US President Joe Biden has expressed his strong support for continuing efforts to prevent a reinforced border through Ireland as a result of Brexit.
In a virtual meeting with 26 County Taoiseach Micheal Martin on St Patrick’s Day, Mr Biden again stated his support for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
“You know my view, and the view of my predecessor of the Obama/Biden administration, on the Good Friday Agreement, we strongly support them, we think it’s critically important they be maintained and the political and economic stability of Northern Ireland is very much in the interest of all of our people,” he said.
Unionists want Britain to ditch the Irish Protocol of Brexit, which sees additional checks on goods arriving from Britain at the two ports in the north of Ireland.
The port inspections have so far avoided the need for checkpoints to be set up along the border, meaning a potential remilitarisation of the entire border area and a devastating setback for the peace process.
BOWL OF SHAMROCK
Continuity was to the fore of the annual event at the White House, with the St Patrick’s Day engagement involving the presentation of a bowl of shamrock to Mr Biden.
The crystal bowl, made in County Waterford, was positioned between the president and the Taoiseach, who appeared virtually on screen in a Covid-era version of the usual Oval Office configuration.
The White House was later illuminated in green to “celebrate the deep affection Americans have, particularly Irish Americans, for Ireland”, Mr Biden said.
During the course of the day, he spoke of his Irish ancestors, including Ambrose Finnegan, who was a footballer and a newspaper man. He recalled how he would tell the young Biden: “Joey remember, the best drop of blood in you is Irish.”
Micheal Martin said Biden’s support for the Good Friday Agreement “meant a lot” during the Brexit negotiations. He also told the president that the people of Ireland are “so proud of your election” as a “proud son of Ireland”.
He said the “green shoots” of the shamrock “point to the brighter future that I know lies ahead. Building that better future will of course be part of what we discuss today.”
Biden’s support for the Irish position comes as a powerful group of Irish-American politicians warned the British government against “chipping away” at the Irish protocol, which they said is jeopardising a future transatlantic trade agreement.
The US Ad-Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement again expressed concern about Britain reneging on elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which it said “does not fit well with the need to protect the peace process”.
The warnings from Washington follow a move by the EU to take legal action over Britain’s failure to comply with the Irish Protocol.
The committee said in a statement that its many meetings with the north’s political leaders over the past six weeks showed “reconciliation has all but been brushed aside” by Brexit.
There were few specifics from the White House about how it might tackle British bad faith, but US vice-president Kamala Harris noted that the relationship between Ireland and the US remains strong.
She hosted two high-level virtual meetings, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and with the two leaders at Stormont, Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster. Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill said she was honoured to meet the US leaders.
“I am really encouraged by the support they have shown for us, and their genuine interest in our progress and our people,” she said.
“The consistent backing of the US administration has been crucial in moving our society forward, not least through their unwavering support of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Sinn Féin deputy leader said it was a disappointment that the events weren’t able to be held in person in Washington DC.
“I look forward to visiting the US when circumstances allow and very much hope that President Biden and Vice President Harris will be able to visit us here in the not-too-distant future.”
ST PATRICK ‘WAS PROTESTANT’
DUP leader Arlene Foster described the engagement as “extremely valuable”.
“It provided an opportunity to further strengthen our links with the US and look forward to our economic recovery, which will be a key focus for us as we emerge from the pandemic,” Mrs Foster said.
Meanwhile, high-profile unionist councillor Ruth Patterson provided the comedy for the day by bizarrely claiming St Patrick was a Protestant.
The former DUP politician made the daft claim during an interview yesterday on BBC Radio’s Talkback programme.
Criticising youths draped in tricolours on St Patrick’s Day, the Belfast councillor said: “At the end of the day the tricolour has nothing to do with St Patrick. St Patrick himself was a former Protestant.”
Presenter William Crawley pointed out that St Patrick couldn’t have been a Protestant as he lived long before the Reformation, “a thousand years before Protestants existed”.
Ms Patterson said: “Yes. I see where you’re coming from, certainly I see him as having been a former Protestant.”