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US President Joe Biden tells Irish parliament 'I'm home'

April 13, 2023

The second day of the US President's Ireland tour takes him to Dublin. Biden will also stop at the town of his ancestors in County Mayo, where he plans to reconnect with distant relatives.

Joe Biden (R) shakes hands with Seán Ó Fearghaíl, speaker of the lower chamber of Irish parliament, as speaker of the upper chamber Jerry Buttimer (L) looks on
Joe Biden gave a speech in the Irish parliament a day after giving an address in Northern IrelandImage: Patrick Semansky/AP/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden addressed the Irish parliament in a speech on Thursday, as he resumed a three-day trip to the island which also saw him stop in Belfast.

The US president, who often boasts of his Irish heritage, also met the Irish president and prime minister on Thursday and was expected to attend a banquet at Dublin Castle.

The visit was mainly advertised as a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland's Good Friday agreement, which ended some 30 years of violence often referred to as the "Troubles."

Biden hails close ties with Ireland in address

What did Biden say in his address to parliament?

"Political violence must never again be allowed to take hold in this island," Biden told the audience following his visit to Belfast, adding that the UK "should be working closer with Ireland" to protect the gains of the 25 years of peace achieved by the Good Friday Agreement.

The bond that joins Ireland and the US is "not just the hope but the conviction that better days lie ahead."

"We have the power to build a better future," he told the Irish lawmakers who greeted his speech with warm applause.

Biden addresses Irish parliament

"As the Irish saying goes, your feet will bring you to where your heart is," Biden said, before switching briefly to Irish to say "I'm home."

Veteran nationalist leader Gerry Adams, who was in the audience for the president's speech, hugged Biden afterward. The scene will likely further stoke anger among pro-unionists in the North, especially after their leader Arlene Foster said that Biden "hates the United Kingdom."

What are Biden's plans in Ireland?

Biden met with Irish President Michael D. Higgins, closely following up on another for the pair last month, when the latter was in Washington for St. Patrick's Day.

He also met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of Ireland, who will host a banquet in the US president's honor at Dublin Castle, which was once the seat of English and subsequent British rule in Ireland.

On Friday, before he flies home, the president plans to make a final family stop. He's due to give a public address at the northwestern town of Ballina in County Mayo.

There, he plans to meet relatives who stayed in the area long after his paternal great-great-great-grandfather left in the 1800s.

Joe Blewitt, a third cousin of the president who works as a plumber, is scheduled for a meeting.

"It's emotional, it's a very proud day for our family and for Ireland," Blewitt, 43, told the French AFP news agency. "Ballina's very special to him."

People smile as they line the streets holding US flags while they wait for President Joe Biden to arrive for events in Dundalk, Ireland, Wednesday, April 12, 2023.
Residents of the town of Dundalk greeted the president Image: Christophe Ena/AP Photo/picture alliance

The US president already stopped at another ancestral hometown on his way to Dublin. On Wednesday, Biden complimented the residents of Dundalk, from where his maternal great-great-grandfather hailed, on the beauty of their town.

"I don't know why the hell my ancestors left here," he was quoted as saying. He did acknowledge that they must have left to escape the Great Famine of the mid-19th century.

Trickier stage in Belfast amid legislative deadlock

Biden's Dublin stop follows what had been reported to be a frosty trip to Northern Ireland, where Unionists have accused the US president of "harboring anti-British" sentiments. 

The US was a key mediator of the Good Friday agreement, which for the most part brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of conflict. The period of violence pitted the largely Protestant unionists who preferred to stay part of the UK against largely Catholic republicans, who wanted to be united with the Republic of Ireland in the south.

Biden promotes peace in Northern Ireland

Biden is only the second Catholic president of the US, after John F. Kennedy, who also had Irish heritage and was the first US president to visit Ireland.

The shadow of the Troubles has returned to Northern Ireland since Brexit threatened to make alterations to the conditions upon which the 1998 deal was based. Ultimately a solution was found maintaining most of the document's promises regarding an open border and access to the Republic of Ireland, but the DUP is dissatisfied with the impact on trade relations to the rest of the UK that came as a by-product of maintaining the open border even after the UK left the EU.

ab, rmt/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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