Traffic restrictions, high security and excitement ahead of Biden visit

Phoenix Park will be closed from 5pm on Wednesday for 24 hours

The US president Joe Biden is due to arrive in Belfast on Tuesday evening to begin a four-day visit to Ireland.

He is expected to be greeted on arrival by the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

Some roads in Belfast city centre were closed to vehicles on Monday in advance of Mr Biden’s arrival and will not reopen until after he leaves Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday, the US president will mark the formal opening of Ulster University’s new Belfast campus in what will be his only official engagement while in Northern Ireland.


At the university he will deliver a keynote address and will also hold political meetings and meet representatives from youth and business communities.

He will then travel to the Republic for engagements in Dublin as well as in Co Louth and Co Mayo, where he has family connections.

Speaking to The Irish Times in advance of Mr Biden’s arrival, the vice-chancellor and president of Ulster University, Prof Paul Bartholomew, said the visit was “tremendously significant” for both the university and Northern Ireland and was an example of the progress made in the 25 years since the signing of the Belfast Agreement.

The £350 million campus is the largest investment in the centre of Belfast since 1998 and has resulted in the relocation of 16,000 students and staff from Jordanstown, Co Antrim, and the regeneration of an area of historic deprivation.

“It’s fronted by 23,000sq m of glass and you don’t need to use much of a lens to look back 25, 30 years, before the signing of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement, to know we wouldn’t have made a lot of buildings out of glass at that time,” said Prof Bartholomew.

“So I think symbolically, where the campus is, the fact that we’re a pan-regional university, I think it’s a pretty good pick for where his address is, especially in the context of where we are with Stormont not sitting. So to give an address from there does have a number of synergies and resonances with what’s going on.

“Higher education is a great transformer, but it’s also at that point in the education process – which in Northern Ireland is still largely segregated – but in higher education, of course, it’s not.

“So I do think it works as a metaphor for the togetherness that’s really important at this time,” he said.

Further south, Martin McElligott, Dundalk town centre commercial manager, said the town was honoured to host two presidents of the United States. Mr McElligott was a bystander when Bill Clinton addressed thousands of people in the border town’s Market Square in 2000.

This time, he is at the heart of preparing the town for the arrival of Mr Biden.

“In the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, and in the 23 years since President Bill Clinton came to the town, a lot has changed and Dundalk has become the town it was always meant to be,” he said.

The visit has also brought excitement to Carlingford, which Mr Biden is scheduled to visit on Wednesday before arriving in Dundalk.

Dundalk tourism officer Sinéad Roche said his personal connection to Co Louth seemed to be “100 per cent genuine”.

“It is not everyday a sitting president of the US visits the town so there is a great buzz in the air,” she said.

At Kilwirra cemetery, where Mr Biden’s ancestors, the Finnegans, are buried, there was a strong security presence on Monday . A short drive away in Carlingford village, there was also a significant security presence with gardaí and undercover security visible around the village and King John’s Castle.

US army Chinook helicopters and the two presidential helicopters landed in Cooley Kickhams GAA ground on Sunday in a trial flight. Emergency services were seen placing security barriers around the perimeter of the club on Monday.

During Mr Biden’s visit, Dublin’s Phoenix Park will be closed, the Office of Public Works said on Monday.

At the request of gardaí, all entrances to the park, including pedestrian gates, will be shut from 5pm on Wednesday to facilitate his visit. All park gates will remain closed for 24 hours, reopening at 5pm on Thursday. Access will still be provided to essential staff working in the park.

An Garda Síochána said there would also be traffic restrictions in Dublin city centre on Monday and Tuesday. From Monday at 7am, there will be parking restrictions on Earlsfort Terrace, Leeson Street Lower, Hatch Street Lower, Castle Street and Ship Street. The restrictions will continue until Saturday, April 15th.

Between 7am on Tuesday and Saturday morning, Earlsfort Terrace will be completely closed to traffic, with pedestrian access to businesses on Earlsfort Terrace via Hatch Street only.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist