Biden Celebrates a Northern Ireland ‘Made Whole by Peace’ as Tensions Persist

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — President Biden on Wednesday made what amounted to a diplomatic toe dip in Northern Ireland, a territory he said had been “made whole by peace” in the decades since the Good Friday agreement brought an end to sectarian violence.

“Your history is our history, but more important, your future is America’s future,” Mr. Biden said during brief remarks at Ulster University, his only public appearance in Belfast before a departure to explore his Irish heritage in the Republic of Ireland. He emphasized that Northern Ireland was poised to continue benefiting from economic transformation: “Peace and economic opportunity go together.”

During his short stay in Belfast — a whirlwind stop ahead of several days of Biden family-related excursions — the president and his advisers generally tried to avoid thorny questions surrounding politics in Northern Ireland, where the legislature has been deadlocked after the Democratic Unionist Party pulled out over post-Brexit trade concerns. He told reporters earlier in the day that he was “going to listen” during brief exchanges with leaders of the region’s five main political parties. Mr. Biden met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain before the speech.

But in his remarks at Ulster, Mr. Biden encouraged the government to overcome its divisions and work as “an effective, devolved government that reflects the people of Northern Ireland and is accountable to them,” adding, “that’s a judgment for you to make, not me, but I hope it happens.”

The president’s visit comes amid a flare-up of political violence that has Belfast’s police on heightened alert, but ahead of the visit, John Kirby, a White House spokesman, played down concerns about Mr. Biden’s safety while in Belfast.

“We don’t ever talk about security requirements of protecting the president,” Mr. Kirby said. “But the president is more than comfortable making this trip, and he’s very excited to do it.”

Commenting on the attempted murder earlier this year of a Northern Ireland police detective, Mr. Biden urged political rivals in the region not to let the enemies of peace win.

“Northern Ireland will not go back, pray God,” he said. “The attack was a hard reminder that there will always be those who seek to destroy it, rather than rebuild. But the lesson of the Good Friday Agreement is this: In times when things seem fragile, or easily broken, that is when hope and hard work are needed the most.”

His remarks recognized the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a peace treaty that ended decades of bloody sectarian violence between Northern Irish factions. It was negotiated with the help of the United States, ushering in political power sharing and, for the most part, a cessation of political violence.

For most of his time in Ireland this week, Mr. Biden will be engaged in a sentimental trip through the Irish countryside, where his ancestors lived before making their way across the Atlantic.

Mr. Biden is far from the first president to claim Irish ancestry, and he is certainly not alone among American politicians who embrace the Emerald Isle. But he may be the most exuberant, having once adapted a line from James Joyce by saying that when he dies, “Ireland will be written on my soul.”

But Mr. Biden’s enthusiasm for Ireland has drawn questions about whether he is sympathetic to the nationalists, who seek a united Ireland, over the unionists, who want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

On Wednesday, reporters asked several times whether Mr. Biden “hates” the United Kingdom, given his past support for republicans in Northern Ireland. (As a senator in 1985, he spoke out against making it easier to extradite Irish Republican Army militants to Britain from the United States.)

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“It’s simply not true,” Ms. Sloat said. “President Biden obviously is a very proud Irish American. He is proud of those Irish roots, but he’s also a strong supporter of our bilateral partnership with the U.K.”

After departing Belfast on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden will spend far less time on policy, though he will address the Irish Parliament and host discussions with the country’s president and prime minister. White House officials said those discussions would touch on the “wide range of interests” between the two countries, including economic cooperation and the effort to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression.

But even White House officials have made little effort to describe Mr. Biden’s trip as a policy one. It is personal for the president, they said, and most of his time will be spent in the countryside. Mr. Biden was accompanied on the trip to Ireland by Valerie Biden Owens, his sister, and Hunter Biden, his son. Both traveled from the United States with the president on Air Force One. Jill Biden, the first lady, stayed behind.

He will visit castles and perhaps a pub or two in County Louth — home of the Finnegans and the Kearneys, his ancestors on one side of the family — and take a tour of a shrine and a cathedral in County Mayo, where he will meet with some of the remaining Blewitts, his ancestors on the other side.

In Louth, Mr. Biden will pay homage to Owen Finnegan, his great-great-grandfather, who was a shoemaker and emigrated to the United States in 1849, and other members of the family. Rob Kearney, a retired professional rugby player who lives in County Louth, is Mr. Biden’s fifth cousin, once removed. Both are related to John Finnegan and Mary Kearney, who were Mr. Biden’s great-great-great-grandparents.

In County Mayo, the president will tour the Family History Research Unit at the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Center, which has assembled a genealogical database with more than 1.2 million records to track the ancestry of people from the county.

For Mr. Biden, that history includes Edward Blewitt and Mary Mulderg (who was also known as Mary Reddington), his great-great-great-grandparents. The president will visit St. Muredach’s Cathedral, which is constructed in part from thousands of bricks that, according to the White House, Mr. Blewitt sold in 1828. Mr. Blewitt used the proceeds from the sale to purchase tickets for himself and his family to sail to the United States on the S.S. Excelsior in 1851.

Mr. Biden’s visit is not his first personal trip to Ireland. In his final months as vice president, Mr. Biden spent six days traveling through the Irish countryside. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in law from Trinity College and delivered a speech at Dublin Castle.

This time, Mr. Biden will speak at St. Muredach’s Cathedral on Friday evening before boarding Air Force One for the overnight flight back to Washington.

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