It came after a photograph emerged in which his arm is around an IRA fugitive with the pair flanked by Gerry Adams, who, in a potentially incendiary claim, said he discussed a united Ireland with the former vice-president.
As Joe Biden inched closer to the White House last night, his own much-trumpeted Irish roots were placed under the spotlight. He is pictured above with Gerry Adams and IRA fugitive Rita O’Hare
Taken just three years ago, the image sparked warnings from UK politicians that Mr Biden needs to be more cautious about who he associates with when he becomes President.
Mr Biden has previously spoken with pride about his Irish Catholic roots in his Pennsylvania birthplace, and he travelled to County Mayo in 2016 to visit distant relatives.
However, the notoriously gaffe-prone ex-senator sparked fury the year before when he quipped to an Irish delegation that no one ‘wearing orange’ was welcome in his house on St Patrick’s Day, a comment seen as a slur against Protestants.
Mr Biden was photographed alongside former Sinn Fein president Mr Adams and with his arm around the party’s then US representative, Rita O’Hare, in 2017.
In 1972 she was arrested in Northern Ireland for the attempted murder of a British Army officer in Belfast the previous year.
Released on bail, she fled to Dublin where the Irish High Court ruled she should not be extradited to the UK because her alleged offence was ‘political’. She is believed to be among almost 200 IRA suspects told they would not face prosecution by Tony Blair’s government as part of the Northern Irish peace process.
He has warned Boris Johnson that if Brexit undermines the Good Friday Agreement, there will be no trade deal with the US
Sharing the photograph on Twitter in September 2017, Mr Adams wrote that they’d had a ‘good conversation’ with Mr Biden about the ‘northern talks, UI [United Ireland] and Brexit’.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Adams said he had ‘lobbied’ for his help in asking the Trump administration to appoint a ‘special envoy for the peace process’.
‘We also spoke of the potentially very damaging effect of Brexit on the island of Ireland, and in particular the implications for the border and for the Good Friday Agreement,’ he added.
Republican supporters in the strong Irish-American lobby are understood to see the prospect of a Biden presidency as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Irish unity, with Mr Adams telling a rally in the summer it was now a ‘doable project’.
The 72-year-old has faced claims that for years he was a member of the IRA’s ruling army council, but has always denied involvement with the terrorist group. Mrs O’Hare spent two decades as Sinn Fein’s representative in North America before returning to Ireland last year.
In 2008, President-elect Barack Obama – under whom Mr Biden served as vice-president for two terms – was accused of ‘a lapse of judgment’ by Unionists after he had his picture taken with the same pair.
Last night the image of Mr Biden with the Sinn Fein figures prompted similar warnings.
‘I am sure that this is an association that Mr Biden regrets,’ said Peterborough Tory MP Paul Bristow, an Army officer’s son.
‘If he is confirmed as the President-elect, the British Government and the people of Northern Ireland will expect him not to be partisan in his approach to Northern Irish matters.
‘Being photographed with someone like Rita O’Hare is something all right minded people should want to avoid.
‘It causes pain to the families of the victims of IRA terror attacks.
‘It would be especially wrong for the President-elect of the United States and not something that should be repeated.’
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist Party’s Westminster leader, added: ‘With Joe Biden’s Irish connections, it is important for him to recognise that protecting the peace process is about engaging with both sides and upholding the rights of Unionists as well as Irish republicans.
‘We need a White House that takes a balanced approach to Northern Ireland, whilst also cherishing the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom as a whole.’
No one from Mr Biden’s campaign team returned a request for comment. Mr Biden’s maternal grandfather, Ambrose Finnegan, arrived in New York at the end of Ireland’s Great Famine in 1850 aged seven after his family emigrated from County Louth, north of Dublin.
Their ancestors had sold rotting seaweed to neighbouring farms as fertiliser to pull themselves out of poverty.
According to Laurita Blewitt, a fourth cousin who met Mr Biden during his 2016 visit, Mr Biden ‘always said his mother raised him with such Irish values’.
But he sparked a storm on St Patrick’s Day in 2015 while speaking at the front door of his residence to a delegation led by then Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny that ‘if you’re wearing orange, you’re not welcome in here’ before adding he was only joking.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons, who represents Mr Biden’s home state of Delaware and sits on the Senate’s foreign relations committee, said yesterday Mr Biden would be ‘concerned’ if the UK’s post-Brexit arrangements undermined the peace process in Northern Ireland.
He told the BBC: ‘I expect he would be concerned about making sure the Good Friday accords are respected and protected, and the ways in which the UK-EU terms are negotiated doesn’t put at risk the stability of the border terms in Northern Ireland.’
Boris Johnson’s controversial Internal Market Bill overrides parts of the Brexit deal with the EU relating to Northern Ireland in a way which critics claim could undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
But ministers insist that the opposite is true, and say the legislation is needed to prevent the imposition of a destabilising trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Mr Coons said that as President Mr Biden would ‘re-engage, re-energise, reimagine our alliances and our relationships, particularly our special relationship with the United Kingdom’.
A No 10 spokesman yesterday said: ‘The US is our closest ally. We are confident the relationship will go from strength to strength.’