“The United States has been your closest partner, your most dependable partner and your most enthusiastic supporter every step of the way,” Biden said. “In this moment, the world needs Ireland and the United States, and our limitless imaginations.”
Biden’s remarks came during a four-day trip across Northern Ireland and Ireland designed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement. The visit also served as an opportunity for Biden to reconnect with his Irish roots.
A proud Irish Catholic who frequently quotes Irish poets in his speeches and cites his heritage as a defining element of his life, Biden on Thursday called his speech to the nation’s parliament “one of the great honors of my career.”
“You knew I’d be coming,” Biden told Irish lawmakers at the outset. “I only wish I could stay longer.”
The 35-minute address was by turns optimistic and sentimental, peppered with asides about his Irish relatives as well as other Irish Americans he’d met. The Irish people are the “backbone of America’s progress,” Biden said.
At one point, growing suddenly quiet, he mentioned his late son Beau, who he said was “the one who should be standing here giving this speech to you.”
But Biden largely focused his remarks on the economic and diplomatic possibilities he envisioned in a continued U.S.-Ireland partnership between the U.S. and Ireland. He singled out the nation’s political and humanitarian support for Ukraine even as it remains militarily neutral.
Ireland has been sharply critical of Moscow and offered extensive nonlethal aid to Ukraine, while taking in nearly 80,000 Ukrainian refugees — which Biden cited as an example of the continued strength of the global coalition opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin thought the world would look the other way,” he said. “That’s what he thought. But he was wrong, he was wrong on every point.”
Biden also addressed matters closer to home for the Irish, reiterating his support for strengthening the Good Friday pact that largely ended sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
“Peace is precious,” Biden warned those in attendance, which included former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and former Sinn Féin party leader Gerry Adams, two key figures in achieving the Good Friday accord. “It still needs its champions. It still needs to be nurtured.”
He also urged the U.K. to work closer with Ireland in smoothing out ongoing trade issues related to Northern Ireland — following Britain’s 2021 exit from the European Union, it remains the only part of the U.K. still inside the EU’s single market for goods. Biden said there’s “more to be done” to reassure the region’s British unionists that this arrangement, which keeps trade flowing freely between the two parts of Ireland, won’t threaten their future in the U.K.
Biden became the fourth U.S. president to address a joint session of the Irish parliament, a landmark event that followed separate meetings with Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Varadkar earlier Thursday praised the U.S. support for Ukraine, telling reporters that “I never thought in my lifetime that we would see a war of this nature happen in Europe again.”
“If it wasn’t for American leadership, and for America and Europe working together, I don’t know what kind of world we’d live in,” he added.
In addition to the diplomatic meetings, Biden is using the trip to revisit his ancestral home for the first time since 2017. On Wednesday, he toured County Louth, the past home of his Finnegan descendants, including a stop at a 12th-century castle that he said was likely the last Irish landmark his great-great-grandfather saw before setting sail for America.
Biden is slated to visit County Mayo on Friday, where his Blewitt ancestors hail from. He told the Irish parliament that those connections, and the way they shaped his upbringing, are “emblematic of the stories of so many Irish and American families.”
“This is about defending the values handed down to us by our ancestors,” Biden said of the U.S.-Ireland alliance’s enduring importance. “This is a struggle we’re fit to fight together.”