US President Joe Biden has landed at Aldergrove airport in Belfast as he begins a four-day visit to the island of Ireland.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and an official described as the King’s representative in Antrim greeted Mr Biden off the plane. It is understood no Irish officials were present or invited.
The President is due to meet with the North’s political leaders tomorrow, where he will urge a return of the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement, exactly 25 years ago, before delivering a speech at Ulster University. He will then cross the border for further events.
Hardline unionists continue to boycott the Stormont Assembly over trade checks introduced in the wake of Brexit and the election of Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill as First Minister.
Ahead of his visit, Mr Biden said the top priority of his visit to Ireland is to support the peace process.
Asked at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on his departure about his top priority for the trip, Mr Biden said: “Make sure the Irish accords and the Windsor agreement stay in place, to keep the peace. That’s the - that’s the main thing. And it looks like we’re going to - keep your fingers crossed.”
Dismissing tabloid claims of a threat of violence during his visit, Mr Biden said “they can’t keep me out”.
And in a tweet, Mr Biden added that the Good Friday Agreement “ended decades of violence and brought stability. I look forward to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the U.S. commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity.”
Mr Biden will visit County Louth and County Mayo, where he has family connections. He is scheduled to visit Carlingford on the Cooley peninsula on Wednesday before arriving in Dundalk, where he will undertake a walkabout.
US president Joe Biden’s great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan came from the Cooley peninsula and emigrated to the US in the 1840s, arriving through New York.
Mr Biden will also visit the President of Ireland in Dublin’s Phoenix Park and address both houses of the Dublin parliament.
On Friday, Mr Biden will head for another ancestral county, Mayo, where he has relatives. He will then fly into Knock Airport, visiting the town of Ballina, a local heritage and genealogical centre, and Knock Shrine.
The President will be presented with a unique gift - an original stone from the gable wall where the apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared in 1879.
The US president’s Irish visit will end with a public address outside St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina by the river Moy, a church that ancestor Edward Blewitt supplied the bricks for in 1828.
Mr Biden will leave for his return transatlantic trip to the US from Dublin Airport on Friday night.
Michelle O’Neill welcome the visit, which she said is a “special moment” which “cements our close bonds of friendship and our partnership for peace and prosperity with the United States of America.”
She said that peace, stability and economic opportunity “are all connected and the onus is on the governments, parties and not least the DUP to restore the Executive and other GFA institutions so that we can push on and get back to business.
“As an incoming First Minister, I am absolutely determined to work with others to make politics work, and to serve every single citizen. It is time to form an Executive now to support workers, families and communities.”