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Friday 22 September 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# Biden His Time
Joe Biden and Bertie Ahern urge action on Stormont collapse
The US president said the North has an ‘incredible opportunity’ for economic growth.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 16th 2023, 11:51 AM

NORTHERN IRELAND HAS an “incredible opportunity” for economic growth, US president Joe Biden has said, as he pledged to continue to work with the UK and Irish governments to restore devolution.

“We have more to do in the North,” the president told reporters in Delaware yesterday.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has similarly called for action to restore Stormont powersharing, as he praised Rishi Sunak’s efforts to break the impasse over post-Brexit trade.

On his four-day visit to the island of Ireland, Biden claimed “hundreds” of US corporations were ready to invest in the North – but were “cautious” about the lack of devolved government in the region.

He also said the UK should be working more closely with the Irish government to support the people of Northern Ireland.

The president again addressed the powersharing impasse at Stormont yesterday when he was back in the United States.

Devolution is in cold storage at Stormont due to a political impasse over post-Brexit trade.

“We have more to do to get the government formed. And I think we can still do that and it’s important,” he said.

“And I’ll continue to work with the Prime Minister of England as well as the Taoiseach.”

Bertie Ahern

Biden’s visit to Northern Ireland came as the region marks the 25th anniversary of the landmark Good Friday peace accord that created Stormont’s powersharing institutions.

president-biden-visit-to-the-island-of-ireland PA Joe Biden delivers his keynote speech at Ulster University PA

The DUP is blocking those institutions in protest at Brexit trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It has said the framework does not go far enough to address its concerns over sovereignty.

There had been speculation that Biden would address the Stormont Assembly on his visit north of the border, but that plan did not materialise, with suggestions that the powersharing deadlock was a determining factor.

Throughout his trip to the island, Biden repeatedly expressed hopes of a return to devolution north of the border and insisted stable governance at Stormont could deliver an economic windfall for the region.

Bertie Ahern has urged the DUP to reach a compromise to restore Stormont powersharing.

He said it was not tenable or sustainable for the party to stick rigidly to the same position.

Ahern commended Sunak’s attempts to secure a return to devolution as he said Ireland had experienced “great difficulty” in its dealings with Boris Johnson during the Brexit process.

Asked in an interview with Sky News what his message to the current DUP leadership would be, he said past unionist political leaders in Northern Ireland, such as the late David Trimble and Ian Paisley and also Peter Robinson, had shown a willingness to compromise to make progress.

“You do not make much progress in politics if you don’t do that,” he said.

“And I think we have to get away from, you know, ‘this is the position and no other position is satisfactory’, it’s not tenable or sustainable.

“And it’s not in the interests of the people in Northern Ireland – there are huge issues in Northern Ireland, as there is everywhere else.”

Ahern said the Windsor Framework “nearly solves” the issues standing in the way of a return to powersharing.

“There seems to be a few outstanding ones that have to be resolved,” he added.

The former Fianna Fáil leader contrasted Sunak’s approach with that taken by Johnson.

“To be honest, it doesn’t really matter to me who the prime minister of the United Kingdom is, that’s a matter for the United Kingdom, but you will appreciate that we found it very difficult to deal with Boris,” he said.

“He seems to be a very colourful guy and a very nice guy but, you know, we had the trouble with the backstop, we had trouble with the protocol, we had a lot of trouble with Brexit in the first place.

Quite frankly, I don’t think we would have had the institutions in Northern Ireland down on and off for the last six or seven years if it hadn’t been for Brexit and it’s caused us untold difficulties and problems.

“But we try in Ireland to live in the future and we try and get on with things.

“Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister has really done a good job in our estimation here in the last six months, he has invigorated the efforts to get everything working in Northern Ireland.”

Ahern referred to Sunak’s attendance last November at the British Irish Council – one of the east/west bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement.

He said it was “quite odd” that prior to that engagement a UK PM had not attended such a meeting in 15 years.

Ahern said that level of engagement is what he believed US President Joe Biden was referring to last week when he said the UK should be working more closely with the Irish government to support the people of Northern Ireland.

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