Joe Biden 'more than comfortable' visiting Belfast despite Londonderry violence

Joe Biden's Ireland visit will mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, but recent clashes with police show tensions remain, ITV News' John Irvine reports

US President Joe Biden has been “very excited” about visiting the island of Ireland for “quite some time”, a White House spokesman has said.

His four-day trip, starting Tuesday, comes right after the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought the sectarian conflict known as The Troubles to an end.

Tensions between nationalists and loyalists still remain in Northern Ireland however, as a crowd threw petrol bombs at a police van during a dissident republican march on Sunday.

Asked about recent street violence, the White House spokesman John Kirby said: "You know we don’t ever talk about security requirements of protecting the president but the president is more than comfortable making this trip and he’s very excited to do it.”

President Biden will be greeted by prime minister Rishi Sunak when he arrives in Belfast and they will hold a bilateral meeting on Wednesday.

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He will then head to Ulster University to speak about the “tremendous progress” since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. “It will underscore the readiness of the United States to preserve those gains and support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities,” Mr Kirby said.

He added: “President Biden cares deeply about Northern Ireland and has a long history of supporting peace and prosperity there. “As a US senator, Joe Biden was an advocate for how the United States could play a constructive role supporting peace,” After his speech at Ulster University, Mr Biden will travel to Co Louth, where his great-grandfather James Finegan was born.

“The Finegan family lived there before they crossed the sea to begin a new life in America.”

Recent violence in Londonderry shows peace in Northern Ireland remains fragile 25 years on from the Good Friday agreement. Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

He will tour Carlingford Castle on Wednesday before spending the night in Dublin, said Mr Kirby. He said Mr Biden will then meet Irish president Michael D Higgins on Thursday and take part in a tree-planting ceremony and ringing of the Peace Bell at the president’s official residence, Aras an Uachtarain. “Following that ceremony, he will meet again with the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, whom the president just hosted here for St Patrick’s Day. “In both meetings, the president will discuss our close co-operation on the full range of shared global challenges. “He will then address a joint session of Irish parliament about US-Irish co-operation to advance democracy, peace, security and prosperity.” Mr Kirby said Mr Biden will attend a banquet dinner at Dublin Castle on Thursday. On Friday he will travel to Co Mayo for the culmination of the trip.

Dissident Republicans parade in the Creggan area of Londonderry on Easter Monday Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“He will tour the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock and visit the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Centre’s family history research unit.” He will then speak at St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina. Mr Kirby said the president’s great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt sold 27,000 bricks to the cathedral in 1827. “Those bricks were used to construct and support the great cathedral and help Edward afford to buy tickets for himself and for his family to sail to America decades later in 1851.

“The president is very much looking forward to that trip and to celebrating the deep historic ties that our two countries and our two people continue to share.” “As well as the shared deep history between the United States and Ireland, today one in 10 Americans claim Irish ancestry and Irish Americans are proudly represented in every facet of American life. “Ireland is a key economic partner of the United States and the United States and Ireland are working closely together to make the global economy more fair."