(Belfast) Joe Biden arrived in Belfast on Tuesday, where the American president is coming to celebrate twenty-five years of peace in Northern Ireland and to try to relaunch the political dialogue, which has been blocked for more than a year.
Welcomed on his arrival by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, he will only spend a few hours in the British province, before going to the Republic of Ireland.
Proud of his Irish origins, Joe Biden will visit the lands of his ancestors in the Republic of Ireland this week. But he begins his visit to the British province ravaged by the “Troubles”, a sign of the attention he pays to the peace process, but also more recently to the political tensions agitating Northern Ireland.
On April 10, 1998, the day that year of Good Friday before Easter, the Republicans in favor of reunification with Ireland and the Unionists attached to remaining within the United Kingdom won an unexpected peace agreement after intense negotiations involving London, Dublin and Washington.
The agreement ended three decades of violence that left 3,500 dead between Unionists, mostly Protestants, and Republicans, mostly Catholics, with the involvement of the British army.
A quarter of a century later, the anniversary was observed without any celebration on Monday and was even marred by incidents targeting police in the border town of Londonderry as Northern Ireland is in the midst of a political crisis.
In this climate, the arrival of the American president, who will be welcomed Tuesday evening in Belfast by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is the main event surrounding the commemorations.
On Monday, Sunak highlighted the agreement’s anniversary as a time to “celebrate those who made tough decisions, compromised and showed leadership.”
A compromise that 25 years later seems out of reach in the province, where the institutions – created as a result of the agreement and supposed to unite the communities – have been paralyzed for more than a year due to Brexit disagreements.
The unionist party DUP, viscerally attached to the province’s belonging to the United Kingdom, demands changes to the post-Brexit provisions which aim to avoid any physical border with the Republic of Ireland, and refuses in the meantime to participate in local government . The file has been closely watched in Washington in recent years where London’s desire for a time to reconsider its international commitments to satisfy the Unionists has been criticized.
The British government recently reached a compromise with the Europeans, officially called the “Windsor Framework”, but the DUP remains adamant.
Joe Biden’s priority will be to “ensure that the agreements concerning Ireland and the Windsor agreement remain in place, and maintain the peace”, he assured before taking off from Washington on board Air Strength One.
The American president will have a meeting with Mr. Sunak on Wednesday morning, before participating in a conference at Ulster University in Belfast, a city placed under high security with police reinforcements from all over the United Kingdom.
According to British media, he must meet the leaders of the five Northern Irish political parties.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who came to power in 1998, warned on the BBC that any American influence should be exercised with “caution and sensitivity” on Unionists.
Once the Northern Irish part of his visit is over, the American president must go to the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday.
Joe Biden’s family emigrated in the mid-19th century, fleeing famine-ravaged Ireland like so many others, eventually settling in Pennsylvania. As the 2024 presidential election approaches, such a narrative resonates with many voters yearning for the American dream.
On Thursday, Mr. Biden is due to meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and President Michael D. Higgins. It will also address Irish parliamentarians.
To end his visit, he will travel to the western town of Ballina, where other of his Irish ancestors come from, and deliver a speech outside the cathedral.