Security fears rise after attack on police before Bidens NI visit

Rishi Sunak will welcome Joe Biden to Belfast tomorrow amid rising tensions in Northern Ireland. The two leaders are set to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, with both vowing to fulfil the promise of the historic peace deal. But the US President’s visit comes amid a heightened terror threat in NI, and with power-sharing in Stormont still on hold amid post-Brexit tensions.

More than 300 police officers have been drafted into the province in a massive £7million security clampdown, the biggest for a decade in NI, which is in the grip of a tinderbox atmosphere.

The province’s terrorism threat level was raised from “substantial” to “severe” last month, meaning an attack is judged to be “highly likely”.

It comes after dissident group the New IRA was said to have been plotting an attack in Londonderry, to divert attention from Mr Biden’s Belfast trip.

Police also appealed for calm after officers were attacked with petrol bombs during a frightening republican march in Londonderry yesterday.

The parade was led by a number of people in paramilitary-style dress.

Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said the force has received “strong” intelligence that dissidents were planning to launch terror attacks against officers during the bank holiday.

Such is the tinderbox feeling in Northern Ireland, US Secret Service agents will be armed with more than 300 guns to protect President Biden during his visit.

He will also head to Louth, Dublin and Mayo during a three-day visit to Ireland.

Senior security sources say up to 400 secret service staff, who must protect any senior US political figures abroad, will be on the island at any one time.

Along with Mr Biden, former president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary along with the US special envoy for Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III are all visiting.

The 1998 peace deal ended Northern Ireland’s decades-long violent conflict known as the Troubles.

After bilateral talks with the Prime Minister, Mr Biden will mark the anniversary with a speech tomorrow in Belfast.

Ahead of the commemorations Mr Sunak said the Good Friday Agreement was a “powerfully rare example of people doing the previously unthinkable to create a better future” for Northern Ireland.

He said: “It is that promise of a better future that we offered to everyone in Northern Ireland that I will be thinking of first and foremost over the coming days.”

“Making good” on that promise was his responsibility as Prime Minister, he added.

Mr Biden’s visit to Belfast will be seen as a significant endorsement of the Brexit deal negotiated by Mr Sunak earlier this year.

Mr Sunak said President Biden’s visit demonstrated the international support for the Good Friday Agreement.

But he said all political leaders need to “redouble our efforts on the promise made in 1998”.

But Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has warned that peace in the region could not be taken for granted because of those who wanted to drag it back to the “dark old days” of the Troubles.

In an article, Mr Heaton-Harris said recent events had demonstrated there was “a small number of people who want to drag us all back to the dark old days”.

He added: “It’s a stark reminder of the fragility of peace.

“The peace provided by the Agreement must never be taken for granted, it marked the beginning of a journey to build the best Northern Ireland.”

Mr Heaton-Harris also expressed his “frustration” at the failure to restore the power-sharing Government – currently blocked by the DUP’s opposition to the Windsor Framework – which he warned was undermining the Union.

He said the absence of a functioning government was “simply not good enough” for the 1.9 million people in Northern Ireland.

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