Joe Biden in Northern Ireland: “Things are changing here”

Historic visit of Joe Biden to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The President of the United States arrived yesterday in Belfast, the first stop on his journey, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreements which in 1998 ended the long and bloody conflict of the Troubles in Ulster. He remains in Northern Ireland for only half a day, then he will spend three days in the Republic of Ireland where he will meet the president, the prime minister, make a speech in Parliament and stop in counties Louth and Mayo to meet his family and speak to the citizens. Biden this morning took a walk in Belfast, in British Ulster, among crowded sympathizers and armored security devices.

“Protecting the Good Friday Accords is a priority for the United States”

The US president began his speech at Ulster University in Belfast by recalling his last visit in 1991: “When you couldn’t have a glass building in this neighborhood why wouldn’t it be standing. But things are changing” . The US president then recalled that there were no guarantees that the Good Friday agreement would last. “Peace was not inevitable, it took long, hard years of work to get there.” Biden also paid tribute to some of Northern Ireland’s political leaders of that period. “At the time, a peaceful future seemed so far away. Protecting the Good Friday Accords is a priority for the United States,” he added.

The visit to Northern Ireland

Before taking off from Maryland, the president made “preserving the peace agreement” in Northern Ireland a priority for his trip. Indeed, in 1998 the United States had been the “guarantor” of the Good Friday Agreement signed by the leaders of the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as by local political representatives. Another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, sent Senator George Mitchell as his emissary. Biden “will also have the opportunity to interact” with “each” of the leaders of the five main regional parties, although there will not be “a formal group meeting,” the White House explained. The president is expected to address the new campus of Ulster University where he will deliver a speech on the quarter century of peace in the province of the United Kingdom. The speech was preceded by a face-to-face between Biden and the British premier Rishi Sunak, who received him yesterday evening upon his arrival, extended to follow in the presence of local leaders of the various Protestant unionist parties, Catholic republicans or inter-confessionals – of Northern Ireland. “I’m here to listen,” Biden said on the sidelines of the meeting with Sunak.

The moment of crisis

Biden’s visit of less than a day to Northern Ireland coincides with a moment of crisis for the peace process and with the political paralysis caused by the rejection by the Democratic Unionist Party (Dup) – Northern Ireland’s second largest formation – at the new Windsor Framework Agreement, the Windsor agreement, negotiated by London and Brussels to adapt the ‘province’ to post-Brexit trade agreements. The unionist veto comes from afar, because the Dup – which was for Brexit in the 2016 referendum – also opposed the Protocol for Northern Ireland, which was later replaced by the Windsor Framework. In this context, the Dup still refuses to share with the nationalist Sinn Fe’in, the first formation in the region after the historic victory in last May’s elections, the autonomous executive of Belfast, one of the fundamental principles of the Good Friday Agreement .

The security problems

In the province there was no shortage of security alerts: to that of the London government, which as a precaution had raised the terrorism alarm in Ulster from “significant” to “severe”, the second step on the danger scale, in view of the recurrences related to the Good Friday Agreement, was followed by last week by the Northern Irish police concerning the dissident republican fringe of the New IRA, who recently returned to action with an ambush of Chief Inspector John Caldwell, who was seriously injured. Furthermore, on 10 April there were riots and clashes with the police in Derry (Londonderry according to the British and unionist names) as part of a march parallel to the celebrations of the agreement promoted by a group of dissident republicans. Before arriving in the Northern Irish capital, Biden insisted that his “big priority” is to ensure that “the Irish agreements and the Windsor agreement remain in force, and that the peace is maintained”.

The controversy over the duration of Biden’s visit

There was no lack of controversy over the duration of Biden’s visit by the unionist front which pointed out that the US president, of Southern Irish family roots, stopped in Ulster for only a few hours and then moved to the Republic of Ireland for three days , from tonight until April 14, to devote himself both to political meetings with the leaders of Dublin and to a tour of the home counties of his father and mother’s ancestors. Sources in the White House have for their part underlined Biden’s commitment to unreservedly support both peace and the economy of Northern Ireland, denying that he has inherited any prejudice with Irish blood, much less “hatred against United Kingdom”.

The return to the origins

The last Irish-born Catholic president to visit Ireland was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Now it’s Biden’s turn who, after the stop in Northern Ireland, will go to the Republic of Ireland where he will make a speech to Parliament and a speech in front of the cathedral of St. Muredach, whose construction was attended by an ancestor of him. For the president, the visit has various meanings. It is a return “home” but also a political mission to ensure that the “Irish agreements and the Windsor Agreement remain firm and keep the peace”, explained the president himself. Stops are planned in County Louth and County Mayo, in what will be the most exciting journey for Biden because it is from there that his ancestors left for the United States in the 1800s.