Martin and Biden to discuss North in virtual St Patrick's Day meeting

NI First Minister and deputy to have virtual meeting with US vice-president

Northern Ireland is expected to top the agenda of today's virtual St Patrick's Day meeting between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and US president Joe Biden amid concern in Washington about the impact of Brexit on the peace process.

The Irish Times understands that plans are in train for First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to have a virtual meeting with US vice-president Kamala Harris today.

This off-diary engagement is seen as a measure of the interest at the highest levels in Washington in the current tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol and it is understood Mr Biden may join them for some of the discussion.

The US Senate yesterday unveiled a resolution underlining its support for the Belfast Agreement and calling for its “full implementation”.

The traditional St Patrick’s Day meeting between the Taoiseach and US president is taking place online rather than at the White House this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Martin will also hold one-to-one meetings with Ms Harris, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and the bipartisan Friends of Ireland group on Capitol Hill, which is marking its 40th anniversary and hosting a celebration of the life and legacy of John Hume.

Bilateral relationship

Mr Martin told a US Chamber of Commerce event yesterday that the objective in meeting Mr Biden was to “strengthen the long-standing bilateral relationship” between Ireland and the US.

“We will update the president on Brexit . . . and thank him for his consistent support for Ireland and particularly the peace process. He always has been consistent on that,” he said.

The Taoiseach repeated his view that Britain’s move to postpone customs checks on some goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland was unhelpful.

“We’re not happy with unilateral decisions by the UK government in respect of postponing dates for applying aspects of the agreement . . . that’s not helpful, that adds to instability. It also corrodes trust within the EU.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Ms O’Neill are to brief the Friends of Ireland group this morning. It follows a high-profile ad campaign by the Friends of Sinn Féin group last week in the US calling for a referendum on Irish unity.

Mr Martin this week pushed back on calls for a Border poll in the near future, describing conversations about Irish unity in the wake of Brexit as “divisive” and “a mistake”.