Strong hopes for Joe Biden visit

There are good reasons to believe that US president Joe Biden is seriously considering a visit to Ireland next month and it will be widely hoped that he is able to include a northern engagement in his itinerary.

Mr Biden has always been very proud of his Irish roots, and has well documented family connections to counties Louth and Mayo, so it was always likely that he would arrive here at some stage during his term of office.

Speculation that he would be keen to participate in the events marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, in which the US administration played such a strongly positive role, has been growing for some time.

It would be far from ideal if any appearance at Stormont took place during the DUP's entirely illogical boycott of the institutions, although those are clearly circumstances well beyond his control.

What is particularly unfortunate is that some DUP voices seem to believe that the Biden trip can somehow be used as a bargaining chip in their campaign against the protocol arrangements which they previously supported when they were first introduced.

Former DUP leader Edwin Poots said specifically last October that any trip by the US president would be a funeral rather than a celebration if protocol issues were not resolved to his party's satisfaction.

The Windsor framework announced last month after lengthy negotiations between the EU and the UK represents a huge economic opportunity for all sections of our divided society but the DUP has so far been unable to indicate a definitive view on the initiative.

All the main Stormont parties, including the DUP, are due to fly to Washington in the coming days in advance of the St Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House when they will be briefed on the potential for increased US investment in the north if power-sharing can be restored.

Joe Kennedy III, grandnephew of president John F. Kennedy, who has already been named by Mr Biden as his new special envoy to Northern Ireland for economic affairs, is expected to make a central contribution to this process.

Mr Biden will be welcome in Ireland, north or south, whenever he is able to cross the Atlantic and there is absolutely nothing of substance to prevent his stopover coinciding with a full return to the historic partnership structures which were confirmed on April 10, 1998.