A decision by the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood not to take part in the annual St Patrick’s Day event at the White House, when a bowl of shamrock is due to be presented to US President Joe Biden as part of the annual event, has piled pressure on other Irish political leaders to stay away.
Protests in Ireland have featured chants, “no shamrocks for Genocide Joe”, in condemnation of the US President’s support for Israel.
Mr Eastwood (pictured, right) said this week that, while the SDLP will send a delegation to Washington, he “cannot in good conscience” attend the White House’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations because of the US response to the Israel-Gaza war.
He described the response of the international community to the conflict as “heinously deficient”. The US administration’s response was “particularly atrocious”, he added.
He said Ireland and the US have “forged one of the warmest and most enduring international relationships”, and it is because of this he believes there is a “duty to be honest with our friends... especially when we think they’re wrong”.
But he added: “I could not rub shoulders, drink Guinness, and have the craic while the horrifying impacts of the brutal war in Gaza continue. It would be the very opposite of solidarity with a people on the brink of destruction.”
A number of republican and pro-Palestinian groups hit out at Sinn Féin over its stance.
At Mid Ulster District Council, a motion moved by independent republican councillor Dan Kerr requesting all politicians in Ireland to boycott the White House celebrations failed after it was opposed by unionists and Sinn Féin.
“Rather than using their position and influence within the Irish diaspora in the US to take a firm stand against the ongoing genocide in Palestine by refusing to meet with US President Joe Biden, (Sinn Féin) do the opposite,” Eirigi said.
“From social media commentary alone, it is clear that there is a huge gulf between the Sinn Féin leadership and their rank and file membership on the issue.
“Genuine Republicans, both within Sinn Féin and outside Sinn Féin, must continue to voice their opposition to this position by sending a clear message to the leadership of the party that under no circumstances should they be giving cover to the US administration in their continued support for the Apartheid state of Israel and the genocide of the Palestinian people.”
But Sinn Féin has continued to defend itself. Former leader Gerry Adams said the Palestinian people “will understand” if Sinn Féin’s current leadership takes part.
Mr Adams said that the visit should be used as an opportunity to raise the struggle of the Palestinian people with the American authorities and. And he said that there were inconsistencies in the calls being made.
“Some folks are saying that the Sinn Féin leadership shouldn’t meet with the American political system. They are not saying we shouldn’t meet with the British political system, who are up to their neck in this,” he said.
Mr Adams said Sinn Féin had always sought to engage with the likes of the United States despite disagreement with some of the country’s policies.
“Did we agree with Clinton on Cuba? No. Did I tell him that? Yes. Did we agree with him on Iraq? No. Did I tell him that? Yes,” Adams said.
Mr Adams said it was important for Sinn Féin to keep pursuing its political ambitions for a united Ireland, and that the Palestinian people would expect and understand that.
“Serious people involved in struggle, particularly people involved in national liberation struggles, understand that your own struggle…has to be your primary focus.
“They will expect you to raise their issues, and we should. They would expect you to stand with them, and so we should. But they would not expect us to do anything– any more than we would expect them to do anything – which would set back our own struggle.”