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Biden’s Visit to Northern Ireland Highlights the Complicated Legacy of the Good Friday Agreement

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President Joe Biden in a speech in Belfast hailed the “dividends of peace that are all around us” in Northern Ireland that was brought about by the Good Friday Agreement, as he began a visit to mark the 25th anniversary of the U.S.-brokered peace deal penned on April 10, 1998, that brought a close to three decades of violence between traditionally Catholic republicans and Protestant unionists.

He paid tribute to those who had been involved in brokering the “landmark” deal and emphasized how important it was to the region. “I think sometimes, especially with the distance of history, we forget how hard-earned, how astounding that peace was. It shifted the political gravity in our world, Biden said during his speech.

Biden’s visit comes amid political tensions in Northern Ireland, which is currently without a functioning government as the conservative and unionist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) pulled out last year in protest of post-Brexit trade rules.

Biden referenced the current political standoff, saying he hopes the Stormont Assembly will be restored but added that the U.S. is there for support. “That’s a judgment for you to make, but I hope it happens,” he said.

Biden will also be visiting the Republic of Ireland where he has family ties and to honor the connections between Ireland and the U.S.

Here’s what to know about Biden’s visit and Northern Ireland’s political climate.

Here are details of Biden’s visit to Ireland

The President met with the U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before traveling to Ulster University’s new £364 million ($452 million) Belfast campus to deliver his speech where he met with representatives from five of Northern Ireland’s political parties.

He then traveled to the Republic of Ireland for events in counties Louth and Mayo to meet his Irish family, and in Dublin before his departure Friday.

His symbolic arrival on the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement underscores his support for the accord and peace and stability in Northern Ireland. “He always stresses the fact that he supports the agreement,” says Daniel Mulhall, a former Irish ambassador to the U.S. “He seems genuinely proud of the role they [the U.S.] played in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, which was a big success for American foreign policy back in the day.”

His visit marks 23 years since President Bill Clinton last embarked on the same trip.

While the relative peace brought about by the historic agreement remains intact, cross-community relations are strained. On Monday, petrol bombs were thrown at a police vehicle during a parade by dissident republicans in Londonderry. Two weeks ago, the U.K.’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency MI5 said Northern Ireland’s terrorism threat level had increased.

“He’s coming to Northern Ireland at a time where there are some difficulties between the unionist and the nationalists but he’ll be giving a speech that I daresay will be carefully crafted to hit all the right notes,” says Mulhall.

Irish-U.S. relations are often described by the White House as a “close partnership,” with over 30 million Americans claiming Irish identity. Additionally, Ireland hosts the largest number of American students for study abroad programs, estimated at around 12,000 per year.

“Some of the earliest settlers in America came from what’s known as Northern Ireland and had a big role in the development of American political life” says Mulhall. He adds that since the Good Friday Agreement was brokered with U.S. mediation, “successive presidents have tried to do what they could to move Northern Ireland forward in the right direction as they see it.”

Read More: If Biden Is Going to Rebuild the International Order, He’ll Need a Friend Like the U.K.

As an American who is vocal about his Irish heritage, this trip is also a personal one for Biden. He has spoken about his Irish connections as the great-great-grandson of the Blewitts of County Mayo and the Finnegans of County Louth, “who boarded coffin ships to cross the Atlantic more than 165 years ago.”

What is the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement—also known as the Belfast Agreement—was signed on April 10, 1998 bringing to an end decades of conflict known as the Troubles. The political deal brought together nationalists who are aligned with the Republic of Ireland and unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain tied to the United Kingdom. It was approved by a public vote in Northern Ireland. Politicians David Trimble and John Hume—the leaders of the Ulster Unionist party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), respectively, were awarded the Nobel peace prize for their involvement in the pact and role in bringing the two sides together.

The island of Ireland was divided in two after the Irish War of Independence ended in 1921. Northern Ireland remained part of the U.K. when the Republic of Ireland became an independent state. This gave way to political tensions between nationalists and unionists. Spanning from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, armed groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) carried out bombings and shootings and British troops were deployed in Northern Ireland. Over 3,500 people died during the conflict.

The Good Friday Agreement states that Northern Ireland will remain part of the U.K. unless the national population vote to change this during a referendum. Northern Irish citizens can hold British or Irish citizenship, or both.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, a devolved government was formed that represented both nationalists and unionists. While the U.K. parliament in Westminster retains some control, the Northern Ireland Assembly, located in Stormont, Belfast, was given command over key legislation such as health and education.

The agreement’s biggest success was its ability to broadly end three decades of violence. “The Good Friday agreement has saved thousands of lives over the last 25 years and you cannot dismiss that,” says Mulhall. It hasn’t delivered everything that it was meant to deliver… but it still delivers the key ingredients, which is peace and a blueprint for the future of Northern Ireland,” he adds.

The agreement stipulated that armed groups must dispose of their weapons and those involved in fighting should be released from prison. Britain also scaled back its security arrangements and reduced military presence.

Why does Northern Ireland not have a functioning government?

Since elections in May, Northern Ireland has had no elected government and no annual budget, leaving schools and hospitals without funding; the education department has had to scrap lunch subsidies for schoolchildren from low income households. The DUP has said it will not re-enter power-sharing in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which established a trade border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. Elections due to take place last November were also pushed back as a result of the impasse.

“I know that an election in the coming weeks will not be helpful or welcome. So, I am introducing a bill to create more time for the parties to work together and return to government, as protocol discussions continue,” U.K. Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said in a statement, extending the deadline to form a government by Jan. 19, 2024 or else the British government would be legally obliged to hold an election to the devolved assembly within 12 weeks.

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Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com