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President Biden to appoint former Rep. Joe Kennedy III as U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland

President Biden will appoint former Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III – a grandson of former senator and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy — to be the next U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, a U.S. official confirmed to CBS News. The position will focus on economic development and not the thorny negotiations involving the Northern Ireland Protocol. That protocol is meant to deal with maintaining an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as promised under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement but has been complicated by Britain's exit from the European Union. 

Despite the increasingly tense political situation in Northern Ireland ignited in part by Brexit, the Biden administration had left the position vacant until now. The Irish-American community had been urging Biden to appoint someone and had floated the name of former Rep. Bruce Morrison, a Connecticut Democrat, for the role.

Kennedy, who has the cachet of his family legacy and historic ties to Ireland, will be a high-profile appointee who carries the weight of close ties to Mr. Biden himself. It will also be a perch from which the 42-year-old former congressman can relaunch his political career, which has stalled following his failed 2020 challenge to Sen. Ed Markey in the Massachusetts Democratic primary.

Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's appointee to the role, left the special envoy position in 2021. Mulvaney, a CBS contributor, told CBS News: "This is an excellent choice. Joe is extraordinarily capable and will do a great job of representing U.S. interests. There are very few bipartisan topics in Washington these days but preserving the Good Friday-Belfast Agreement is one of them. And Joe will have bipartisan support for his efforts."

The peace deal brought an end to 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, during which more than 3,000 people died. It was coordinated by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell in partnership with both the British and Irish governments, and created a power-sharing assembly that intended to stabilize a society largely divided along sectarian lines.

Unionists are predominantly Protestant and want continued ties to England. Nationalists are largely Catholic and want closer connections to the Republic of Ireland which gained independence from British rule in 1921.

The coming year will be consequential in Northern Ireland as the UK, EU and Ireland work out the Northern Protocol.

It will also be historic for the Kennedy family. The coming year will mark 60 years since President John F. Kennedy, America's first Irish-Catholic president and the great-uncle of the former congressman, made a 1963 visit to his ancestral home in the country just five months before his assassination — the first visit of a sitting president to Ireland. Mr. Biden, the second Irish-Catholic president, is expected to visit before the end of his term.

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