US President Joe Biden has confirmed he is set for a multiple-destination trip to Ireland next month to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The announcement followed a meeting with British PM Rishi Sunak and ahead of the annual St Patrick’s Day political events in Washington DC. Mr Biden told a press conference in California: “Twenty-five years? It seems like yesterday.”
Mr Biden is due to fly into Belfast around April 10 and will then travel to Dublin, where he will visit Irish President Michael D. Higgins. It is thought he will make at least one major public address, and spend up to three days in Mayo, where he has family connections. He may also visit an ancestral home in Louth.
The inclusion of President Biden in events to mark the anniversary of the GFA will add to pressure on the unionist DUP to end their boycott of those political institutions set up as part of the peace deal.
First Minister-Elect Michelle O’Neill, currently part of a Sinn Féin delegation visiting the US, said she would be delighted to welcome President Biden to Belfast.
“The United States has been a key partner for peace in Ireland and such a visit demonstrates its continued commitment, which is deeply valued,” she said.
“Now that agreement has been secured on the Brexit Protocol, we must keep political momentum going and restore the Executive without delay. There are huge opportunities before us which must be seized.”
A DUP delegation is currently in Washington DC for St Patrick’s Day events and is headed by party leader Jeffrey Donaldson. A new agreement between London and Brussels to tackle unionist dissatisfaction over the Irish Protocol of Brexit, the ‘Windsor Framework’, is currently being examined by the party, but Donaldson has already made demands for additional concessions, ironically on the basis that unionists and nationalists should be “working together”.
Many commentators believe that insatiable unionist demands are a ruse to prevent Sinn Féin from taking up their elected role as the North’s first nationalist First Minister.
The DUP has indicated it could turn on President Biden in Ireland, with one hardline DUP MP warning him not to add to pressure on the party or it may “rebound” on him.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell told both Downing Street and the White House they should not “try and use a visit by the President to try and pressurise people into some sort of move on political issues. That would not only be an unfortunate use of the President’s visit but could severely rebound on those who might try that.”
Some Tories have also displayed open hostility to US “interference”, with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly saying “f*ck the Americans” in response to the Biden administration’s support for the Windsor Framework.
The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement also falls on Easter Monday, when many republicans will be remembering the sacrifices of the 1916 Easter Rising. The parade of the Derry 1916 Commemoration Committee made international headlines last year when it was violently attacked by the police. Its announcement of its parade, set for Easter Monday, described the 1998 peace deal as “an agreement which has copper fastened partition and British rule in Ireland.. and which has attempted to normalise the continued occupation of Ireland by Britain”.
Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, are also expected in Belfast next month, along with other politicians and celebrities.
Speaking on Irish radio, Mr Clinton said that looking at other conflicts around the worked, it is “a miracle” that the agreement to end to the Provisional IRA’s 28-year armed struggle remains in place.
Sinn Féin has meanwhile been seeking to build support for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and its promised referendum on Irish unity, with a full page advertisement in the New York Times.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party’s message in the US is “one of hope and opportunity” as it marks the anniversary of a peace accord that has “transformed the entire country”.
“The role of the US Administration was critical twenty-five years ago in achieving peace, just as it was critical throughout the negotiations on the Irish Protocol; and will be critical in the coming decade as we prepare for referenda on Irish Unity,” Ms McDonald said.
“With the eyes of the world on Ireland once again in the coming weeks, there is a huge opportunity to showcase our island and the societal and generational change that is underway.”
Ms McDonald and Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill will attend the White House St Patrick’s Day reception and the Speaker’s Lunch on Capitol Hill. They will also brief the US Administration and senior Congressional leaders. Engagements has so far have included a breakfast meeting with Special Envoy to the north of Ireland, Joe Kennedy III. Ms McDonald will also brief Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and the Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs.