Irish-US relations no longer focus solely on the North

Published date17 March 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
Reporting for The Irish Times on St Patrick's Day 1998, Joe Carroll noted: "There is a palpable feeling here that never again will there be such an opportunity, and that the bringing together of the main leaders under the White House roof at such a critical time must not be wasted." It certainly helped, and the Belfast Agreement was signed a few weeks later. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had noted in the White House during the same festivities that the political leaders could not afford the luxury of holding out in the negotiations "for another line or two"

Established pattern As it turned out, holding out for another few lines became an established pattern over the next quarter of a century and it is still going on today. It raises an interesting question as to the extent to which there is any appetite for more external intervention. While some Irish American lobbyists came to regard their role as almost providing a "strand four" to the peace process, alongside the internal Northern Ireland, North-South and east-west strands, their strand, in the direct political sense, had a shelf life and it has passed.

The appointment late last year of Joe Kennedy III as the US special envoy to Northern Ireland was pointedly for economic affairs, it being made clear he would not become involved in the Stormont stand-off. While it did underline an ongoing interest in Northern Ireland on the part of Biden, it was seen more as a harbinger of a possible visit to Ireland by the US president to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

That visit has now been confirmed, but there is no justification for any gushing giddiness about it. Getting sucked in to the current impasse is a very different kind of politics than was the case for Clinton nudging unionists and nationalists towards a historic breakthrough and, for him, a foreign policy coup. The boundaries of US presidential visits to Ireland have always been clearly established. In advance of his 1963 visit, for example, John F Kennedy told the Irish ambassador in Washington, Thomas J Kiernan, that he would not play politics with partition and intervene in Anglo-Irish relations.

Dated and twee Biden has long been known for the seriousness with which he takes...

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