PM praises Good Friday peace ahead of Biden visit

time:2023-06-02 15:43:37source:BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation) author:Press center8

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the Good Friday Agreement as an "incredible moment in our nation's history" as he prepares to commemorate its 25th anniversary with US President Joe Biden in Belfast this week.

The 1998 peace deal ended Northern Ireland's decades-long violent conflict known as the Troubles.

Mr Sunak will welcome the US president to Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening.

They will attend events in Belfast to mark 25 years since the agreement.

The prime minister said the agreement was a "powerfully rare example of people doing the previously unthinkable to create a better future" for Northern Ireland.

"It is that promise of a better future that we offered to everyone in Northern Ireland that I will be thinking of first and foremost over the coming days," he said.

"Making good" on that promise was his responsibility as prime minister, he added.

EXPLAINER - What is the agreement?

ANALYSIS - The winding road to peace

REFLECTION - Is the role of women forgotten?

On Sunday Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said he planned to "intensify" engagement with Mr Sunak about power-sharing and post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

"One thing I've been struck by watching all the documentaries around the history of the Good Friday Agreement was the extent to which the taoiseach and the prime minister had to be in lock-step," he said.

"Now that we have the [Windsor Framework] agreement on the [Northern Ireland] Protocol I think it's possible to do that.

"Certainly since Brexit and even before Brexit that sort of level of cooperation between the two governments, the two governments working hand-in-hand, hasn't been the same.

"That's largely because we found ourselves in very different positions."

Mr Sunak will address a Queen's University Belfast conference about the Good Friday Agreement and host a gala dinner on 19 April to commemorate the anniversary.

He has also announced that the UK will host a Northern Ireland investment summit in September.

It will connect international investors with Northern Ireland businesses and showcase the "best of what Northern Ireland has to offer", said the government.

President Biden is due to make a speech at Ulster University's newly-opened Belfast campus on Wednesday.

It is understood that he will leave Northern Ireland that afternoon to travel to the Republic of Ireland.

His visit to Northern Ireland will be shorter than many people had expected when it was first announced last month.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald expressed disappointment that Mr Biden would not be addressing assembly members at Stormont.

"The eyes of the world are on Ireland and the north of Ireland in particular and we have a limbo situation," she said on Sunday.

The president's visit to Northern Ireland was more "low key" than his trip to the Republic of Ireland, she added.

But the UK and Irish governments have said it should not be seen as a snub.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said people should "make the most" of the visit and ensure it was a "positive event".

Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin said it would be a "manifestation of [Mr Biden's] genuine commitment to the people of Northern Ireland".

"There are many countries across the EU that would love a visit from the American president," he added.

Police in Northern Ireland have said their resources will be stretched during the president's visit.

Last week it said it had "very strong intelligence" that dissident republicans were planning attacks in Londonderry to coincide with Easter and Good Friday Agreement events.

More officers are being put on frontline duty for the coming days.

During his three days in the Republic of Ireland, Mr Biden will attend engagements in Dublin, County Louth, and County Mayo.

The White House has said he is expected to address the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) on Thursday.

The taoiseach said he was delighted that President Biden would be visiting Ireland.

"When we spoke recently in the White House President Biden was clear that in celebrating the Good Friday Agreement we should be looking ahead, not backwards," said Mr Varadkar.

Declan Harvey and Tara Mills explore the text of the Good Friday Agreement - the deal which heralded the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

They look at what the agreement actually said and hear from some of the people who helped get the deal across the line.

Listen to all episodes of Year '98: The Making of the Good Friday Agreement on BBC Sounds.

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