Joe Biden’s meddling will not end Stormont boycott, DUP sources warn

DUP - Brian Lawless/PA Wire
DUP - Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Joe Biden has been warned by the DUP that meddling in Northern Ireland will delay a return to power sharing.

The party said attempts by the US president to pressure them to return to the Stormont Assembly would not work because Unionists had “jaundiced views” of his Irish Nationalist sympathies.

Mr Biden will visit Northern Ireland next month as part of events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

After Rishi Sunak successfully pushed his Brexit deal with the EU through Parliament last week, the anniversary is expected to mark a further ratcheting up of attempts to lobby the DUP to return to the Stormont Assembly.

Mr Biden has heaped praise on Mr Sunak’s Windsor Framework, saying it would allow the people of Northern Ireland to “take full advantage of the economic opportunities” created by “stability and certainty”.

In a statement welcoming the framework last month, he said: “Northern Ireland can accomplish the extraordinary when its leaders work together in common cause. And I hope – as we all do – that Northern Ireland’s political institutions are soon back up and running.”

The president held back on confirming his attendance at the Good Friday Agreement commemorations until after Mr Sunak had secured the deal and is expected to make further exhortations for power-sharing to be resumed during his visit.

Biden Sunak - Leon Neal/Getty Images
Biden Sunak - Leon Neal/Getty Images

However, the DUP has insisted that they will withstand such pressure. A senior party source said that Mr Biden had alienated Unionists through previous statements in which he indicated he held Nationalist sympathies.

The source said: “There’s a very jaundiced view of the Biden Administration generally given Biden’s previous comments.

“Nobody in the DUP is considering that as leverage or any pressure whatsoever.”

They added that heavy-handed US diplomacy aimed at forcing a return to Stormont would have the opposite effect on the party.

The DUP have been boycotting the Assembly since February 2022 in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements, which they believe pose a threat to Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.

In the wake of last week’s vote, the party said there is no imminent prospect of a Stormont return.

Mr Biden often emphasises his Irish-American roots.

While serving as vice president in 2015, he sparked Unionist fury when he joked to the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny that “if you're wearing orange, you’re not welcome in here”.

He made the comment during a breakfast meeting at his home in Washington on St Patrick’s Day.

‘No arbitrary deadline’

He caused further controversy in 2022 when he compared the plight of Irish Catholics under the British to the Palestinians.

During a visit to the Middle East, he said: “My background and the background of my family is Irish American, and we have a long history not fundamentally unlike the Palestinian people with Great Britain and their attitude toward Irish Catholics over the years, for 400 years.”

DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said regarding power sharing: “Whether the president visits or not, I have no arbitrary deadline here… however long that takes is how long it will take.”

He also suggested that Chuck Schumer - the Senate majority leader - should “read some history books” after he told the party to return to “the business of power sharing and self-governing”.

This was echoed by another DUP MP, Gregory Campbell, who recently said: “Neither Downing Street nor the White House should try and use a visit by the president to try and pressurise people into some sort of move on political issues.

“That would not only be an unfortunate use of the president’s visit but could severely rebound on those who might try that.”

Other US politicians have irritated the DUP in recent weeks. Earlier in the month, Hillary Clinton raised hackles in the party when she said that Northern Irish parties had been elected to form a government, and if they could not they should “resign and let someone from their party who is willing to be part of a new government move forward”.