In a recent display of diplomatic ties, US President Joe Biden and PM Rishi Sunak have once again pledged their support for the Good Friday Agreement. While the region has seen its fair share of strife, it has also been visited by a number of US presidents who have lent their support to the cause. Biden, in particular, has been known to be no stranger to the island, having made a brief visit before heading south for three days.
During his time there, Biden endeavored to coax the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) back into power sharing, even promising to increase the US investment in Northern Ireland to a staggering $6 billion. However, the DUP have remained stubborn in their resistance, stating that they will not return to Stormont until PM Sunak takes steps to remove the remaining Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. “We will not be bought,” declared Sammy Wilson, the DUP Whip, in his typically blunt fashion.
Despite this, both Biden and Sunak remained hopeful that the Stormont power-sharing administration could be restored, acknowledging the 25 years of peace underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. Biden also took the opportunity to visit his ancestral home in County Louth before heading to the Irish Republic for high-level talks.
Sunak praised Biden’s ambition to restore institutions in the region, noting that it is what people and businesses in Northern Ireland deserve. Biden, for his part, expressed his belief that democratic institutions established in the Good Friday Agreement remain critical for the future of Northern Ireland. “It is a decision for you to make,” he said.
As is often the case with high-level diplomatic visits, there were some tense moments. Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, accused Biden of hating the UK, an accusation that was promptly denied by the Americans. Nevertheless, Biden gave a rousing speech to a young audience in Belfast, emphasizing the importance of power-sharing and dangling the prospect of billions more in American investment if politicians restarted Stormont. He also spoke of the transformative effect of peace on Northern Ireland.
While Biden’s visit to Northern Ireland was brief, his primary focus was on Ireland and his family heritage. However, some have expressed disappointment in this, with Downing Street acknowledging that the primary focus of the visit was Ireland, not the UK.
It’s worth noting that Biden is not the first American president to visit Ireland. Before Biden there was President Kennedy and also President Clinton who was instrumental in securing the Good Friday Agreement.
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