. We need to find the solution.”

Ms Grybauskaite’s chief adviser Nerijus Aleksiejunas told The Irish Times the issue of the Irish Border after Brexit was discussed during a one-hour meeting between the presidents. He said there “was an understanding that the goal was to avoid any border in the island of Ireland”.

Mr Higgins, who is on a two-day visit to Lithuania, thanked the European Union for its support in the Brexit talks.

“I want to thank you, and through you our colleagues in the European Union, for their understanding and support for the set of complexities that have to be dealt with by Ireland, on foot of the decision by our nearest neighbour to leave the European Union,” he told Ms Grybauskaite.

Mr Higgins said that the UK’s decision to leave the EU was “viewed with sadness”.

“We now have to work together to ensure that, in the new circumstances in which our neighbours and Ireland find ourselves, we will be able to manage all these challenges together.”

Irish-Lithuanian community

The President also praised the cultural and economic contribution the Lithuanian community has made to the diversity of life in Ireland. The last census showed some 36,500 Lithuanians were living in the State but estimates from Vilnius suggest the true number could be more than twice that.

Many of those who migrated to Ireland did so after the Baltic state joined the EU in 2004, and Lithuania is now looking to Ireland for advice on how to tackle a so-called “brain drain” from the country.

“I think there is a great advantage in encouraging a circular migration,” Mr Higgins said. “In its next phase, which will see the people from both of our countries returning, upskilled, talented and with work experience abroad, contributing and giving leadership in the green economy and the social economy, the redefinition of work, helping to create stable societies.”

Ms Grybauskaite added: “For us Ireland is example how you managed to return your people and create a prosperous economy.”

During his two-day visit to Lithuania, Mr Higgins will also meet members of the Irish diaspora in Vilnius and will receive an honorary doctorate at Vytautas Magnus University in the country’s second city, Kaunas.