“Looking back, we forget how hard-won and how amazing the peace was back then,” said US President Joe Biden in a speech at Ulster University in the Northern Irish capital of Belfast. Peace and prosperity belonged together, emphasized the democratic politician, whose family has Irish Catholic roots.
Northern Ireland’s gross domestic product has doubled since peace was signed in 1998, Biden said, adding: “I predict it will triple if things continue to move in the right direction.” Many American companies are interested in investing in Northern Ireland. Keeping the peace in the former troubled province is a priority for both parties in the US.
The Good Friday Agreement was sealed on April 10, 1998 after intense negotiations between Dublin and London and ended three decades of bloody conflict between mostly Catholic supporters of the unification of both parts of Ireland and the predominantly Protestant supporters of the union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain in the United Kingdom. Under the then President Bill Clinton, the USA had played an important mediating role in bringing about the peace agreement that was considered historic. Clinton is expected to attend the celebrations in Belfast next week.
Joe Biden’s program of visits to Belfast started with a cup of tea with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (r.)
Political deadlock in Belfast
25 years after the agreement, the former civil war region continues to suffer from tensions and political paralysis. The long-standing dispute over the Brexit rules, which was only settled by London and Brussels at the end of February with the so-called Windsor Agreement, also contributed to this. The Protestant Unionist party DUP is stubborn and demands further concessions.
According to the Good Friday Agreement, the two largest Northern Irish parties from both denominational camps must agree on forming a government, otherwise the province’s self-government will be unable to act. As a result, Northern Ireland has not had a functioning regional government since February 2022. During the Brexit negotiations, Biden had repeatedly emphasized that the peace process in Northern Ireland should not be jeopardized by Great Britain’s exit from the EU.
Despite all the progress, the region continues to struggle with sectarian tensions. In Belfast and Londonderry, which Catholics only call Derry, Catholics and Protestants still live in different parts of the city – separated by meter-high walls and fences, so-called peace walls. Even kindergartens and schools are further separated according to denominations.
Biden welcome by the US Ambassador to the UK, Jane Hartley (middle) and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (l.)
Upon his arrival in the British province of Northern Ireland, Biden was greeted by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Even before leaving for the UK, Biden had stressed that the priority of his trip would be to “keep the peace”. The White House also said in advance that Biden would “underline the US willingness to promote the enormous economic potential of Northern Ireland for the benefit of all communities”.
Biden in the footsteps of his ancestors
From Northern Ireland, Biden will travel to the Republic of Ireland. A speech by the US President to the Irish Parliament and a meeting with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar are planned there. In addition to political talks in the capital Dublin, the Democrat is planning visits to various places in the country where his ancestors come from. He is accompanied by his son Hunter and his sister Valerie. The visit to the Irish island is scheduled to end on Friday.
uh/ehl/qu/se (dpa, afp, ap)