Miriam Lord: Merkel frightens horses but owns the gig at Farmleigh

She waved and vanished inside followed by an entourage the size of Lower Saxony

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that, "for 34 years I lived behind the Iron Curtain so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish, once walls fall" after her meeting on Brexit with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Dublin.

 

Now that Brexit is at a very, very delicate stage, the most important thing is not to do anything silly and frighten the horses.

The last person you would expect to do this is Angela Merkel who paid a flying visit to Dublin on Thursday to reassure an anxious nation that Germany and Europe will not abandon Ireland in her Brexit hour of need.

The setting for the German Chancellor’s meeting with the Taoiseach was Farmleigh House, set in lush countryside on the edge of the Phoenix Park.

The scene was picture perfect for the visitors as they rolled into the old Guinness mansion – a misty Irish day, daffodils and wildflowers swaying in the grass and four donkeys doing wonders for Irish tourism in the closest field.

It was a far cry from her meetings with Enda Kenny, when the former Taoiseach would grab her by the elbows and upper arm and steer her through doorways

Slightly further away, on the other side of the winding approach road, the German television cameras picked up three gorgeous ponies grazing in the background as Merkel’s motorcade came into focus.

The cars roared along the narrow road, spooking the animals. They galloped perilously close to the rails and the white one, a Connemara pony, looked like it was going to hurdle the fence just as the Chancellor’s BMW was belting past.

Mercifully for all concerned, disaster was averted. But if the Taoiseach was expecting some solid support from Dr Merkel on the Irish border it didn’t augur well to have her frightening the horses before she even made it through the front door of Farmleigh.

The pleasantries under the portico didn’t last very long. There would be no light-hearted lifting of ankles for a display of novelty socks from Leo, just a continental double kiss on the cheeks.

A handshake followed, but only after a photographer roared for one in desperation from the media riser.

It was a far cry from her meetings with Enda Kenny, when the former Taoiseach would grab her by the elbows and upper arm and steer her through doorways.

Properly framed

Leo Varadkar smiled and Dr Merkel, wearing a kingfisher blue jacket, gently hooshed him along so that they were properly framed in between the two entrance columns.

Then she did a little wave and they vanished inside followed by Merkel’s entourage which was the size of Lower Saxony. It took an age for them all to squeeze through the door.

At this stage, as the rain got heavier, there was no sign of the Border People who were due to meet the Chancellor and tell her how the re-imposition of a hard border after Brexit would be calamitous for the region.

Afterwards, she said meeting them had been “a very important experience for her” and, speaking as a person coming “from a country that, for many, many years was divided by a wall”, she thanked the Taoiseach for facilitating the event.

As the meeting between the two leaders progressed inside, the media waited out the afternoon in Farmleigh’s boathouse.

The representatives of people living along the border were eventually brought out to talk, in the pouring rain, about their meeting with the Chancellor. If things aren’t bad enough for them with their hard Brexit worries, their Dublin hosts were trying to drown them.

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At the leaders’ teatime press conference in the Ballroom, there was a strong show of solidarity between Merkel and Varadkar.

But even though this was Leo’s patch, Angela owned the gig. She smiled when he mentioned awkwardly that as Chancellor of Germany she must be seven times more busy than he is and she removed her earpiece when he addressed her in German.

The Irish press corps found this very impressive.

The Border People weren’t present in the ballroom. Probably being dried out under lights elsewhere in the building.

Berlin was the first port of call for Ireland after the UK formally declared it was leaving the EU.

Promises

Two years ago, almost to the April day, Angela Merkel welcomed Enda Kenny to the German capital. “Come in, I missed you,” she said.

And she promised to protect Irish interests in the Brexit negotiations to come.

Would the Chancellor keep her word to one small island when powerful London started turning up the pressure?

It was a worry.

Twelve months later and it was the turn of Kenny’s successor to visit Merkel on her home turf.

The Brexit countdown clock was ticking. She resolutely held the line.

“Ireland may rely on us and it is unconditional – that is a matter of fact per se,” she assured the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

Dr Merkel’s message was one of 'wait and see'

Along the Irish border in particular, residents prayed that Angela’s unconditional support would not encounter unexpectedly compelling conditions. No matter what, a hard Irish border could not be countenanced.

It was a worry.

And so to Dublin this Thursday and the passing of another full year, along with the first deadline for the UK’s exit from the EU.

The country is in the throes of a chaotic Brexit meltdown and nobody is quite sure how and when it will all end. But the hands on the Brexit Clock are spinning so fast now they could spin a befuddled Britannia out of the EU without a deal by next week’s deadline.

It’s a worry.

Reassurance

But here comes Dr Merkel again with her annual application of reassurance for the Irish. This time though, Ireland is the host and she is the guest of an anxious nation.

When Angela and Leo meet under the portico of Farmleigh House, her demeanour is scrutinised for any hint that Germany’s unswerving solidarity is beginning to crumble.

When they return before the cameras and microphone after their discussion, the Chancellor’s words are analysed to see if the most powerful woman in Europe is still willing to back Dublin all the way.

She said all the right things, managing the feat of delivering vague answers to the crucial question of what will happen to the Irish border in the event of a hard Brexit, but in a most galvanising way. Germany will work “until the very last hour” and “do everything possible” to prevent a no deal Brexit.

“We simply have to be successful,” she said, twice.

“Ireland and Germany are very much of the one mind,” said the Taoiseach.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said the Chancellor.

Optimism is the best policy. Varadkar and Merkel expressed the hope that a no deal outcome can be avoided.

The Taoiseach talked about what would happen “in the unlikely event that we will end up in a no deal scenario”. It didn’t involve individual oxygen masks falling from the seat panels above our heads but “a challenge we will be up to”.

The government will continue to take encouragement from the Chancellor’s words spoken under the empire chandeliers in Farmleigh.

But in the end, Dr Merkel’s message was one of “wait and see”.

But no need to worry.

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