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Thursday, June 13, 2024  
07 Dhul-Hijjah 1445  

Biden to address Irish parliament on historic visit

The President headed south on Wednesday to observe a disembarkation point for some of his 19th-century Irish forebears
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

After a frosty encounter north of the border, US President Joe Biden is assured of a far warmer welcome by lawmakers in Ireland on Thursday during a visit to the country of his ancestral roots.

Biden, who is only the second Catholic president in America’s history, headed south on Wednesday to observe a disembarkation point for some of his 19th-century Irish forebears, following a speech in UK-ruled Northern Ireland.

Braving a typical Irish drizzle, Biden said “It feels wonderful! Feels like I’m coming home”, while visiting Carlingford Castle.

Earlier, his one-night stop in Belfast was shadowed by the recriminations of pro-UK unionists who accused Biden of betraying “anti-British” feeling despite his attempts to bolster economic growth in the territory, 25 years after a US-brokered peace agreement.

Biden, who declares Ireland to be “part of my soul”, told an audience at Belfast’s Ulster University that he cared about peace for the whole of the divided island.

He urged the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to end its boycott of Northern Ireland’s Stormont legislature, advertising the promise in return of investment from “scores of major American corporations” if political stability returns.

In addressing the Irish parliament, known as the Oireachtas, in Dublin, Biden will follow in steps first walked by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who in June 1963 became the first sitting president to visit Ireland – five months before his assassination.

In his speech, Kennedy remarked that the parliament building – Leinster House – had once belonged to his ancestors the Fitzgeralds, the earls of Kildare. But, he joked, “I have not come here to claim it”.

Instead, he dwelt on “the many and the enduring links which have bound the Irish and the Americans since the earliest days”, when both were engaged in struggle against the British.

Unlike JFK, Biden cannot boast of noble ancestors in his lineage, but some of his forebears fled famine under British rule and congregated in hardscrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.

In his own speech Thursday, Biden will echo his predecessor in underscoring “the deep and enduring historical, cultural, political and economic ties between our countries”, according to senior White House adviser Amanda Sloat.

Ancestry

Biden’s ancestry is never far from his lips, leading to accusations among Northern Irish unionists that his visit to the Emerald Isle is unabashed campaigning ahead of a re-election run.

“The relative strength of Irish-Americans as a percentage of all Americans is dropping steadily, but Ireland retains an outsized influence on the US,” said Coilin Parsons, director of global Irish studies at Washington’s Georgetown University.

“From music to literature and more, Irish culture has always found an eager public in the US, and not just among Irish-Americans,” he told AFP.

Ahead of his speech, Biden will meet Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar – whom he welcomed to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day last month, when the White House fountain ran emerald green.

After the remarks, Varadkar will host a banquet in Biden’s honour at Dublin Castle, the ancient seat of English and British rule in Ireland.

Before jetting home on Friday, Biden will head to Ballina in County Mayo, northwestern Ireland, another jumping-off point for ancestors who emigrated to Pennsylvania.

Biden still counts relatives living in the area, including Joe Blewitt, a third cousin, who works as a plumber.

“It’s emotional, it’s a very proud day for our family and for Ireland,” Blewitt, 43, told AFP. “Ballina’s very special to him.”

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Joe Biden

Ireland

US President

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