State visit: Biden in Ireland: Exploiting economic potential

25 years after the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, during a visit to Belfast, US President Joe Biden appealed to the people in the former troubled region to keep the peace and exploit the province's economic potential.

State visit: Biden in Ireland: Exploiting economic potential

25 years after the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, during a visit to Belfast, US President Joe Biden appealed to the people in the former troubled region to keep the peace and exploit the province's economic potential. "Peace and prosperity belong together," Biden said Wednesday at a speech at Ulster University in the Northern Irish capital of Belfast. "Keep the peace, unleash this incredible economic potential that is just beginning to unfold," he said, pledged the US would continue to stand with the British continent as it builds the future.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 ended decades of bloody conflict between majority Catholic supporters of uniting the two parts of Ireland and predominantly Protestant supporters of Northern Ireland's union with Britain.

In Belfast, Biden recognized the courage and determination of the people of Northern Ireland. "Looking back, we forget how hard-won and how amazing the peace was back then," said the Democrat. The USA had played an important mediating role in bringing about the historic peace agreement.

Biden sees a common future

"Their story is our story," Biden said, addressing the people of Northern Ireland. "But more importantly, your future is America's future." Northern Ireland's gross domestic product has doubled since peace was signed in 1998. "I predict it will triple as things continue to move in the right direction." Many American companies are interested in investing in Northern Ireland. And keeping the peace in the former troubled province is a priority for both parties in the US. Such unity is a rarity in US politics today. "It's important to us, the Americans, and to me personally," said Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage.

The US President called for celebrating the 25th anniversary of the agreement with a commitment to renewal and repairing past damage. In his speech, Biden tried to spread a spirit of optimism. Where barbed wire once divided the city, Ulster University now stands as a cathedral of learning. Today, Belfast is a place for commerce, art and inspiration. "The dividends of peace are all around us."

A quarter of a century after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the region is still struggling with 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 separated by denomination. Shortly before the Biden visit, there were isolated riots in which a police car was set on fire.

Political paralysis persists

The province has also been suffering from political paralysis for more than a year over the dispute over Brexit rules for Northern Ireland. The so-called Windsor Agreement concluded by London and Brussels at the end of February to settle the dispute changed nothing. The Protestant Unionist party DUP is stubborn and demands further concessions. According to the Good Friday Agreement, the two largest parties from both denominational camps must agree on forming a government in Northern Ireland, otherwise the self-government will remain unable to act. Not even the regional parliament can meet.

Biden praised the London-Brussels deal and called on the parties in Northern Ireland to rejoin a joint government. However, he emphasized that this was a decision of the parties involved. With a view to meeting the leaders of the major parties in Northern Ireland, Biden also stressed that he wanted to listen. In any case, hardly anyone believed that the US President could bring about a breakthrough.

Biden also met with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during his visit to Belfast. The British government said afterwards that both had expressed their hope that parliament and government in Northern Ireland would be able to function again as soon as possible. Sunak did not stay for Biden's speech at the university.

Biden traveled to Ireland immediately after the speech in Belfast. Several stops are planned there: In addition to political talks in the Irish capital Dublin, the democrat is planning visits to various places in the country where his ancestors come from. A trip to County Louth in north-east Ireland was initially planned for Wednesday. According to the White House, Biden will be accompanied on the trip by his son Hunter and sister Valerie. The 80-year-old will remain on the Emerald Isle until Friday.

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