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Joe Biden's message of hope

Visits by United States presidents to Ireland have been a reasonably regular occurrence in the modern era but few of his predecessors have received a more emotional welcome than Joe Biden last week.

Mr Biden has particularly close Irish links, and, at the age of 80, he was entitled to regard the four-day schedule as having strong significance at both a personal and political level.

Only the hardest of hearts would have been left unmoved by the president's final engagement, addressing a massive crowd in front of St Muredach's Cathedral in Ballina, Co Mayo, on Friday night.

As Mr Biden pointed out, his ancestor Edward Blewitt in 1828 sold the bricks which were used in the construction of the cathedral, using the proceeds to later fund his famine-stricken family's emigration to the US.

He spoke with obvious sincerity about the way in which Irish and American citizens were united by an optimistic vision, and said: ``More than anything, hope is what beats in the hearts of our people.''

There is every prospect that the president's trip will encourage US investment in Ireland, both north and south, and his backing for the full return of the Stormont power-sharing institutions will have been widely noted.

His positive message went well beyond the nationalist tradition, as he also highlighted his British connections and specifically referred to the pride that Americans had in the Ulster Scots immigrants who had helped to build their country.

The president, as an octogenarian, might occasionally stumble over the odd phrase but the way in which he was visibly invigorated by the warmth of his welcome was uplifting.

It was striking that, rather than welcoming the endorsement of the most powerful politician in the western world, a range of DUP figures could not resist directing churlish jibes against Mr Biden.

Perhaps the lowest point came when Sammy Wilson went out of his way to insult the memory of the president's late mother, in a contribution which said much about prevailing attitudes in sections of the DUP.

However, it would be entirely wrong to allow memories of a hugely successful programme of events which attracted international attention to be even slightly overshadowed by those who appear incapable of looking beyond their own tribal considerations.

Mr Biden deserves great praise for his commitment to the cause of peace and progress in Ireland, and people of goodwill from all sections of our divided society will take pride in his achievements.

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