Belfast’s ring of steel for Biden: Police ramp up security and close roads ahead of president’s Good Friday anniversary visit after teenage terrorists threw petrol bombs at cop cars

  • President Joe Biden will land in Belfast on Tuesday evening for a four-day visit
  • The city’s long history of violence ended with the Good Friday Agreement
  • Even so armored police vehicles have closed off roads around Biden’s hotel 

Police in Belfast, Northern Ireland, laid down a ring of steel Tuesday around the city center hotel where President Joe Biden will stay during his brief visit to Northern Ireland.

Armored vehicles parked up outside the Grand Central hotel, where barriers were erected to close the street to traffic.

Biden is due to fly in on Tuesday evening during a fragile time for politics in Northern Ireland, and a day earlier teenagers threw petrol bombs at police in Derry.

The violence is nothing compared with the decades of violence known as the Troubles, but Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency recently increased the threat level in from domestic terrorism to ‘severe’ – meaning an attack is highly likely. 

The result is a major policing operation. Some 300 officers have been drafted in from elsewhere in the U.K. to bolster numbers with the whole cost coming to about £7 million (about $8.7 million). 

Police in Belfast, Northern Ireland, laid down a ring of steel Tuesday around the city center hotel where President Joe Biden will stay during his brief visit to Northern Ireland

READ MORE: How 27,000 bricks from Biden’s great-great-great grandfather helped build the cathedral where he’ll speak in Ireland

Biden is in town to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Belfast Agreement that ended the years of sectarian attacks.

‘Twenty five years ago, Northern Ireland’s leaders chose peace. I look forward to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the U.S. commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity,’ he wrote on Twitter.

But the huge security operation is a reminder of the province’s troubled history.

On Easter Monday, a traditional flashpoint, youths allied to a dissident republican group clashed with police in Derry.

Police said they had intelligence that a major attack had been planned so when masked teenagers threw petrol bombs at a vehicle, they simply withdrew rather than being sucked into what they thought might be an ambush. 

And days earlier it emerged that the Police Service of Northern Ireland had disrupted plans for an attack to overshadow Biden’s visit. 

The resident is due to arrive on Tuesday evening. He will spend only a few hours in Belfast before heading south to Dublin, and a visit that will include touring Co. Mayo and Co. Louth, home to his ancestors. 

While in Belfast Biden, who has long been known for his pro-Irish views, has been warned to tread carefully for fear of offending unionists loyal to London and who are boycotting the province’s power-sharing government.

Biden is due to arrive in Belfast on Tuesday evening before leaving for Dublin the next day

Easter Monday brought violence to Derry, where masked teenagers through petrol bombs at a police vehicle during a march by dissident republicans opposed to the 1998 peace deal

There is a heavy police presence in the center of Belfast ahead of Biden’s arrival

The president is expected to meet leaders from five Northern Irish parties on Wednesday. 

‘The president will have the opportunity to engage with the political parties of Northern Ireland before his speech, and as we’ve said, he looks forward to continuing to engage them as we work to improve the lives and livelihoods of all communities there,” said John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson. 

Biden is bringing his special envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III.

And he is expected to float the idea of close investment ties between the U.S. and Northern Ireland to try to end the current political deadlock. 

But at times his comments have angered unionists as they tried to thrash out post-Brexit trade regulations. 

‘The American involvement here has been a positive and a constructive one and fair in respect to the protocol issues,’ Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin told national broadcaster RTE, referring to the trade barriers that the European Union and U.K. agreed to ease in a recent deal endorsed by Biden.

Roads have been closed around Biden’s hotel amid a huge police operation to keep him safe

EXCLUSIVE: MP warns Biden to avoid anti-British gaffes during Belfast visit: Political foes are waiting to ‘weaponize’ president’s jokes for political gain to derail Northern Ireland’s deadlock

President Joe Biden needs to be on best behavior during his visit to Northern Ireland and avoid making any anti-British gaffes that could further derail the region’s deadlocked political system, according to one of the province’s MPs.

Claire Hanna, who represents South Belfast for the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, said unionists were ready to seize on any clumsy jokes or asides for political gain.

But Biden has a habit of peppering remarks about his Irish links with memories of his mother’s anti-English sentiment and dubious jokes about the Protestant community.

‘Any such gaffes would be mercilessly weaponized by the Democratic Unionist Party,’ said Hanna, referring to the biggest unionist party.

Biden is due to arrive in Belfast on Tuesday at the start of a four-day visit. 

Belfast MP Claire Hanna said President Joe Biden will need to mind his manners during his visit to Northern Ireland. Any gaffe will be seized on by pro-British unionists, she said

Biden arrives at a politically awkward time. Northern Ireland’s government has not sat in nearly a year amid wrangling over post-Brexit trade arrangements

The timing is designed to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement with ended decades of violence.

But it comes at a time of political crisis. The province has not had a government since May last year.

The DUP has refused to take part because of wrangling over post-Brexit trade arrangements. 

And Biden is expected to meet the leaders of Northern Ireland’s five political parties on Wednesday.

Experts hold out little hope that any encouragement from a U.S. president known for his pro-Irish sentiments could help ease the impasse. Instead they fear his occasional anti-British sentiments could further alienate unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

As vice president, for example, Biden caused huge offence to Northern Ireland’s unionist community when, during a St Patrick’s day event, he joked: ‘If you’re wearing orange you’re not welcome here.’

Northern Ireland’s mostly Protestant unionist community associate themselves with the color in celebration of William of Orange’s victory over Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Hanna said unionists would be looking for any similar slights during Biden’s visit. 

Biden is visiting for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which ended decades of violence. This 1975 photograph shows the aftermath of a bomb attack on the Europa Hotel

Easter is always a flashpoint in Northern Ireland, and republican youths clashed with police in Derry on Monday, a reminder that the 1998 peace deal was only the start of a process

While many of Biden’s gaffes can be shrugged off as inconsequential, Northern Ireland’s febrile political scene means they could have a profound impact. 

‘I mean, I think from from day one, they characterize Biden’s Irish roots as as meaning that he was hostile to Northern Ireland,’ she told

‘You know In Northern Ireland, people go out of their way to be offended. They’ll be on high alert looking for something to be cross about in what he says.’

Biden is spending less than a day in Northern Ireland, before heading south of the border.

That schedule has already annoyed some in Belfast who believe he should be spending more time in the province.

But it does reduce the time for gaffes in such a politically sensitive place. 

Biden’s maternal line emigrated from Ireland during the Great Famine. The Blewitts left Co. Mayo and settled in Scranton, PA, while the Finnegans left Co. Louth and came to New York

Unionists have long been suspicious of Biden and his Irish Catholic heritage. As a senator in 1985 he spoke out against making it easier to extradite Irish Republican Army militants from the U.S. to Britain, a sentiment popular with Irish-Americans but not in Britain.  

He has talked often about his mother’s hatred for England, which was so intense that she once refused to use a bed that Queen Elizabeth II had slept in.

In his memoir, ‘Promises to Keep,’ he recalls a degree of embarrassment at his English surname Biden.

And he describes how his Irish-American aunt Gertie Finnegan once told him: ‘Your father is not a bad man. He’s just English.’

In 2020, as president-elect, he took a cheeky dig at the UK’s national broadcaster when a BBC reporter shouted a question at him. ‘The BBC?’ he said moving on with a smile. ‘I’m Irish.’ 

‘It’s part of the persona,’ said Hanna. ‘He’s clearly not mean spirited and it’s sort of a Dad joke. But it’s genuinely not helpful.’

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