US president extols ‘dividends of peace’ at new university campus in Belfast

US President Joe Biden has extolled the “dividends of peace” as he addressed a gathering at a new university campus in Belfast city centre.

Standing in the newly built Ulster University campus, Mr Biden said such a glass-fronted building would have been “highly unlikely” during one of his previous visits to the area in 1991, when the Troubles were raging.

Terrorist bombs destroyed scores of buildings in Belfast during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, with one hotel, the Europa, even dubbed the most bombed hotel in Europe.

President Biden visit to the island of Ireland
The audience gather to listen to US President Joe Biden deliver his keynote speech at Ulster University in Belfast, during his visit to the island of Ireland (Aaron Chown/PA)

“The idea to have a glass building here when I was here in ’91 was highly unlikely.

“Where barbed wire once sliced up the city, today we find a cathedral of learning built of glass and let the light shine in and out.

“This has a profound impact for someone who has come back to see it.

“It’s an incredible testament to the power and the possibilities of peace.”

Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Mr Biden paid tribute to the peace makers.

This included “pioneering women who said ‘enough’ and demanded change”, political leaders, and the “determined efforts” of his “good friend” Senator George Mitchell to bring about the accord.

“His time serving as special envoy for Northern Ireland is one of the great examples in history of the right person for the right job at the right time, in my view,” Mr Biden said of Mr Mitchell.

“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.

“In 1998 it was the longest-running conflict in Europe since the end of World War Two – thousands of families had been affected by the Troubles, losses are real, the pain was personal.

“Every person killed in the Troubles left an empty chair at the dining room table, a hole in the heart that was never filled for the ones they lost.

“Peace was not inevitable, we can’t ever forget that. As George Mitchell often said, the negotiations had 700 days of failure, and one day of success, but they kept going because George and all the many others never stopped believing that success was possible.

“I want all of you, especially the young people, to know the American people are with you, every step of the way.”

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