As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the 1970s, I feared that peace would never come to my homeland.
But the Good Friday Agreement, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, defied the doomsayers and cynics.
Today, however, there are signs that it is in an eroding state.
Paramilitary radicals, made up of dissident loyalists and Republicans, continue to operate.
In February, Chief Inspector John Caldwell suffered life-changing injuries after being shot in front of his son: a full month after the attack, his condition was said to be “critical but stable”.
Pictured: President Joe Biden at the White House on April 4, days before his trip to Ireland
The official terrorist threat level was recently raised from “substantial” to “severe”.
This awkward background is compounded, of course, by the continuing failure of the Stormont power-sharing CEO, a cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement.
The situation calls for leaders with wisdom, courage and compassion. But these are, unfortunately, hardly adjectives we can apply to Joe Biden.
As Air Force One touches down in Belfast today to join the anniversary celebrations, the atmosphere is tense.
Democracy in Northern Ireland is at stake, and there could be no more inappropriate character than this reckless octogenarian to support it. Clearly in the grip of physical and mental decline, Biden is also too biased to be the honest mediator the region needs.
Instead, he seems strangely obsessed with his distant Irish roots and seems to have swallowed wholesale the republican movement’s propaganda about British “oppression”. Biden has a wealth of English ancestors, but he prefers to ignore that fact.
Instead, he presents himself as the great-great-grandson of the Blewitts of County Mayo and the Finnegans of County Louth who, as the proudest son of these clans says today, “boarded on coffin ships to cross the Atlantic more than 165 years ago”.
Leaning toward the mystical, Biden stated, “For as long as I can remember, it’s kind of been a part of my soul.”
Masked members of the dissident Republican Party of Color take part in a memorial march in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on April 5.
Even today, the Secret Service’s code name is “Celtic”.
Victim and tribalism come to him easily. On a visit to Israel last year, Biden likened the Irish to the Palestinians, while during his bid for the White House in 2020 he was asked if he could speak quickly to the BBC.
BBC? “I’m Irish!” he exclaimed, before adding, as if it mattered.
Not that this has stopped the erratic president from occasionally descending into unfortunate racial stereotypes.
In a speech last year, Biden said, “I may be Irish but I’m not stupid.” He went on to confuse his wife’s father and grandfather.
One St. Patrick’s Day as vice president, he declared, “We will not welcome anyone wearing orange into my home.”
Perhaps because of these clearly biased views, the “special relationship” between Britain and America did not seem to mean much to him.
Chances of a major trade deal between the United States and Britain, which Trump had previously hailed, took a hit when Biden entered the White House.
In 2016, Barack Obama, under whom Biden was vice president, told Britain he would be at the ‘back of the queue’ in negotiations for a trade deal in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Biden appears to have taken the same dismissive line.
Even Rishi Sunak’s Windsor framework, which reset trade relations with the EU, and Britain’s new membership in the Pacific-oriented CPTPP trade bloc, do not appear to have revived that possibility.
A dissident republican throws petrol bombs at an armored police car after organizing an anti-Good Friday rally on the 25th anniversary of the Peace Agreement, in Londonderry
Uncle Joe will smile with Sunak tonight in Belfast, but a true Transatlantic Economic Partnership remains a pipe dream. Biden’s focus on his heritage partly reflects the deep ties between his Democratic Party and the Irish community in America.
The president fancies himself an heir to the progressive mantle of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, the only other Catholic to ever reach the White House.
The problem for Biden, however, is that his embrace of Ireland appears to be accompanied by a simplistic view of history and a deep hatred of the English language.
Some of this attitude seems to stem from his mother Katherine Finnegan, better known as Jane, who hated everything English.
British author Georgia Pritchett recalled a White House meeting with Biden, who told her his mother had “written several poems about her hatred of the English language. He went to find them and came back with hundreds of poems describing how God should strike the English and rain blood on our heads.”
The Good Friday Agreement was about ending the conflict, but Biden seems to take pride in the disagreement. When asked to describe his political hero, he usually names Wolfe Tone, the 18th-century Irish Protestant who led a rebellion against British rule.
Likewise, he likes to blabber about the fact that one of his great-grandfathers, Edward Bloitt, was a member of “Molly Maguire,” a violent secret society of immigrant Irish miners, in Pennsylvania.
After his first election to the Senate in 1972, when the Troubles were at their blood-soaked climax, Biden repeatedly expressed his support for the Irish cause.
Dissenting Republican youths set up a roadblock after an illegal dissenters’ rally in the Cregan area on April 10, 2023 in Londonderry
In 1985, when British authorities were deeply embroiled in their long campaign against the IRA—whose terrorist operations were funded in part by Irish-American supporters through the sinister organization NORAID (Northern Irish Aid Committee)—Biden, as senator from Delaware, opposed A treaty with Britain would have allowed the extradition of IRA terrorist suspects from the United States
He told his fellow lawmakers, “If we ratify this treaty, we will recognize that the justice system is just—a concept I absolutely hate.”
The audio footage may have been lost on the families of the 1,700 or so people killed by the IRA, including more than 500 civilians. Thanks to Biden’s influence, the treaty has been severely watered down.
To be clear: Biden’s views on Ireland are entirely a political choice.
Bill Clinton, his Democratic predecessor, was taking a much more reasonable view.
It was Clinton, of course, who, through his intellectual grasp of politics, his knowledge of current affairs, his talent for reconciling opposing positions, and his ability to win confidence from all sides, played a likely pivotal role in securing the Good Friday Agreement. , including the Ulster Unionists led by David Trimble.
Clinton’s charisma and communication skills were also key to winning public support for the deal.
My brother heard him speak in Belfast in 1998 and told me, “It was the most engaging piece of oratory I ever heard.”
For all their faults, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to Northern Ireland. Today Hilary is Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.
The idea of Biden having such influence is laughable.
The world is becoming a more unstable place with him as President.
Where dynamism is required, he has created a void. Where inspiration is needed, he is left with nothing but embarrassment.
Referring to a branch of his relative, Biden said, “The entertainers are fond of their Irish grudges and don’t let one go easily.”
He may take delight in such narrow-minded grievances. But it is an approach that could one day come at a huge cost.