Irish Examiner view: Joe Biden fails to match action with his talk of ancestral homeland

US president has not announced any plans to visit Ireland, he has not appointed an ambassador to Ireland and he has failed to appoint a US special envoy to the North
Irish Examiner view: Joe Biden fails to match action with his talk of ancestral homeland

US president Joe Biden is keen to talk about being Irish at almost any opportunity but is slow to act on plans to visit Ireland and appoint a US ambassador in Dublin and a US special envoy to Northern Ireland. Picture: Andrew Harnik/AP

US president Joe Biden takes great pride in his Irish roots, which can be traced back to the Great Famine of the 1840s; he is also distant cousins with the Irish rugby player Rob Kearney. 

He is keen to talk about being Irish at almost any opportunity and he likes to reflect on the strong sense of pride he and his family share in their Irish heritage. 

His favourite poets are all Irish. In a presidential campaign video in 2020, he quoted a verse from 'The Cure at Troy' by Seamus Heaney: 

'History says, don’t hope,

on this side of the grave... 

But then, once in a lifetime 

the longed-for tidal wave

 of justice can rise up, 

and hope and history rhyme.'

He has also said repeatedly that he planned to visit Ireland as US president. 

In January, Taoiseach Micheál Martin discussed US-Ireland relations ahead of Biden’s inauguration as president during a webinar presented by the Institute of International and European Affairs. 

When I invited President Biden to Ireland, he just said, ‘try and keep me out’.

The pity of it is that he does not appear to match those words with action. 

He has not announced any plans to visit Ireland, he has not appointed an ambassador to Ireland and he has failed to appoint a US special envoy to the North.

President Biden’s first official overseas trip will be to the United Kingdom and Belgium in June, and there is no indication from the White House that he will also visit Ireland during that trip.

However, that is not the most troubling aspect of his presidency so far, as far as his ancestral homeland is concerned. 

What is most troubling is the lack of a US ambassador in Dublin and a US special envoy to Northern Ireland to give American advice on the peace process.

The absence of a senior American voice in Northern Ireland is alarming. 

We have had more than 20 years of peace in the North, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement, but we must never forget that we also endured 30 years of extreme violence there that cost thousands of lives. 

As Albert Einstein, among other notables, put it: “Peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law, of order — in short, of government.”

The absence of war in the North has been made possible because of the peace process, brought about in part by direct American involvement and indirect American influence. 

We need that involvement and influence to continue, particularly as there are already worrying signs that widespread violence could return to the streets. 

The so-called New IRA almost murdered a female PSNI officer and her three-year-old child two weeks ago in a thwarted bomb attack. 

For weeks, we have seen loyalist demonstrations against the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol and there are already signs that we could be in for a long, hot summer. 

As the marching season approaches, mobs have taken control of streets in loyalist areas of Belfast and Derry.

The presence of an American envoy may not have prevented such violence in the North, but the absence of one could be seen as indifference to it. 

It is time that Mr Biden matches words with action.

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