US President Joe Biden's April trip will ‘welcome a son of Ireland home'
US President Joe Biden’s visit to the island of Ireland next week is about “welcoming a son of Ireland home”, Leo Varadkar has said.
The White House confirmed the trip earlier on Wednesday, and said it would “mark the tremendous progress” since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago.
Mr Biden is to visit Belfast first, before travelling on to Dublin, with visits also planned to Co Louth and Co Mayo, where his ancestors hail from.
The president will deliver a public address outside St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina, Co Mayo on Friday evening, which will be open to the public to attend.
He will also address the Irish parliament in the Dail chamber next Thursday, becoming the fourth US president to do so – following John F Kennedy’s address in June 1963, Ronald Reagan’s in June 1984 and Bill Clinton’s in December 1995.
Irish premier Mr Varadkar told reporters that the visit offered an opportunity to advance issues that had been discussed during the Washington DC visit more than two weeks ago.
“The number one objective of President Biden’s visit to Ireland is to welcome a son of Ireland home, to welcome home a great Irish American president and to cement and strengthen the really good relationship that we have at the moment with the US.
“I don’t think relations have ever been stronger or closer between Ireland and the US, and we want to cement that and use the opportunity of the meetings that we’re going to have.”
He added: “The United States was a steadfast partner throughout the peace process over many decades, and through many administrations, its role was immense and indispensable. The president’s visit will allow us to celebrate and honour that contribution.
“When I met him in the White House on St Patrick’s Day, President Biden made it very clear the way he celebrates all that has been achieved, especially in the period since the Good Friday Agreement.
“Our shared focus should be on the future, not the past. And that’s why there will be an opportunity to look ahead to the next chapter, the next 25 years.”
He said it was not clear how much the US presidential visit would cost, but added most of the costs would be on security.
He also said that it was understood that the First Lady, Jill Biden, would not be travelling to Ireland.
When asked whether he hoped Mr Biden’s visit would encourage the restoration of Northern Ireland’s institutions, Mr Varadkar said: “I hope it can help.
“Certainly in the past when the White House has turned its attention to affairs in Northern Ireland, they’ve been able to push the British government to do a little bit more, they’ve been able to push us to do more and sometimes they have an influence on the different political parties in Northern Ireland. So I think it can only help.”
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed the visit would last from April 11-14 and would take in four locations.
She said: “President Joseph R Biden Jr will travel to the United Kingdom and Ireland from April 11-14.
“President Biden will first travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland, from April 11-12 to mark the tremendous progress since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago and to underscore the readiness of the United States to support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities.
“The president will then travel to Ireland from April 12-14.
“He will discuss our close co-operation on the full range of shared global challenges.
“He will also hold various engagements, including in Dublin, County Louth and County Mayo, where he will deliver an address to celebrate the deep, historic ties that link our countries and people.”
Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said it was a “missed opportunity” that the visit was occurring at a time when the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland was not sitting as part of a DUP protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.
He said: “President Biden is coming here, it is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the entire international focus is on this place and, from the DUP perspective, there is nobody at the wheel.
“There is an economic focus to President Biden’s visit, there is an economic focus to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and we have nobody here to talk on behalf of the businesses and economy here.”
DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said he hoped the visit would emphasise the economic opportunities available in Northern Ireland.
The president 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 back in Ireland and gathered again in January 2021 to mark his inauguration.
The presidential visit to the island will have a strong focus on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement.
Recently, Mr Biden made clear an increase in activity by violent dissident republicans opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland would not deter him.
“No. They can’t keep me out,” he told reporters.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had invited Mr Biden to come to Northern Ireland to mark the agreement’s anniversary.
Last month, Mr Varadkar told the president that his trip to the island of Ireland would be “a visit like no other”.
“I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet,” he pledged to Mr Biden during their St Patrick’s Day meeting in Washington DC.
White House officials and Secret Service personnel have already visited proposed locations 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 the week after Mr Biden for more events to commemorate the landmark accord that largely ended the Troubles.
Other key figures involved in securing the deal are also due to travel to the city.