U.S. President Joe Biden arrives at Belfast International Airport, in Belfast
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Jane Hartley greet U.S. President Joe Biden next to Joe Kennedy upon Biden's arrival at RAF Aldergrove airbase in County Antrim, Northern Ireland April 11, 2023. Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden urged Northern Irish political leaders to restore their power-sharing government with the promise that scores of major U.S. corporations were ready to invest in the region as he marked the 25th anniversary of peace in Belfast.

Biden, who is fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, spent just over half a day in the UK region - where he met British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak - before leaving for the Irish Republic for two-and-a-half days of speeches and meetings with officials and distant relatives.

The brief Belfast stop was against the backdrop of the latest political stalemate in which the devolved power-sharing government, a key part of the 1998 peace deal, has not met for more than a year due to a dispute about post-Brexit trade arrangements.

U.S. President Joe Biden visits Northern Ireland
An Irish tricolour flag with the words 'No 2 NATO' appears on the side of Black Mountain overnight, as US President Biden visits Northern Ireland, in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 12, 2023. Reuters

"It took long, hard years of work to get to this place," Biden said in a speech at the new Ulster University campus in Belfast, remarking how the city had been transformed since he first travelled there as a young senator.

"Today's Belfast is the beating heart of Northern Ireland and is poised to drive unprecedented economic opportunity. There are scores of major American corporations wanting to come here wanting to invest."

The 1998 peace accord was backed by the U.S. and largely ended 30 years of bloodshed between mainly Roman Catholic nationalist opponents and mainly Protestant unionist supporters of British rule. But political progress has been held back by a series of disputes, most recently over how Britain's departure from the European Union affects the border with EU member Ireland.

Biden said power-sharing remained critical to the future of Northern Ireland and that an effective devolved government would "draw even greater opportunity in this region".

"So I hope the assembly and the executive will soon be restored. That's a judgment for you to make, not me, but I hope it happens," he told an audience that included the leaders of Northern Ireland's five main political parties.

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Britain's PM Rishi Sunak in Belfast
US President Joe Biden (L) reacts as he meets with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Belfast on April 12, 2023, as part of a four day trip to Northern Ireland and Ireland for the 25th anniversary commemorations of the "Good Friday Agreement". Paul Faith/Pool via REUTERS. Reuters


Biden said the recent Windsor Framework deal between the European Union and Britain to ease post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom offered the stability and predictability to encourage greater investment.

That deal has so far failed to convince the region's largest pro-British party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to end a boycott of the local assembly. Power-sharing has endured multiple breakdowns and suspensions since 1998.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said Biden's visit - the first to the region by a U.S. president in 10 years - did not change the political dynamic around his party's protest against the trade rules that treat the province differently to the rest of the UK.

The DUP wants further changes around the UK/EU deal and will put proposals to the British government within the next few weeks, Donaldson said. London has said the deal cannot be renegotiated.

Donaldson, who like other local leaders had a short one-on-one meeting with Biden, said the president made clear that he was not in Belfast to interfere and that his speech "was much more balanced than we have heard perhaps in the past".

U.S. President Joe Biden visits Ireland
U.S. President Joe Biden tours Carlingford Castle, in County Louth, Ireland April 12, 2023. Reuters

Present and former DUP colleagues earlier described Biden as "anti-British" and "hating the United Kingdom", prompting a While House official to say the president's track record "shows that he's not anti-British".

But Britain's departure from the EU has at times strained ties between Britain and Biden's White House as London and Brussels struggled to find a divorce deal that would not damage the principles of the peace agreement.

Sunak said he spoke to Biden on Wednesday about "incredible economic opportunities" for Northern Ireland, their hope that power-sharing will be restored as soon as possible, and described both countries as "very close partners".

The pair met over tea at the Belfast hotel Biden stayed in overnight.

One of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, said it was a "big own goal" that Northern Ireland had no functioning parliament to greet the president.


Biden swapped clear skies in Northern Ireland for rain south of the border as he began his Irish tour in County Louth - midway between Belfast and Dublin - where his great-grandfather, James Finnegan, was born.

"It feels wonderful. It feels like I'm coming home," said Biden, wearing a baseball cap as he looked out from Carlingford Castle across the water towards Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland where his great-great-grandfather, shoemaker Owen Finnegan, left for the U.S. in 1849. His family followed a year later.

Biden was joined at the castle by Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister, Miche?l Martin, and his most famous distant cousin, Rob Kearney. The Louth native is one of Ireland's most successful former rugby players.

Biden, who will meet relatives from another side of his family in the western county of Mayo on Friday, where he will also make a public address, was unperturbed by the weather.

"It's Ireland," he joked.

The locals who lined the streets of Carlingford and nearby Dundalk - where the teetotal Biden met more relatives at the Windsor Bar after shaking hands around the town - were just as enthusiastic.

"Welcoming home a president of the United States, who would ever have thought we'd be doing that," said Carlingford resident Michael Farrow, wearing an American flag draped over a plastic rain poncho.

(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Belfast, Aiden Nulty in Louth, Hanna Rantala in Dublin, Sachin Ravikumar and Kate Holton in London; Editing by Peter Graff, Alex Richardson and Jonathan Oatis)