Joe Biden to reaffirm US support for Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland

He will also spend three days in the Republic of Ireland, billed as a homecoming for the president who has Irish roots

Biden begins four-day Northern Ireland and Ireland visit

Biden begins four-day Northern Ireland and Ireland visit
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US President Joe Biden arrived in Northern Ireland late on Tuesday, on a visit marking 25 years of peace that has been dogged by the conflict’s lingering scars.

Mr Biden was greeted by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as the UK fends off suggestions that the US leader's one-day stop in Belfast is a snub to London.

His visit will be followed by a three-day stay in the Republic of Ireland, billed as a homecoming for Mr Biden, who has Irish roots.

In the north, aides said Mr Biden would hail the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and promote economic ties between the US and Northern Ireland.

They played down suggestions that Mr Biden would lean on Northern Irish politicians to resume power-sharing under the deal.

Mr Biden is not addressing the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been in limbo for months amid strained community relations.

Amid high security, his only public engagement in Belfast is an address at Ulster University on Wednesday, which will take place after talks with Mr Sunak and local party leaders.

Downing Street on Tuesday rejected the suggestion that the meeting with Mr Sunak would amount to little more than a “bi-latte”.

“We continue to have an incredibly positive working relationship with the President and the US government,” Mr Sunak’s spokesman said.

Joe Biden visits island of Ireland - in pictures

Mr Biden will use the university speech to nod to young people “changing the face” of Northern Ireland’s economy and society, said his top national security spokesman John Kirby.

It came as police said young children were involved in republican unrest in Derry that overshadowed the 25th anniversary.

Four pipe bombs were discovered in a cemetery hours before Mr Biden landed, in what police called a “sinister and worrying development”.

Police vans were attacked with petrol bombs in Derry a day earlier in a reminder of the continued threat of violence.

The 1998 peace deal — brokered in part by aides to then-president Bill Clinton — largely ended 30 years of bloodshed known as The Troubles.

It set up a system of power-sharing between mainly Protestant unionists who support Northern Ireland’s place in the UK, and largely Catholic republicans who favour a united Ireland.

But the power-sharing envisaged by the deal has often been dysfunctional and the Democratic Unionist Party walked out last year in a dispute over post-Brexit trade arrangements.

The DUP has not resumed power-sharing despite a revised Brexit deal in February that raised hopes of resolving the dispute.

Speaking aboard Air Force One, Mr Kirby said the White House would like to see the assembly restored but gave no indication that Mr Biden would put pressure on the DUP.

“The message is really a congratulations on this anniversary, and a focus on trade and economics and improving that across the board,” Mr Kirby said.

A few dissident paramilitary groups reject the Good Friday Agreement and the social divide is still prominent in Belfast.

On the streets of Belfast, The National found little enthusiasm for Mr Biden’s visit.

“Maybe when President [Bill] Clinton came over, more people would have come out,” said pastor Paul Donnelly, 56.

“I don’t think President Biden has got that same type of appeal.”

But Mr Biden seems likely to experience a warmer welcome in the Republic of Ireland when he arrives later on Wednesday.

He will visit the area in County Louth where his great-grandfather James Finnegan, born in 1840, lived before emigrating to America.

Mr Biden’s sister Valerie Biden Owens and his son Hunter Biden joined him on Air Force One for the trip.

On Thursday, Mr Biden is due to meet Irish President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar before addressing a joint session of Ireland's parliament.

Mr Biden, the first Catholic president since John F Kennedy, often speaks of his Irish roots. He previously visited Ireland in 2016 while vice president to Barack Obama.

“The President is very much looking forward to this trip, for a personal reason but also work reasons,” said Mr Biden’s spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.

Mr Biden faced further accusations of a snub to Britain when it was announced that first lady Jill Biden, not the president, would attend the coronation of King Charles III in London.

The White House said Mr Biden had accepted the king’s invitation for a state visit at a future date.

Updated: April 12, 2023, 7:26 AM