Joe Biden visits Northern Ireland to try to relaunch the political dialogue that has been blocked for more than a year

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the peace agreement, Joe Biden, arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening April 11

Joe Biden visits Northern Ireland to try to relaunch the political dialogue that has been blocked for more than a year

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the peace agreement, Joe Biden, arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening April 11. The American president, who was welcomed on his arrival by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, will only spend a few hours in the British province. He is then expected, until Friday, on the lands of his ancestors, in the Republic of Ireland.

Before this very sentimental part of his trip, a more delicate stage awaits Joe Biden in Belfast, who came accompanied by Joe Kennedy, his special envoy for Northern Ireland, and a descendant of the most famous Irish political lineage - American. Through this visit to the British province bruised by the bloody decades of the "Troubles", the American president signals the attention he pays to the peace process, but also, more recently, to the political tensions agitating Northern Ireland. His priority will be to "keep the peace," he said before taking off from Washington on Air Force One.

He is due to meet on Wednesday, in a way that is meant to be informal, the leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland, while the institutions of the British province have not been functioning for more than a year.

Disagreements over Brexit

On April 10, 1998, the day that year of Good Friday, preceding Easter, the Republicans, in favor of reunification with Ireland, and the Unionists, attached to maintaining within the United Kingdom, won an agreement of unexpected peace 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 with no particular jubilation on Monday and was even marred by incidents targeting police in the border town of Londonderry.

Mr. Sunak underlined on Monday that the anniversary of the agreement was an opportunity to "celebrate those who made difficult decisions, accepted compromises and showed leadership". A compromise that seems, twenty-five years later, 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 disagreements related to Brexit.

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, and Joe Biden has never hidden that he would oppose London reneging on its international commitments to satisfy the Unionists. The British government recently reached a compromise with the Europeans, officially called the "Windsor Framework", but the DUP remains adamant.

Belfast under tight security

The American president will have a meeting with Mr. Sunak on Wednesday morning, before giving a speech at Ulster University in Belfast, a city placed under high security with police reinforcements from all over the United Kingdom. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who came to power in 1998, warned on the BBC that any American influence had to be "cautious and sensitive" with 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.

Mr Biden is due to meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and President Michael D. Higgins on Thursday. 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.