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Before the dissident republican parade, Derry is undergoing a security operation

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

A security operation is under way in Derry before a parade by dissident republicans that police said could be used to launch gun and bomb attacks in an effort to upstage Joe Biden’s visit to Northern Ireland.

Ch Supt Nigel Goddard said anyone participating in the parade would be committing a criminal offence because organisers had not obtained permission to march through the Creggan area of the city on Monday afternoon.

“An evidence-gathering operation will be in place, after which we will review any evidence gathered to identify any offences that might be committed,” he said.

The march, which is expected to feature people in combat gear, has backing from Saoradh, the political wing of the New IRA. Violence has erupted at previous Easter parades, which commemorate the 1916 Rising.

Police said last week that strong intelligence information suggested the New IRA sought to stoke public disorder to lure officers into a trap on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, which is drawing VIPs to Northern Ireland. Police have maximised the number of officers available for frontline duties and brought in about 300 officers from other forces in Britain.

Rishi Sunak is to welcome Biden when Air Force One lands at Belfast on Tuesday night, starting a four-day visit by the US president to Northern Ireland and Ireland. The two leaders are to hold talks at a Belfast hotel before Biden makes a speech at Ulster University’s new Belfast campus on Wednesday – his only public engagement in the region.

The Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, lamented that Biden would not address the Stormont assembly, which she blamed on the Democratic Unionist party’s boycott of power-sharing, which has mothballed Stormont.

Logistical, security and political challenges are believed to have compressed Biden’s time in Northern Ireland, where political stalemate has soured the peace deal anniversary. One commentator said the itinerary for the president’s trip to Belfast could fit on a postage stamp.

President Biden NI visit – a postage stamp would be too big for Mr Biden’s Belfast itinerary. Downing Street has some explaining to do. ‘Dropping in here’ is risible given the scale and scope of the President’s trip to ROI.
I doubt if this is what Washington wanted. https://t.co/Mw9FqVYtKq

Sunak made a veiled plea to the DUP in a statement on Monday, saying the Good Friday agreement was “based on compromise”, which should be the defining message in Northern Ireland’s next chapter. There was “work to be done” by a new generation of politicians to revive Stormont “as soon as possible”, the prime minister said.

Security and logistical issues appear to have crimped Biden’s trip across the border, too. It is thought his original desire was to have a family holiday in County Mayo, but he is not travelling with the first lady. His stint in the republic entails a two-night stay in Dublin with sorties to areas where he has ancestral connections.

On Wednesday, Biden is expected to do walkabouts in Carlingford and Dundalk, in County Louth, near the border, where he has relatives. On Thursday, he will hold separate meetings with the Irish president, Michael D Higgins, and the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in Dublin before making a speech to a joint sitting of parliament, following in the footsteps of John F Kennedy in 1963, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1995.

On Friday, Biden will fly to County Mayo and meet relatives from another side of his family before making a speech that evening outside St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina. There is speculation that the US’s second Catholic president – the first was Kennedy – may visit a shrine at Knock. He is to return to Dublin briefly on Friday night before flying back to the US.

The Irish News reported that the former US senator George Mitchell, who brokered the Good Friday agreement, would defy health problems and join Bill and Hillary Clinton at a three-day conference next week at Queen’s University Belfast.

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