March 4. 2024. 6:50

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Biden confirms plan to visit Northern Ireland and Republic for peace anniversary

US president Joe Biden has said he intends to visit the Republic and Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement next month.

The visit was confirmed at a joint press conference with Mr Biden and British prime minister Rishi Sunak in the United States.

Speaking at a naval base in California, Mr Sunak told the US president that he looked forward to inviting him to Northern Ireland, which “hopefully you will be able to do an so we can commemorate the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement”.

“I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We would love to have you over,” Mr Sunak told Mr Biden during the press conference in San Diego.

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“Twenty five years? It seems like yesterday,” said the US president.

“It’s my intention to go to Northern Ireland and the Republic,” Mr Biden added.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said it was “very welcome news”.

Mr Martin said when he met Mr Biden two years ago the US president signalled his determination to visit Ireland. “I think his commitment to the Good Friday agreement, along with [former speaker of the US House of Representatives] Nancy Pelosi has been extraordinary,” Mr Martin said.

The Tánaiste highlighted “the importance and centrality of the US role in terms of the Good Friday agreement”, adding “we look forward” to the visit.

It will be Mr Biden’s first visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic as US president. The Irish-American Democrat, a descendant of Irish emigrants from Louth and Mayo, last visited Ireland in June 2016 when he was US vice president. He speaks regularly with pride about his Irish heritage.

The anniversary of the landmark agreement underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process falls on Monday, April 10th.

Initial planning suggests that Mr Biden may visit Belfast on the day of the anniversary for a planned event at Queen’s University Belfast commemorating the peace deal.

The US president may travel on to Dublin on Tuesday, April 11th for meetings with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings and President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin with the possibility of Mr Biden delivering a public speech while in the city.

Advance security teams preparing for the presidential visit have visited the State buildings in Dublin and examined potential locations for a speech to be delivered by Mr Biden.

Visits to the US president’s ancestral homes in Louth and Mayo may also be possible but the pre-planning teams have yet to examine locations in the two counties but may still consider visits as stops on the president’s itinerary.

US-based sources familiar with planning for the presidential visit stressed that the itinerary and dates of travel could still be subject to further change.

Further officials details around the visit may emerge later this week when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets Mr Biden at the White House as part of the traditional St Patrick’s Day programme.

Former US president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton are already expected in Belfast next month for events to commemorate the landmark peace deal, considered by many US politicians to be one of the most significant US foreign policy achievements of the Clinton era.

Confirmation of the widely anticipated visit comes after White House officials and members of the US secret service visited Belfast and scoped out possible venues in Dublin and elsewhere in advance planning for a visit with multiple stops.

The US president has taken a close interest in the Northern Ireland peace process. He has praised the recent EU-UK deal around the controversial Northern Ireland protocol saying that it was an “essential step” in protecting the Good Friday agreement.

Mr Biden’s support for the new agreement, known as the Windsor Framework, was seen as critical in paving the way for his Irish visit.

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak dampened any hopes that he could get Mr Biden to reopen negotiations on a post-Brexit free trade deal with the US.

The British prime minister insisted transatlantic trade was “growing massively anyway” as he praised pacts with individual states ahead of his meeting with Mr Biden.

A free trade deal with the world’s largest economy had been touted as one of the prizes of leaving the European Union but negotiations have stalled. — Additional reporting PA