‘They can’t keep me out’ – Joe Biden says he will visit Northern Ireland despite increased terror threat level

President Joe Biden

Paul Hyland

US President Joe Biden said security officials “can’t keep him out” of Northern Ireland next month, despite M15’s decision to increase the region’s terrorism threat level to “severe”.

The UK’s intelligence service made the announcement today, citing an increase in activity by dissident Irish republican militants.

Severe is the second-highest rung on a five-point scale and means an attack is considered highly likely. The threat had stood one notch lower at “substantial” for the past year.

The threat level for the rest of the UK remains at substantial, meaning an attack is considered likely.

The change to the threat level comes ahead of events commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement.

President Biden is expected to visit Northern Ireland to mark the anniversary.

While speaking to reporters in North Carolina today, Mr Biden was asked if he was concerned about the increased threat level and whether that would affect his plans to visit. “No. They can’t keep me out,” he said.

Major players in the peace process, including former US President Bill Clinton and ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are also due in Belfast for commemorative events.

President Biden is also expected to spend several days in the Republic as part of his visit.

Paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland laid down their arms after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement largely ended three decades of violent conflict between republican and loyalist groups and UK security forces that killed more than 3,600 people. But small IRA splinter groups have continued to launch sporadic attacks on security forces.

UK Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said that “in recent months, we have seen an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland-related terrorism, which has targeted police officers serving their communities and also put at risk the lives of children and other members of the public”.

He urged people to “remain vigilant but not be alarmed”.

Last month, senior police officer John Caldwell was shot by two masked men as he coached a children’s soccer team in Omagh. Police say he suffered life-changing injuries.

An IRA splinter group known as the New IRA claimed responsibility.

Additional reporting by AP News.