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Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shakes hands with US President Joe Biden during a meeting with the US President and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Point Loma naval base in San Diego. Alamy Stock Photo

Joe Biden confirms intention to visit NI and Republic for Good Friday Agreement anniversary

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said it is “very welcome news”.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Mar 2023

US PRESIDENT JOE Biden said he intends to visit Northern Ireland and the Republic after being invited to mark the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The US president was speaking after British prime minister Rishi Sunak formally invited him to make the trip to the North to mark the 25th anniversary in April as the pair held talks in San Diego.

As the pair met in Point Loma naval base, Biden said: “It’s my intention to go to Northern Ireland and the Republic.”

Sunak told the president: “I look forward to our conversations and also importantly, to invite you to Northern Ireland, which hopefully you will be able to do and so we can commemorate the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

“I know it’s something very special and personal to you. we’d love to have you over.”

Biden said: “Twenty-five years? It seems like yesterday.”

No dates have been confirmed as yet, and it’s not known if Biden’s trip will coincide with the actual anniversary on 10 April – on which Easter Monday falls this year – or at some later stage. 

The Journal has learned that officials from the US State Department visited Ireland and met with hoteliers last week and members of An Garda Síochána in recent weeks. 

Sources have said the garda meetings centred around security preparations with one of the meetings specifically around close protection of US dignitaries.

‘Welcome news’

Reacting to the announcement of the planned visit in New York last night, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said it is “welcome news”. 

“When I met Joe Biden two years ago, he said to me: ‘Try and get me out of Ireland’,” the Tánaiste said.

“I think his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, along with [former US House speaker] Nancy Pelosi and [US Congressman] Richard Neal has been extraordinary. It’s very welcome news.”

The US played a key role in the success of the 1998 peace deal, Martin stressed. 

“I think that opportunity was always there for the President of the United States to come to Ireland and to visit north and south, and we look forward to that.”

It will be Biden’s first visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic as US President. 

He has long taken a close interest in the peace process in Northern Ireland and has spoken often about his own Irish heritage.

Hopes of a potential visit by Biden to the North were raised after he backed Sunak’s Brexit deal with the EU last month, deeming it an “essential step” in protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

“I appreciate the efforts of the leaders and officials on all sides who worked tirelessly to find a way forward that protects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market as well as the EU’s single market, to the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland,” he said last month.

“I am confident the people and businesses of Northern Ireland will be able to take full advantage of the economic opportunities created by this stability and certainty, and the United States stands ready to support the region’s vast economic potential.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to hold the annual St Patrick’s Day meeting with Biden at the White House on Friday, where further details of the trip could be discussed. 

In a tweet today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “Good news that President Biden plans to visit Ireland in the near future.

“I look forward to discussing the visit during my meeting with the President later this week.”

Before travelling to Washington, Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last week that he would be renewing the invitation to the US President to visit his ancestral home and that he hoped the visit would happen sooner rather than later.

When asked last month if he thought Stormont could be restored in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April and if this might pave the way for a visit from Biden, as had been widely speculated, Varadkar said:

“The Good Friday Agreement anniversary is an anniversary work marking no matter what happens – 25 years of peace in our island is a wonderful thing.

“And I think we need to mark that and celebrate that whether or not the Assembly or Executive is formed by then. And of course, President Biden is welcome in Ireland at anytime, whether it’s on that occasion or later in the year.”

DUP ‘not under pressure’

But DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said today that his party is not under increased pressure to accept the Windsor Framework because of Biden’s planned visit to the north.

Speaking in Washington, Donaldson said “many American presidents” had visited Northern Ireland.

“The really important thing for not only the American administration but for all of us is to ensure that we make progress on the basis of solid foundations,” he said.

“If and when Stormont is back up and running again, that it is based on those solid foundations. That is what we will work towards, however long that takes.

“I am totally focused on what we need to achieve in terms of our seven tests and the objectives we set out in terms of having the protocol replaced with new arrangements that respect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.”

Asked if the Biden visit increases pressure on his party to restore the Stormont institutions, Donaldson said: “Whether the president visits or not, I have no arbitrary deadline here. I am not under any pressure in terms of timelines.

“I want to get this right. However long that takes is how long it will take.

“We need to see the legislation, we need to ensure that what the Prime Minister is saying is translated into law and that the protection is robust and workable.

“What is in this Windsor Framework is insufficient. It does not meet all of our requirements, it does not go as far as we need, in terms of our tests and in terms of restoring fully Northern Ireland’s place within the internal market of the United Kingdom.

“We need to see the legislative safeguards, we need to see the legislation that is going to ensure the Government honours the commitments it has made.”

US ‘key partner for peace’

Welcoming the announcement of Biden’s visit, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said: “I would be delighted to welcome President Biden to Belfast as we mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in a few weeks’ time.

“The United States has been a key partner for peace in Ireland and such a visit demonstrates its continued commitment, which is deeply valued.

“As the eyes of the world turn to our island once more, we must use this opportunity to attract economic investment and create good jobs for our people.

“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.”

Speaking to reporters in New York this morning, Tánaiste Micheál Martin did not go into the details of the planned trip to Ireland, but said: 

“It’s a strengthening of the US-Irish relationship. We’re very fortunate to have a president of the calibre of Joe Biden who doesn’t in any way mask his Irishness and his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and his commitment to the economic development of Ireland.

We’ve had his back for a long, long time. From that perspective, it’s very welcome indeed.

“In the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the appointment of Joe Kennedy as an economic envoy, we’re hoping for an opportunity with the Windsor Agreement, with a commitment to the European Commission, that the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and visit of President Biden would be an opportunity to reset the economic prospects for Northern Ireland.

“We will be looking forward to investment opportunities. The EU Commission, working with the US administration and the UK government and Irish government, and of course, all the parties in Northern Ireland to create a really good, economically stable future for the people of Northern Ireland,” he told the media outside the Irish consulate on Park Avenue.

Tourism Ireland has welcomed the upcoming visit.

Its chief executive Niall Gibbons said it will be a “wonderful opportunity to showcase the island of Ireland to a huge audience of potential holidaymakers across the United States, and indeed around the world”.

- Reporting from Jane Moore, Christina Finn, Niall O’Connor and PA

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