Northern Ireland news

Varadkar pledges to ‘roll out red carpet' for Biden's visit to Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media after his bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden (Niall Carson/PA)
Grainne Ni Aodha, PA in Washington DC

Joe Biden’s presidential trip to the island of Ireland will be a “visit like no other”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

The Irish premier pledged to “roll out the red carpet” for President Biden for his expected visit next month.

The President is set to travel to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in April in a visit with a strong focus on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has already invited Mr Biden to come to Northern Ireland to mark the anniversary.

No further details on dates or locations were revealed by the President and Taoiseach as they talked to reporters in the Oval Office on Friday.

The leaders were taking part in the traditional bilateral engagement between the President and Taoiseach to mark St Patrick’s Day.

“I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be a visit like no other,” Mr Varadkar told the President.

“Everyone’s excited about it already. We’re going to have great crowds who’d love to see you.”

The President did not give much away about the visit in his remarks in the Oval Office, though he did describe Ireland as “home” when talking about St Patrick’s Day.

“It’s a big day in my grandparents’ household, our household, a big day here, and I know a bigger day at home,” he said.

After the meeting, Mr Varadkar again spoke to reporters about Mr Biden’s visit.

“He certainly hopes and expects to come to Ireland hopefully in the future and it’d be very much a homecoming visit, as well as an official visit as well,” he said.

White House officials have visited both Belfast and Dublin as part of planning for the visit.

Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton will be in Belfast next month for events to commemorate the landmark accord that largely ended the Troubles.

Taoiseach visit to the US
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House (Niall Carson/PA)

Other key figures involved in securing the deal are also due to travel to the city.

A visit by Mr Biden to Northern Ireland to mark the Good Friday deal has long been anticipated but there has been speculation that it might not materialise if the powersharing impasse at Stormont is ongoing in April.

The DUP is blocking the operation of the institutions created by the Good Friday deal in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The party is currently deliberating on whether to accept a new UK/EU deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland – the Windsor Framework – and return to Stormont.

It is understood the devolution impasse will not be a determining factor for US officials planning the potential visit by Mr Biden.

The President has a deep affection for his Irish ancestry and a visit to the island has always been on the cards since his election.

Paraphrasing James Joyce, one of his favourite Irish writers, Mr Biden once wrote that north-east Pennsylvania would be written on his heart when he dies but “Ireland will be written on my soul”.

His Irish Catholic heritage is not only a source of intense pride, it also frames much of his political back story.

US vice president visit to Ireland
Joe Biden on a previous visit to Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

The number of times Joyce and other Irish literary greats, such as Seamus Heaney and William Butler Yeats, find their way into his speeches is apparently somewhat of a running joke in Washington.

When welcoming Mr Varadkar to the Oval Office on Friday, the President again referenced a line from Yeats – Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.

Mr Biden said: “Well, you’ve been a great friend, a great friend, to the United States. Ireland and the United States share friendship and long, long traditions.”

The Democratic politician can trace his ancestry to Ireland’s west and east coasts, specifically Ballina in Co Mayo and the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth.

His great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan emigrated to the United States from the Cooley peninsula while another great-great-grandfather Patrick Blewitt was born in Ballina, leaving during the Irish famine in 1850 to sail to America.

Distant relatives celebrated his election win in November 2020 and gathered again in January 2021 to mark his inauguration.

Champagne corks were popped, cakes were baked and a huge mural of the 46th president was painted on a wall in Ballina.

The affection is reciprocated and prior to becoming president, Mr Biden had visited both counties in recent years to meet long-lost cousins.

Any visit to Ireland as president would be anticipated to include aspects related to his ancestry.