Joe Biden’s visit to Northern Ireland was little more than a brief ‘add-on’ to his Republic vacation…so what was the point? asks Jason GROVES
Rishi Sunak could have breathed a sigh of relief when Air Force One landed in Dublin yesterday afternoon after Joe Biden’s casual visit to Northern Ireland.
Given his proud Irish heritage and long affiliation with the Republican movement, there was never a chance that Biden could persuade the DUP to rejoin the power-sharing process it has boycotted for more than a year.
But there was real fear that the blunder-prone US president might inadvertently disrupt delicate negotiations with the DUP by antagonizing them.
The journey did not start well. As he left the US, Mr Biden told reporters he was striving to “keep the peace” — remarks that only served to raise the hairs on the back of Unionists who accused him of siding with Republicans who pushed for the reunification of Ireland – and the breakup of the US. the UK.
As a senator in 1985, he opposed and watered down an extradition treaty that would have made it easier for the UK to bring back suspected IRA terrorists.
BELFAST: US President Joe Biden poses with students at Ulster University in Northern Ireland’s capital
President Joe Biden greets people at the Food House on a walk through Dundalk, Co Louth
Ten years later, he invited Gerry Adams to Capitol Hill during the Sinn Fein president’s controversial tour of the United States at a time when the IRA’s murderous campaign was still underway.
His ‘Irishness’, which plays well with millions of Irish-Americans, even saw him jokingly refuse a question from the BBC in 2020 on the grounds that ‘I’m Irish’.
By the time he landed in Belfast, former DUP leader and Prime Minister Arlene Foster had declared: ‘He hates the UK, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
“I just think the fact that he’s coming here won’t put any pressure on the DUP, on the contrary, because he’s seen by so many people as simply pro-republican and pro-nationalist.”
Even Tony Blair, who has always gone out of his way to keep pace with the White House, felt the need to kindly warn Biden that it would be “futile” for him to try to pressure the DUP again. Stormont.
The hostile response forced the White House to take the highly unusual step of informing reporters that the president “is not anti-British.” In the event, Mr Biden took a diplomatic approach and went out of his way to praise the role of Ulster-Scots pioneers in helping found the modern United States – remarks that received the approval of DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
Instead of lecturing the Unionists, he dangled the prospect of “billions” of investment in Northern Ireland should the province get power-sharing back on track.
But it was hard to see the point of his visit. When Mr Biden first conceived of the trip last year, it was seen as the chance for a ‘victory round’ to mark the US involvement that helped get the Good Friday Agreement off the ground 25 years ago.
But the ongoing stalemate at Stormont saw it relegated to a brief addition to what a Whitehall source described as a ‘holiday’ for Mr Biden in Ireland, where he will spend the rest of the week visiting his ancestral homelands.
In the end, the US president spent just 15 hours in the province, half of them asleep.
A further indication that the visit lacked any serious policy focus was provided by the fact that Biden was accompanied by his sister Valerie and son Hunter rather than the usual phalanx of aides.
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The timing is curious, too, as Mr Biden arrives a week before the main commemorations, fueling rumors he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Hillary Clinton, who will host a major event in Belfast next week to be addressed. by Mr. Sunak.
A meeting described by No10 as a formal bilateral meeting between the prime minister and president was relegated to a “coffee” by the White House, dubbing it the “bi-latte.”
No10 even insisted that the meeting had been “warm” and productive, albeit without mentioning a new trade deal.
Sir Jeffrey later stated that Mr Biden’s visit ‘does not change the political dynamics in Northern Ireland’.
At least it didn’t make it worse.