US President Joe Bidden

Huge security operation for Joe Biden visit to Belfast

US President Joe Biden intends to emphasise his country’s commitment to preserving peace in Northern Ireland when he visits Belfast this evening.

He will arrive in the city to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement.

The 1998 deal brought an end to the Troubles – the decades-long violent conflict in Northern Ireland in which thousands of people were killed.

A huge security operation is already in place in Belfast for the visit.

While Mr Biden has praised what politicians did to secure peace in 1998, his visit is overshadowed by the fact that Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government is not functioning.

It collapsed last year when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – one of the biggest parties at Stormont – pulled out as part of a protest against post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.

Joe Biden watches as Rishi Sunak speaks in San Diego
Joe Biden will be welcomed to Belfast on Tuesday night by Rishi Sunak

Ahead of his arrival, Mr Biden said: “I look forward to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the US commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity.”

His visit to Belfast will be the first leg of a four-day stay in Ireland, during which he will discuss his Irish roots and meet Irish relatives.


Mr Biden’s trip comes two weeks after MI5 said the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland had increased due to a rise in activity by dissident republicans.

During an illegal parade by dissident republicans in Londonderry on Monday petrol bombs were thrown at a police vehicle but the violence was confined to one area and ended a short time later.

The president’s spokesman said Mr Biden was “more than comfortable making this trip” in spite of the terrorism threat.

On Monday the 80-year-old dropped another hint that he would seek re-election in 2024, saying he planned to run again but was “not prepared to announce it yet”.

Where can I see Joe Biden in Northern Ireland?

The US president will travel from Washington DC on Air Force One and will arrive at Belfast International Airport some time on Tuesday evening.

Upon his arrival he will be greeted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

A police Land Rover parked at a cordon close to the Belfast hotel in which Joe Biden in expected to stay
Image caption,Hundreds of extra police officers have been drafted into Belfast ahead of Joe Biden’s arrival

No other details have been revealed about his plans for Tuesday evening but he is expected to stay at a Belfast city centre hotel.

His visit to Northern Ireland is much shorter than was originally expected.

He will leave Belfast on Wednesday afternoon to travel to the Republic of Ireland for events in counties Louth and Mayo, where he has relatives, and in Dublin before leaving on Friday.

What will Joe Biden do in Belfast?

The main event will be a speech at the new Ulster University campus in Belfast.

It is understood that he will use that to underscore the willingness of the US to help to preserve what he sees as the peace and prosperity gained since the Good Friday Agreement.

The president is also expected to talk about how the US administration can support Northern Ireland’s economy. caption,

The Good Friday Agreement explained in 90 seconds

He is expected to meet the leaders of Stormont’s five main political parties at some point during his brief time in the city.

There has been a huge police presence in the centre of Belfast since Monday afternoon and that will continue all through Tuesday and into Wednesday.

On Bedford Street police officers are patrolling at barricades close to the Grand Central Hotel but pedestrians can pass through and businesses in the area are operating as usual.

Analysis box by Enda McClafferty, NI political editor

There has been some tension, we understand, behind the scenes about the details of this visit.

Things have been strained between Downing Street and the White House in terms of what the president is going to be doing in Northern Ireland and the fact that he is not going to Stormont.

The Prime Minister was keen to have his moment – this is, after all, a US presidential visit to the UK on his watch.

He will greet the president at the bottom of the steps of Airforce One tonight and there’s a half-hour set aside for a bilateral meeting tomorrow – but not much more beyond that.

The PM will be not be on the front row at Ulster University with other politicians during the president’s only public engagement here.

The fact that he will be off doing other things in Northern Ireland at the time is telling considering how important this visit is here.


‘US influence must be used with care’

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has described Mr Biden’s visit as significant but said that American influence on Northern Ireland politics had to be used with “care and sensitivity”.

“There’s a difference between influencing and pressurising – one tends to be positive and the other can be negative,” Mr Blair told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“One thing I learned about the unionists is if you try to pressurise them to do something they are fundamentally in disagreement with it’s usually futile pressure.

John Owen Finegan waves a US flag outside a bar in County Louth
Image caption,John Owen Finegan – a fourth cousin of Joe Biden – is hoping to meet him in Ireland this week

“I had a very close relationship with President [Bill] Clinton outside of the peace process but I found him immensely helpful.

“He would immediately understand strategically what was important and what wasn’t.”

Former Irish ambassador to the US Daniel Mulhall said that Mr Biden would have preferred to have spoken to politicians at a functioning Stormont assembly.

But he added: “His speech [at Ulster University] will be very carefully crafted to get across the message that essentially America is here to help.”

‘Biden is five-eights Irish’

President Biden regularly speaks of his Irish heritage and had promised to visit the country during his presidency.

A US genealogist who researched his lineage had estimated he is “roughly five-eighths” Irish.

Among his great-grandparents was Edward Blewitt, an engineer and brickmaker who left the west coast town of Ballina in County Mayo in 1850.

He settled in Scranton in Pennsylvania as the devastating Irish potato famine was causing widespread starvation.

President Biden’s maternal great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan departed Carlingford in County Louth in the late 1840s to travel to America.

A map of Ireland showing the locations that Joe Biden is due to visit - they are Belfast, Dublin, Carlingford Castle, Ballina and Knock

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