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What do we know about plans for Joe Biden’s Irish visit?

The US president is proud of his Irish roots and is expected to be coming in April, but the detail of the trip has not been settled yet

So US president Joe Biden is coming to Ireland?

That’s his plan. It was a strange location for the announcement but he confirmed at a press conference on a naval base in California on Monday that it was his “intention” to visit Ireland, North and South, for the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, the landmark peace deal.

But did British prime minister Rishi Sunak wipe our eye by issuing an invite in advance of the Irish Government?

He certainly stole some Irish thunder, though Tánaiste Micheál Martin indicated it hadn’t bothered him when he was asked about it this week during a visit to the US. Sunak used the opportunity of a joint press conference with Biden on Monday, about a nuclear submarine deal, to extend the invite. He told the US president: “I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We’d love to have you over.” Responding to a follow-up question from a reporter on whether he would be going, Biden replied: “It’s my intention to go to Northern Ireland and the Republic.”

Wasn’t this visit expected?

It had been well-flagged that Biden, given his love for his ancestral home and his long-time interest in Irish affairs, might be eager to visit to mark this key anniversary. The peace agreement is regarded as one of the signature foreign policy achievements of Bill Clinton’s 1990s presidency, though both US Democrat and Republicans lay claim to helping broker the accord. Biden spent decades in the US Senate as a member of its foreign relations committee, so he had a front-row seat to the changes in Northern Ireland over the years. More importantly, this would be Biden’s first visit as US president, having last visited in 2016 as vice-president. It would be something of a homecoming for this proud Irish-American and sit neatly alongside the storied visits of his predecessors John F Kennedy in 1963 and Barack Obama in 2011.

So when will get here?

That is still up in the air but it is expected to happen in mid-April. The anniversary of the Belfast Agreement is on Monday, April 10th, and there has been speculation that Biden will visit during the week to 10 days after the anniversary. Queen’s University Belfast is hosting a conference from April 17th to 19th that will be attended by Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, the former US secretary of state, but one source familiar with the planning for the visit said Biden is not planning to attend the conference. A visit the previous week seems more likely.


Where will he visit?

Plans are still being made but it is expected he will visit Belfast and Dublin on separate days. While in Dublin he will meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings and President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, then deliver a public speech at another location. Advance security teams have already scoped out locations in Dublin and Belfast. While these advance teams had not visited his ancestral homes in Mayo or Louth in advance of Monday’s announcement, there is strong speculation that the Biden tour will include stops in both counties.

Is this trip personal for Biden?

It definitely will be. The US president often quotes Irish poets – Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy is a favourite – at public events and regularly talks with pride about his Irish heritage. His great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt emigrated from Ballina in Co Mayo after the Great Famine and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, while his great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan left the Cooley peninsula in Co Louth for Seneca, New York in the 1840s.

Are there complications around a visit?

There are definitely a few potential ones. Biden has been invited to address the Northern Ireland Assembly but this would prove tricky given that the Assembly isn’t sitting because of long-running unionist opposition to the Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland. The North’s biggest unionist party, the DUP, has not yet signed up to the new EU-UK deal, so celebrating a 25-year-old peace deal against the backdrop of ongoing political stalemate could make for some awkward moments during the presidential visit.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times