US President Joe Biden successfully navigated Northern Ireland’s political waters during his recent 18-hour visit. Avoiding criticism of the failure of Northern Ireland’s unity government, he highlighted the often-hidden reality that the region’s politicians actually get on well. Speaking to a group of opposing political leaders at Ulster University, Biden carefully avoided confronting Jeffrey Donaldson, the key figure blocking the revival of power-sharing. However, he dangled the prospect of US business investment should the situation change. In his speech, instead of extolling his famous Irish Catholic roots, Biden praised the contribution of Ulster Scots immigrants to the foundation of the US.
Many present at Biden’s speech noted the surprising unity between unionist and Irish nationalist parties. Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, who served as finance minister for the government that DP obstructed, noted that Biden diplomatically avoided assigning blame and instead focused on making a better Northern Ireland for today’s students. Naomi Long, leader of the center-ground Alliance Party, said that while it was a “missed opportunity” to visit Stormont parliament to form a new government as it isn’t currently operating, it would have been “farcical”.
Biden spent less than a day in Belfast before crossing the border to spend the rest of the week touring the Republic of Ireland. However, he left behind Joe Kennedy III, his new envoy for Northern Ireland. Making his first trip here, Kennedy will spend the next 10 days building business and political contacts across the region, chatting and joking with DUP politicians, notably Emma Little-Pengelly.