Biden visit does not increase pressure on DUP to accept deal – Donaldson

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The DUP is not under increased pressure to accept the Windsor Framework because US President Joe Biden is to visit Northern Ireland, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted.

Speaking from Washington, the DUP leader said what is in the new UK-EU deal is “insufficient” on its own, and he needs to see legislative safeguards.

Mr Biden has confirmed it is his intention to visit both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The planned visit has been welcomed by the Taoiseach and Tanaiste, as well as Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill, who said the eyes of the world would be on the island of Ireland.

The devolved powersharing institutions in Northern Ireland collapsed last year as part of a DUP protest against the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

The US president has a deep affection for his Irish ancestry and a visit to the island has always been on the cards since his election.

He confirmed the visit during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Speaking in Washington, Sir Jeffrey said “many American presidents” had visited Northern Ireland.

He added “The really important thing for not only the American administration but for all of us is to ensure that we make progress on the basis of solid foundations.

NI Executive Formation Bill
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson denied the visit of the US president has increased pressure on his party (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“I am totally focused on what we need to achieve in terms of our seven tests and the objectives we set out in terms of having the protocol replaced with new arrangements that respect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.”

Asked if the Biden visit increases pressure on his party to restore the Stormont institutions, Sir Jeffrey said: “Whether the president visits or not, I have no arbitrary deadline here. I am not under any pressure in terms of timelines.

“I want to get this right. However long that takes is how long it will take.

“We need to see the legislation, we need to ensure that what the Prime Minister is saying is translated into law and that the protection is robust and workable.

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said the eyes of the world will be on the island of Ireland when Joe Biden visits (Liam McBurney/PA)

“We need to see the legislative safeguards, we need to see the legislation that is going to ensure the Government honours the commitments it has made.”

Welcoming the announcement of the president’s visit, Ms O’Neill said: “I would be delighted to welcome President Biden to Belfast as we mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in a few weeks’ time.

“The United States has been a key partner for peace in Ireland and such a visit demonstrates its continued commitment, which is deeply valued.

“As the eyes of the world turn to our island once more, we must use this opportunity to attract economic investment and create good jobs for our people.

“Now that agreement has been secured on the Brexit Protocol, we must keep political momentum going and restore the executive without delay.

“There are huge opportunities before us which must be seized.”

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted: “Good news that President Biden plans to visit Ireland in the near future.

“I look forward to discussing the visit during my meeting with the president later this week.”

Mr Varadkar will meet Mr Biden in Washington this week as part of the annual St Patrick’s programme of events in the US capital.

Political leaders from Northern Ireland will also be in Washington.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Tanaiste Micheal Martin said the presidential visit is welcome news (Brian Lawless/PA)

He told RTE: “When I met Joe Biden two years ago, he told me, ‘Try and keep me out of Ireland.’

“I think his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement has been extraordinary. It is very welcome news.”

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said the visit is a “wonderful opportunity to showcase the island of Ireland”.

He added: “A large media contingent will travel to Ireland to cover the visit, bringing the story to millions of people in the United States and elsewhere around the world and providing a truly unique opportunity to highlight the island of Ireland as a wonderful holiday destination.”

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