Joe Biden: Values of Irish ancestors have ‘shaped my soul’

VP calls Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric ‘hateful’ on eve of visit to Ireland

US vice-president Joe Biden flanks  President Barack Obama. Photograph: Reuters

US vice-president Joe Biden flanks President Barack Obama. Photograph: Reuters


US vice-president Joe Biden has said his visit to Ireland this week means a great deal to him personally, coming a year after he lost his son and given how the values of his Irish ancestors “have shaped my soul”.

Ahead of his arrival in Ireland tomorrow for a five-day visit, Mr Biden also said the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was having a negative effect on international relations, although his sentiments did not represent those of the vast majority of Americans.

“We are a nation of immigrants. And throughout our past we’ve seen people spouting the same kind of hateful rhetoric – in the mid-1800s against the Irish, at the turn of the century against Italian and Polish immigrants,” he said.

“But the journey of America has always been that we overcome the voices of fear.”

Mr Biden’s trip includes visits to counties Louth and Mayo with his extended family where his ancestors, the Finnegans and the Blewitts, emigrated from during the Famine.

‘Courage and commitment’

The Irish TimesRTÉ

“I grew up in a household where my grandfather and grandmother Finnegan, all my mother’s brothers and my father told us about the courage and commitment it took for our relatives to emigrate from Ireland – in the midst of tragedy – to distant shores where they didn’t know what awaited them,” he said. “And those values – their passion and principle, their faith and fortitude – shaped the way my siblings and I were raised.”

Mr Biden recalled the death of his eldest son Beau in May 2015 to cancer at the age of 46 and how he had wanted to travel with him to Ireland.

“We didn’t get to make this trip. But his Irish blood – and that of my son Hunter and my daughter Ashley – held the same love of family, the same resilience, the same commitment to defending human dignity,” he said.

He recalled his father’s words, “when you’re knocked down, get up, just keep moving”, and his mother’s assertion that everyone “deserves to be treated with dignity and respect” – “a thoroughly Irish sentiment”.

‘Better future’

United States

“And their values, passed from generation to generation, have shaped my soul. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to share that heritage and this experience with my brother, my sister, my children and all my grandkids.”

Remembering a visit to Belfast in 1991 and “the city sliced up by concertina wire”, Mr Biden applauded the change that peace has brought to Northern Ireland, calling it “a remarkable transformation and an inspiration to nations around the world struggling to end long conflicts”.

He praised the “hard choices” made by the North’s political leaders in recent years. “But obviously there’s more to do. We have to keep moving forward – leaders have to take risks for peace,” he said, promising that the US would continue to encourage progress.

Mr Biden said he and US president Barack Obama “care deeply” about immigration reform at home, pointing out that there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the US, including many Irish, who share American values and contribute to US communities. “They deserve to be able to take the appropriate steps to gain their citizenship.”

He added: “Hateful rhetoric that denigrates immigrants undermines America’s capacity to lead around the world because it gives a false impression of who we are as a nation.”

Mr Biden will meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins during his visit to discuss US-Irish relations, trade ties and the North’s peace process. There may also be plans for Mr Biden to play golf with Mr Kenny, probably on a course in the west, fulfilling a longstanding promise from the Taoiseach.