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Reaction in Ireland to President Biden's visit is lukewarm

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Joe Biden urged politicians in Northern Ireland yesterday to settle their differences and reopen the government there. Biden was in Belfast to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement, which ended Northern Ireland's low-level civil war known as the Troubles. For more on the president's trip to the island of Ireland this week, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is in Dublin. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Frank, Biden wasn't in Belfast very long. How did he spend his time there?

LANGFITT: Well, he met with these political parties yesterday up in Belfast, and he urged them, as you were saying, to get the government operating again. Northern Ireland is governed through this sort of special system. It's a power-sharing arrangement which was part of the peace agreement. But because of a dispute over the impacts of Brexit, the Democratic Unionist Party, they would like Northern Ireland to remain a part of the U.K. They just won't participate. So the Northern Ireland Assembly has been shut down for more than a year, and this is what Biden said in his speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: A government that works to find ways through hard problems together is going to 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.

LANGFITT: And, you know, Leila, what's really striking about those words is you have an American president in Belfast to celebrate the Good Friday Agreement, which, of course, was brokered by the U.S. It was a big foreign policy achievement at the time. But at the same time, right now, he's got to acknowledge that a key pillar of that agreement, the power-sharing arrangement - it isn't even operating.

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, people who remember the Troubles in the 1970s and '80s will recall a Belfast of barbed wire and bombings. How different is it all these decades later?

LANGFITT: It's very, very different.

FADEL: Yeah.

LANGFITT: It's a very safe city. Biden spoke yesterday - he made a point about this - in this glass atrium at the Ulster University campus there. And he said he'd been in the same spot all the way back in 1991 and that a building like that with all that glass would never have withstood the political violence of the time. But he also said to the audience, you know, that politicians and businesses need to do more to keep, you know, Northern Ireland moving forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: It's up to us to keep this going, to keep building on the work that has been done every day for the last 25 years, to sustain the peace, unleash this incredible economic opportunity which is just beginning.

LANGFITT: And, Leila, Biden spoke about a U.S. trade mission later this year. But otherwise, there were not a lot of specifics on exactly what the U.S. might do to help Northern Ireland continue to develop.

FADEL: And what was the reception like for Biden's visit, his speech?

LANGFITT: Yeah, this was interesting. Belfast doesn't get a lot of, you know, global leaders. It's not a major place that people go. There were people out lining up on the sidewalks to see the motorcade, but the political response was kind of lukewarm. A leader of the Democratic Unionists, he said Biden's word would not make any difference in the party's decision about whether to reopen the government, which it's not going to do right now. And there was this opinion column headline in the Belfast Telegraph that called the address, quote, "as bland and beige as they come."

FADEL: Now, Biden is now in the Irish Republic, planning to visit his roots, which seems to be the centerpiece of this trip. What's he up to there?

LANGFITT: Yeah, he's going to talk to the Irish parliament today. And last night he was at a castle, which was, he thinks, the last landmark of Ireland that one of his great-great-grandfathers would have seen sailing to New York in 1849. And he just said it was wonderful to be back in Ireland. The quote was, "feels like I'm coming home."

FADEL: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Dublin. Thank you so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Hey, great to talk, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.