Joe Biden has brought words of encouragement and offers of investment on his visit to Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the region’s Good Friday peace agreement.
After an informal meeting with Rishi Sunak, the US president expressed support for the British prime minister’s compromise deal with the EU on Northern Ireland trade arrangements.
“Your history is our history, and even more important your future is America’s future,” he said. “Today Belfast is the beating heart of Northern Ireland and it’s poised to drive unprecedented economic opportunity investment from communities across the UK, across Ireland and across the United States. The simple truth is that peace and economic opportunity go together.”
During a speech in Belfast, US President Joe Biden expressed hope that Northern Ireland will “not go back” to an era of deadly violence that was capped by the Belfast Good Friday agreement.
Biden is in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the US-brokered deal that brought peace to the region and largely ended decades of sectarian violence that killed 3,600 people. But a new political crisis has recently tested its strength.
“[The accord] is something that brings Washington together, it brings America together,” Biden said in a speech at Ulster University.
He also credited people who were willing to “risk boldly for the future” by reaching the agreement.
On his first presidential visit to Northern Ireland, Biden stressed that American investment can help fuel economic growth — especially if the fractious politicians in Belfast resolve a stalemate that has put their government on pause.
Biden’s speech navigated Northern Ireland’s complex political currents, referring to his British as well as Irish ancestry, and noting the contribution to the US of largely Protestant Ulster Scots as well as Irish Catholics like his own forebears.
Biden arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening when he was greeted at Belfast International Airport by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Sunak said after the meeting that he and Biden had a “very good discussion” about investment in Northern Ireland, along with foreign policy issues.
He noted that he and Biden had met last month in California and that they’d be seeing each other again in May at a world leader summit in Japan, followed by Sunak’s White House visit in June.
“We’re very close partners and allies. We cooperate on a range of things,” Sunak said.
Political tensions in Northern Ireland
Biden will also hold talks with the leader and representatives of Northern Ireland’s fractious political parties. But he’s not scheduled to visit Stormont, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Northern Ireland is currently without a functioning government. Stormont has been suspended since the Democratic Unionist Party, which formed half of a power-sharing government, walked out a year ago.
Northern Ireland’s political crisis stems, in part, from Brexit. The UK’s departure from the European Union left Northern Ireland poised uneasily between the rest of the UK and EU member Ireland and put the peace agreement under increased strain.
After much wrangling, the UK and the EU struck a deal in February to address the tensions over trade, which had urged London and Brussels to end their post-Brexit feud.
Biden also called on all sides to get back to work, saying “democracy needs champions” and that Northern Ireland’s future is in their hands. “That’s a judgement for you to make, not me, but I hope it happens,” he said.
The US president is spending less than 24 hours in Northern Ireland before moving on to the Republic of Ireland, where he will address the Dublin parliament, attend a gala banquet and visit a brace of ancestral hometowns in the east and west of the country during a three-day visit.