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President Biden hails Stormont return as ‘positive step forward’

US President Joe Biden has hailed the return of powersharing in Northern Ireland as a “very positive step forward”.

The president and Irish premier Leo Varadkar discussed political progress in the region during a bilateral meeting at the White House ahead of St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington DC this weekend.

A number of political and business figures from Northern Ireland, including First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, are in the US capital, where they have been taking part in events.

Taoiseach visit to the US
Leo Varadkar, left, at a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House (Niall Carson/PA)

The Stormont powersharing institutions returned last month following a two-year suspension.

Mr Biden had said he wanted to see the return of the political institutions during a visit to the island of Ireland last year.

Speaking during his bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach, Mr Biden said: “As I said in Belfast, we remain committed to protecting the peace and progress in Northern Ireland since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

“Like you, I’m glad to see the Northern Ireland executive and Assembly back up and running.

“From my perspective, that’s a very positive step forward.”

Taoiseach visit to the US
Michelle O’Neill, left, and Emma Little-Pengelly are in the US for St Patrick’s Day events (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Varadkar later said he had updated the president on Northern Ireland during their meeting.

He said: “One of the issues we talked about is the situation in Northern Ireland, the president is always very keen to know what is happening.

“So, encouraged that we have the Good Friday institutions up and running again and that we have settled trading arrangements with the UK so that we are able to avoid a hard border between north and south and focus on the Good Friday Agreement working again.

“He is a huge supporter, as you know, of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr Varadkar had earlier said the highlight of his trip so far was seeing Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly jointly address the Ireland Funds gala.

The Stormont leaders had told US investors that Northern Ireland is “open for business” during the event.