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Five things to watch for Biden’s visit to Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

President Biden will travel to his ancestral homeland this week, a closely watched visit as he celebrates the 25th anniversary of the peace deal between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Biden, who often touts his Irish heritage, has repeatedly underscored the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and will do so again this week. The president is also set to address the Irish parliament and visit two counties where he has family ties.

Here are five things to watch for Biden’s visit:

Support for Good Friday Agreement

The main stated purpose for the trip is for Biden to commemorate 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which was struck on April 10, 1998.

The agreement between former British and Irish prime ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) ended the conflict, often called “The Troubles,” in mostly Northern Ireland between predominantly Catholic Ireland and predominantly Protestant England.

The United Kingdom’s exit in 2020 from the European Union, though, had sparked renewed concerns about the possibility of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, upsetting the agreement that has maintained peace for decades.

Biden and other leading Democrats have repeatedly affirmed their support for the agreement and argued that any deal struck in the aftermath of Brexit should retain the peace established 25 years ago. It’s a message Biden will carry with him during a speech at Ulster University on Wednesday.

“He’ll underscore the readiness of the US to preserve those gains and support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities,” said John Kirby, a White House national security spokesperson. “President Biden cares deeply about Northern Ireland and has a long history of supporting peace and prosperity there.”

Kirby added that the Good Friday Agreement is a deal that Biden “has a personal connection to and obviously is very proud to see has really changed lives and livelihoods in Northern Ireland.”

Sunak meeting in Belfast

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to greet Biden at his first stop in Belfast and the two will participate in a bilateral meeting. 

The two leaders will likely discuss the Windsor Framework, a new trade agreement aimed at allowing goods to flow freely to Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen brokered the deal last month, ending a dispute that had loomed since the U.K. voted in 2016 to leave the European Union.

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss had backed the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which critics say would risk violating international law by suspending parts of the agreement. Biden, in a meeting with her last September, set the stage for more conversations on her stance when he reiterated his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

But, Truss resigned from her role after just 45 days in office, and Sunak won a leadership contest to become prime minister in October.

Biden and Sunak met last month in San Diego, Calif., during which Sunak said he hopes Biden will make the trip to commemorate the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The president’s visit to Belfast comes as there has been an uptick in violence in Northern Ireland tied to people who oppose Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. Police have increased the domestic terrorism threat level ahead of Biden’s visit.

Emphasis on Irish heritage 

The president is expected to travel to two Irish counties, Louth and Mayo, where he has family ties.  

He plans to visit the County Mayo’s Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock, which is a Catholic pilgrimage site, and visit a genealogy center. He will deliver remarks at the St. Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina, a town he visited in June 2016 as vice president. 

Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather sold 27,000 bricks in 1827 to construct St Muredach’s Cathedral and Kirby said that selling those bricks helped Biden’s ancestors buy tickets to the U.S. in 1851.

The president has not been shy about his Irish roots, and he frequently quotes Irish poets like William Butler Yeats. Biden last month hosted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House for St. Patrick’s Day, where Varadkar made clear the fondness is mutual.

“I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be a visit like no other. Everyone’s excited about it already,” Varadkar said in the Oval Office. “We’re going to have great crowds who would love to see you.”

The White House has not yet said if any other Biden family members will be joining the president on his trip.

Address to the Irish parliament 

Biden’s address to the Irish parliament on Thursday is expected to include comments about the significance of the United States’ relationship with the Republic of Ireland, as well as the personal significance of the country to him.

Before his remarks to parliament, Biden will meet with Irish President Michael Higgins and participate in a tree planting ceremony with him. They will then ring the Dublin peace bell together and the president will meet with Varadkar.

“In both meetings the president will discuss our close corporation on the full range of shared global challenges,” Kirby said.

Three presidents before Biden have addressed a joint session of the Irish parliament– Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton. The president spoke to the Canadian parliament just last month, during which he trumpeted the importance of the U.S.’s relationship with the country.

Relationship with royal family ahead of coronation

Biden spoke to King Charles last week, during which he told him first lady Jill Biden would be leading the delegation to his coronation in May. The two leaders also agreed to meet in the near future but didn’t elaborate on plans.

“These are two leaders who have known each other a long time and have a very good relationship,” Kirby said, pointing to the phone call last week when asked if Biden would meet with King Charles during the visit.

Biden attended Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in September, joining other leaders from around the world. But, him not attending the coronation next month aligns with previous protocol. During the last coronation, for Elizabeth, then-President Eisenhower did not attend and also chose to send a delegation. 

Some members of the royal family could join Biden for the Good Friday anniversary though, giving the president facetime with the royals ahead of the coronation. Biden met with Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, when they had traveled to Boston in November. 

Source: The Hill

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