Biden Visits Ireland as Political Tensions Persist

On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden concluded his brief visit to Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement — a landmark peace deal that effectively ended decades of sectarian conflict in the fractious British province, declaring that “peace and economic opportunity go together.”

Prior to Biden’s arrival on Tuesday evening, tensions were high due to post-Brexit trade issues that have created new political pressures that prompted British unionist politicians to withdraw from the power-sharing government last year. Despite the signing of a new trade deal between the U.K. and the European Union last month, Northern Irish unionists are refusing to return to the government. It has been said that the deal leaves some EU laws in place that would pull Northern Ireland closer to the Republic of Ireland — an EU member — and further from the U.K., which is no longer a member of the European Union.

Last month, U.K. authorities raised Northern Ireland’s terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe” due to threats from dissident Republicans. As a matter of fact, on Sunday, just days before Biden’s arrival, the Belfast Telegraph reported that police uncovered a Republican dissident bomb plot to coincide with President Biden’s visit.

“An attack of some sort is deemed to be potentially imminent, but that’s not a threat against the U.S. President because for years, you know, for better or for worse, they [republican dissidents] have had significant support from the United States,” Jim Gamble, former head of counter-terrorism in Northern Ireland, told CBS News.

To start off the four-day tour, Biden spoke at a new university campus downtown instead of marking the quarter-century of the Good Friday Agreement from a seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly – which has been suspended since February 2022, as unionist parties refuse to take their seats in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol. In his speech, he emphasized the importance of the Windsor Framework, which was recently negotiated by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The pact is seen on both sides of the Atlantic as a crucial step forward in addressing political tensions in Northern Ireland sparked by Britain’s departure from the European Union.

“It’s up to us to keep this going, keep building on the work that has been done every day for the last 25 years,” said President Biden. “To sustain the peace, unleash this incredible economic opportunity, which is just beginning.”

Mr. Biden also encouraged the government to overcome its divisions and work as “an effective, devolved government that reflects the people of Northern Ireland and is accountable to them,” adding, “That’s a judgment for you to make, not me, but I hope it happens.”

During his short stay in Belfast, Biden was joined by Joseph Kennedy III, the U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs, who he said would lead a trade delegation of American companies to Northern Ireland later this year during Biden’s public appearance at Ulster University. Before his remarks, he met with Mr. Sunak and greeted the province’s political leaders.

Overall, his time in Northern Ireland was brief, and following his remarks, he departed for Ireland, where he will meet political leaders and address Parliament, but spent most of his time in the countryside, connecting with distant relatives and celebrating his Irish heritage.


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