Confirmation that US president Joe Biden is to visit Ireland comes as no surprise, given his well-known passion for the land of his ancestors.
On taking office he stirred up a mini-controversy, or mini-mini-controversy, when ‘refusing’ to give an interview to the BBC on the grounds he was Irish (with the recent shenanigans in the BBC he may have just been ahead of the curve).
Biden’s wife Jill has suggested he will run for a second term next year, and a successful visit here would be no handicap with the Irish-American demographic if he does take to the campaign trail in the coming months…..Continue Reading
However, the significance of the visit is not limited to electioneering on the western side of the Atlantic.
Biden’s presence for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is both a powerful endorsement of that breakthrough deal signed quarter of a century ago and a visible expression of American commitment to peace in the region.
The latter is a timely reminder to an increasingly divided and isolated Britain, with its ongoing political chaos, of America’s focus on maintaining stability in the North.
The Biden visit has echoes of previous triumphant presidential tours, from the visit of John F Kennedy in 1963 to that of Barack Obama in 2011.
Perhaps the most salient comparison, however, is with Bill Clinton’s visits, given that those were an expression of genuine commitment to change in Northern Ireland, and change for the better.
The timing of the Biden announcement has yet more significance, coming as it does on the eve of the annual visit by Irish politicians to the White House.
It would be disingenuous to dissociate such visits, however ceremonial and prone to criticism they are, from real-world improvements in Irish life wrought by interventions such as Clinton’s in helping to forge the Good Friday Agreement.
It is worth restating that every country in the world would welcome the access Ireland enjoys to the most powerful man in the world every March 17; every country in the world recognises the opportunities that access brings.
Biden’s visit, and in particular the event he comes to Ireland to celebrate, exemplify the benefits of that access.