Biden to mark Good Friday peace deal in 5-day Irish trip
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DUBLIN — U.S. President Joe Biden will pay a five-day visit to both parts of Ireland next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord, according to a provisional Irish government itinerary seen by POLITICO.
The plans, still being finalized with the White House, have the president arriving in Northern Ireland on April 11. That’s one day after the official quarter-century mark for the Good Friday Agreement, the peace deal designed to end decades of conflict that claimed more than 3,600 lives.
With Irish roots on both sides of his family tree, Biden has long taken an interest in brokering and maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. He has welcomed the recent U.K.-EU agreement on making post-Brexit trade rules work in the region — a breakthrough that has yet to revive local power-sharing at the heart of the 1998 accord.
According to two Irish government officials involved in planning the Biden visit itinerary, the president will start his stay overnight at Hillsborough Castle, southwest of Belfast, the official residence for visiting British royalty, as a guest of the U.K.’s Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
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Then he’s scheduled to visit Stormont, the parliamentary complex overlooking Belfast, at the invitation of its caretaker speaker, Alex Maskey of the Irish republican Sinn Féin party.
That could prove controversial given that, barring a diplomatic miracle, the Northern Ireland Assembly and its cross-community government — a core achievement of the 1998 agreement — won’t be functioning due to a long-running boycott by the Democratic Unionists. That party has not yet accepted the U.K.-EU compromise deal on offer because it keeps Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the U.K., subject to EU goods rules and able to trade more easily with the rest of Ireland than with Britain. Nonetheless, assembly members from all parties including the DUP will be invited to meet Biden there.
The president is booked to officiate the official ribbon-cutting of the new downtown Belfast campus of Ulster University. During his stay in Northern Ireland he also is expected to pay a visit to Queen’s University Belfast, where former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton serves as chancellor.
Next, the Irish government expects the presidential entourage to cross the border into the Republic of Ireland, potentially by motorcade, the approach last adopted by Bill Clinton during his third and final visit to Ireland as president in 2000.
This would allow Biden to pay a visit to one side of his Irish family tree, the Finnegans, in County Louth. Louth is midway between Belfast and Dublin. Biden previously toured the area in 2016 as vice president, when he met distant relatives for the first time and visited the local graveyard.
In Dublin, it is not yet confirmed whether Biden will deliver a speech at College Green outside the entrance of Trinity College. That’s the spot where Barack Obama delivered his own main speech during a one-day visit as president in 2011.
A White House advance team is expected in Dublin this weekend to scout that and other potential locations for a speech and walkabout. He isn’t expected to hold any functions at the Irish parliament, which begins a two-week Easter recess Friday.
Members of Ireland’s national police force, An Garda Síochána, have been told by commanders they cannot go on leave during the week of April 10-16 in anticipation of Biden’s arrival. The Irish expect U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to accompany the president and take part in more detailed talks with Northern Ireland’s leaders.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar plans to host the president and Blinken at Farmleigh House, a state-owned mansion previously owned by the Guinness brewing dynasty, inside Dublin’s vast Phoenix Park.
The final two days of Biden’s visit will focus on the other side of his Irish roots, the Blewitts of County Mayo, on Ireland’s west coast, which he also visited in 2016. Distant cousins he first met on that trip have since been repeated guests of the White House, most recently on St. Patrick’s Day.
White House officials declined to discuss specific dates or any events planned, but did confirm that Biden would travel to Ireland “right after Easter.” This suggests an April 11 arrival in line with the Irish itinerary. Easter Sunday falls this year on April 9 and, in both parts of Ireland, the Christian holiday is a two-day affair ending in Easter Monday.
Jonathan Lemire contributed reporting.