Northern Ireland Deadlock Hard to Break Despite Biden's Visit

April 13, 2023

During his visit to Belfast, U.S. President Joe Biden called for the restoration of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. However, analysts do not expect his plea to lead to significant change.


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An effective devolved government reflects the people of Northern Ireland and is accountable to them, a government that works to find ways through hard problems together is going to draw even greater opportunity to this region, Biden said in a speech delivered at Ulster University.

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the “Good Friday” Agreement, which brought an end to 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. Biden arrived in Belfast on Tuesday evening to mark the anniversary, which has been overshadowed by a prolonged political deadlock in the region.

In opposition to post-Brexit trade rules, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to join the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland for more than a year, raising concerns over political stability.

In February, the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) concluded a new trade arrangement for Northern Ireland after long negotiations. But the DUP has publicly stated its opposition, arguing that the agreement fails to deal with fundamental issues.

On Wednesday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson noted that Biden’s plea for political leaders to restore their power-sharing government has not changed his feelings on the matter. Biden “made that clear and to be honest he didn’t seek to apply any pressure,” Donaldson said.

Ian Scott, a professor at the University of Manchester, said that Biden has to do a lot of convincing for the people, particularly for the Unionist community and the DUP. “Inevitably, there are going to be those critics who will say that Biden is stepping into a minefield of political entanglements,” he said.

“There’s a lot at stake economically and politically for the United States, They understand that if the UK government gets further embroiled in the whole Brexit argument that’s been going on for seven years now, it takes their eye off the economic ball,” he added.

There was the promise in the aftermath of Brexit by the then UK government that there would quickly be trade deals with everybody around the world, including the United States, and it has not really happened quite that way.

After Biden’s Wednesday speech, the BBC’s Northern Ireland political correspondent Gareth Gordon said the U.S. president is “now leaving impotent to unblock a politics beyond the control of even his powerful administration.”

Ahead of Biden’s visit, clashes occurred again in Northern Ireland. Local police said they found four suspected pipe bombs in Londonderry, a city about 110 km northwest of Belfast. On Monday, officers came under attack with petrol bombs and other objects thrown at their vehicle while in attendance at an Easter parade opposing the Good Friday peace accord.

Community intelligence has shown there may be attempts to draw police into serious public disorder in Londonderry and to use that as a platform to launch terrorist attacks on the police, local police said.

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