Biden to name special envoy for Northern Ireland to boost US presence

Timing suggests the US is looking for a more active role in Northern Ireland

US president Joe Biden will soon name a special envoy for Northern Ireland as the US seeks a bigger role in the North as the impasse between the UK and the European Union over the protocol continues, sources said.

The position has been vacant since Mick Mulvaney left the position at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency in January 2021. A decision on a replacement is close, the sources said. They declined to say who it would be.

The timing suggests the US is looking for a more active role in Northern Ireland as it prepares to mark a quarter century since the Belfast Agreement. One source said the US has told the UK and EU it is keen to help broker a deal. But two sources said the envoy’s focus will be on economic development and not Brexit.

Another deadline is also looming: under a US law signed a year ago, most special envoys named after January 3rd, 2023, will require Senate approval, a process that can take months or even years.


The dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol - the part of the Brexit deal which keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland - has hampered relations between London and Brussels.

Critically, it has also left Northern Ireland without a functioning government because the Democratic Unionist Party has refused to take its place in the power-sharing administration in protest over the protocol.

That has raised political tensions, and the Biden administration has repeatedly told the UK it must protect Northern Ireland’s peace process. The US is seeking a resolution ahead of the Belfast Agreement anniversary in April. It is possible Mr Biden could pay a state visit to Ireland at that time, a source said.

“The economic issues are critical - there’s a tremendous opportunity for Northern Ireland here,” Representative William Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat who has pushed for the envoy to be appointed, said in an interview. “It’s also important because there’s unfortunately an uptick of violence. We’re heading into the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday [Belfast] agreement and some of those aren’t fully implemented others are are facing some challenges that could undercut the whole agreement.”

Mr Keating said he understood an announcement was “weeks away”.

British officials privately welcomed the imminent appointment of a US envoy. A source said they hope the US would encourage the EU to agree to make changes to the text of the protocol.

The move follows a number of calls for a US envoy appointment to be made. Last July, Sinn Féin appealed to the Biden administration to appoint an envoy. Shortly after talks with politicians on Capitol Hill in Washington, vice-president Michelle O’Neill said with the approach of the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, having an “honest broker” from the US would be “a good addition”.

Ms O’Neill said she was confident support for the accord in the US remained “resolute and steadfast”.

In 2021, a bipartisan group of US Congress members wrote to Mr Biden urging the appointment “in order to continue to support the peace process during this critical time.” However, despite that domestic pressure, the White House said shortly afterwards no decision had been taken.

At around the same time, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney also aired his support for the proposal.

“It creates a really structured link, if you like, between the administration and the White House and what is actually happening on the ground in Northern Ireland,” he said of the position.

To have an envoy reporting back to Washington on a weekly basis on the complex politics of Ireland would be “a very, very useful tool, particularly at the moment given the multitude of challenges that we face,” he said. - Bloomberg