One month on from President Biden’s visit, nothing has changed in Northern Ireland
"I went back to Ireland... to make sure the Brits didn't screw around".
“I went back to Ireland… to make sure the Brits didn’t screw around”, remarked Commander-in-chief Joe Biden yesterday when speaking to last month’s trip to Northern Ireland. However, “screw around” they most certainly have…
President Biden is one month removed from his supposedly historic trip to his ancestral homeland. A visit in which much was promised, but little has been delivered (yet).
The sojourn was not just the quintessential ‘retracing of roots’ which Americans seem to embark upon at a dizzying rate but was arranged to coincide with the commemorations surrounding the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
During Mr. Biden’s four-day tour around the Emerald Isle, his trip North of the border faded into the ether following his rejuvenated Oireachtas address and Presidential campaign announcement amidst the unlikely backdrop of Knock Airport.
However, if one manages to look past his quoting of Boland or his predictable hat-tips to Mayo’s upcoming bid for the Sam McGuire Cup, it was Mr. Biden’s remarks over Northern Ireland which should have been afforded the most introspection.
After speaking at the Ulster University last month, the Democratic leader referenced the need for “more work needing to be done” in the North, directly broaching the topic of the absent Stormont Assembly.
These calls for a return to power-sharing from the incumbent US President were at the time music to Republican ears, with Sinn Fein still waiting to lead the Assembly for the first time an entire year after their historic election victory.
Having met with all party leaders in the North, along with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, it was hoped that Mr. Biden’s influence would serve as the necessary impetus for breaking the gridlock.
The Unionist response.
Despite his words of encouragement though, the North still waits, with a latent form of Westminster rule currently steering the country into what appears to be an economic abyss.
Since the US President’s departure from these shores, London’s influence in Northern Ireland has failed to diminish but rather appears to be quietly growing after announcing the North’s budget for the coming financial year from the House of Commons.
Moreover, unfortunately for the people of the North, and the victorious Sinn Fein party, the biggest change over the past month has been the miserly jump in springtime temperatures.
Michelle O’Neill was seen yet again extending the hand of bipartisanship by attending last weekend’s royal coronation, but as of writing this piece, the DUP seem to have buried their heads in the sand regarding Mr. Biden’s wishes.
With an economy that was labelled as entering a “technical recession” last year, along with the news that economic productivity fell over 40% when compared to the Republic over the same time period, the North is teetering on the brink.
It has already over-extended itself to the tune of £300 million, having requested a loan from Westminster to bridge the fiscal gap made by the announcement of a budgetary deficit of double that amount.
A missed opportunity.
Responding to the economic turmoil facing the six counties, the US President promised increased US investment should the Assembly prove itself worthy by maintaining a stable power-sharing arrangement.
But yet again the DUP’s political ineptitude holds no bounds, as they continue to drag their feet on agreeing to Rishi Sunak’s revamped Brexit terms (already rejigged considerably to placate them in the first place).
Even the opportunity of releasing their own party manifesto fell wide of the mark, with leader Jeffery Donaldson reiterating his belief that the DUP should “stand firm”.
Delivering a manifesto which appeared to be asking voters to not vote for Sinn Fein owing to the fact they were Republican rather than vote for the DUP due to any coherent or impactful policy points, Donaldson embodied the tribalist politics of a bygone era.
So, whilst Mr. Biden promised the North change, it is not his fault that it has yet to rear its head.
Rather, it is those within the Unionist community who refuse to compromise with a First Minister in Michelle O’Neill who has time and again proved her own willingness to do so.
The North had the world’s attention and the offer of investment from its’ most vivacious economic power, but thanks to the DUP’s innate stubbornness, it appears to be passing them by at the expense of the communities they claim to represent.
To borrow a trope from Mr. Biden and sum up Donaldson’s DUP with an Eavan Boland quote, the following perfectly encapsulates their crusade to ‘secure Northern Ireland’s place within the union’;
“Listen. This is the noise of myth. It makes the same sound as shadow. Can you hear it?”
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