• Joe Biden is likely to make Ireland his first state visit as President, sources on his campaign have told Business Insider.
  • The move, if confirmed, would be a coup for the Irish government and could heap more pressure on Boris Johnson to shift policy on Brexit.
  • In County Louth and County Mayo, where President-elect Biden's great-grandparents were from, residents have taken to the streets to celebrate his victory
  • "It's very much a case of local Joe," said Paul Allen, spokesperson for the Irish for Biden campaign.
  • Irish senators and campaigners say they expect his ties to the country mean he will face down UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his Brexit plans for Northern Ireland.
  • "For the first time since JFK, we'll have someone who is a real Irish American in the White House," Irish senator Erin McGreehan told Inisder.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President-elect Joe Biden is set to make Ireland his first foreign state visit, sources in his campaign have told Business Insider, in what supporters in his ancestral home believe would be a watershed moment in their relationship with the United States.

The move, if confirmed, would be a coup for Micheál Martin's government and would add to growing pressure on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to change course on Brexit after a difficult beginning to his relationship with the President-elect.

Biden's recent interventions in the Brexit negotiations have been greeted favourably in Ireland and with suspicion in the UK government, where Johnson is being urged to soften his position on the Northern Ireland border in order to strike a trade deal with the EU.

If Johnson does bend then Biden's interventions will undoubtedly be credited as a major factor and a further sign of the increased importance of Ireland as an ally for the US.

Biden's interest in the matter is rooted in a deeply-felt affinity with his ancestral homeland.

Read more: Joe Biden's election victory could soon spell trouble for Britain's 'mini-Trump' Boris Johnson

When he was a small child struggling to overcome his stutter, he spent hours in front of the mirror reciting the poetry of Yeats. He's a distant cousin of Rob Kearney, the Irish rugby player, who has visited the White House. Biden spoke to Irish cousins over the phone in the months leading up last week's election and recited poetry by another giant of Irish literature, Seamus Heaney, in a widely-shared election campaign video.

Earlier this year, he jokingly told the BBC "I'm Irish" when asked for an interview.

Biden's Irish supporters are celebrating 'Mayo Joe's' victory

Joe Blewitt a cousin of US Presidential candidate Joe Biden at a mural of Biden in his ancestral home of Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland,
A week on since his election victory, Biden's supporters in Ireland, where ten of his sixteen great-great-grandparents were born, are still celebrating that a distant relative is set for the White House.

"It's very much a case of local Joe," Paul Allen, spokesperson for the Irish for Biden campaign, told Business Insider this week. "He's like your favourite uncle, that's the sort of character he is."

"Everybody in these areas is absolutely ecstatic that one of their own is going to be president. They were really rooting for their local hero. There were sleepless nights and it's all that people were talking about."

Claire Tighe, vice-chair of the UK Labour Party's Irish Society, told Business Insider: "For a descendant of those Irish migrants to become President of the United States is a phenomenal story and it has really moved something in people.

"There is a massive pride that runs really deep. It's really quite hard to describe." Tighe is from County Mayo, western Ireland, where a handful of Biden's Irish ancestors who emigrated to the US in the nineteenth century were also born. The others originated from the other side of the country, in County Louth.

Residents of County Mayo and County Louth have likened Biden's victory to the success of Ireland's beloved, title-winning boxer, Barry McGuigan. In County Mayo there's talk of a "Biden bounce" helping its Gaelic football team win silverware after decades of disappointment. Mayo has played in nine finals over the last 70 years, losing them all. Biden reportedly brought up Mayo's recent win over Roscommon in his call with Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week.

Joe Biden supporters in Carlingford, County Louth, Ireland.

'I would assume that the very first overseas visit will be Ireland'

"Biden is acutely aware of his Irish ancestry," said Brian O'Dwyer, co-chair of the official Irish-American Democrats lobby group and a member of Biden's finance committee. "More than that he is extremely proud of his Irish ancestry, and identifies himself as a full-scale Irish American. He never leaves an opportunity to identify as Irish." Erin McGreehan, the Fianna Fáil Senator from County Louth, told Business Insider: "It seems that for very much for his entire life has grabbed on to his Irish identity. That has been a very important part of his whole life story, his grounding in whatever he has been doing every step of the way." Irish ministers have already contacted the Biden team to invite him to Ireland once travel restrictions put in place to combat the coronavirus are lifted. He told people when he visited Ireland in 2016 that he would return within the first year of his term as president, should he be elected. Arrangements are being made for Simon Coveney, the minister for foreign affairs, to extend a formal invitation. A well-placed figure on the Biden campaign told Business Insider that they expected Ireland to be his first state visit. "I would assume that the very first overseas visit will be Ireland. I can't think of any other place that he would rather go, given the last time he was vice-president, the kind of adulation, rockstar status that he has in Ireland," they said. A leader in the Irish-American community is right at the heart of Biden's successful campaign. John McCarthy, Biden's Deputy National Political Director, was previously Chief of Staff to US Rep. Brendan Boyle, whose father emigrated to the US from Ireland in the 1970s, and has been involved in Irish philanthropic organisations for several years. 

Biden's victory heaps pressure on Boris Johnson over Brexit

There is a shared belief among Irish politicians and campaigners that Biden's victory will put greater pressure from the White House on UK Prime Minister Johnson to change tack on Brexit — namely, his refusal to ditch a controversial plan to disapply parts of the Withdrawal Agreement pertaining to Northern Ireland. His government has admitted that going ahead with the plan so would break international law, and faces staunch opposition at home and abroad. Johnson is sticking with the plan, despite the House of Lords last week voting it down by a large majority. Biden brought up the issue of Northern Ireland twice in his phone call with Johnson, The Financial Times reported. A readout of the call from the Biden transition team said that he "reaffirmed his support for the Good Friday Agreement." In September, he made waves in Britain with a tweet warning that a post-Brexit free trade deal between the UK and US was "contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border."

Biden's tweet about Brexit in September was "in many ways a dose of reality," said Dr. Frank Costello, a leading figure in Irish America who served as chief of staff to then-congressman Joseph P Kennedy II in the 1990s.

"Joe's interest in Ireland is deep and legitimate," he said. "It's not just 'a great granny came from Ireland.'"

Fine Gael Senator John McGahon agreed, telling Business Insider that "the line Boris Johnson has been taking for the last six months went down fine with Donald Trump. But there's a new president in the White House who has a totally different view on how the United Kingdom government has been handling their affairs."

Joe Biden supporters and a band in Carlingford, County Louth, Ireland.

In the meantime, the celebrations in Ireland are set to continue until Biden's inauguration in January. Paul Allen revealed that the Irish for Biden campaign was in discussions with the President-elect's team about sending an eight-person, pump-and-drum band from Carlingford, County Louth to Washington for the occasion.

"It'll be a little piece of home that he will enjoy," he told Business Insider. Senator McGreehan said:"He [Biden] came here four years ago and he became part of the fabric. "It means an awful lot to us. There's no family in Ireland that has no cousins, no relatives, or no very tangible connection to the States. For the first time since JFK, we'll have someone who is a real Irish American in the White House."
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