US events overshadowed by Gaza protests
US events overshadowed by Gaza protests


Protests over President Joe Biden’s support for the Israeli assault on Gaza have undermined the traditional St Patrick’s Day visits by Irish politicians to the US.

The protests took place to coincide with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s meeting with Mr Biden as part of the annual presentation of a bowl of shamrock to the White House.

Activists from Amnesty gathered at US diplomatic offices in Dublin and Belfast on Friday morning holding banners that read: “President Biden, listen to your Irish roots and demand a permanent ceasefire.”

A small number of Amnesty activists gathered at the gates of the offices of the US Consulate General in Belfast where they laid a bowl of shamrock at the front of the building and handed over a letter to a representative from the Consulate General.

A weekly protest in Belfast city centre also saw a Sinn Féin councillor angrily heckled by those opposed to the party’s failure to boycott the US events over the Biden administration’s stance, while a similar message appeared on the side of a mountain overlooking Belfast.

Every year, ‘shamrock season’ sees senior Irish politicians from both parts of the island visit US cities on junkets intended to promote Irish business and culture.

But this year, immense anger in Ireland at the US involvement in the Israeli genocide has extended to those politicians who took part – with the exception of the SDLP, who declined their invitations.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been murdered in the conflict in the past five and a half months with US military and financial support, the majority of them women and children. Famine is now being used by Israel as a weapon to kill the remainder.

In a parallel protest, all of the Irish bands invited to play at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, declined to take part, instead using the opportunity to demand for an immediate ceasefire.

Saoradh hit out at what it said was the “fawning of the Irish establishment to war mongers and imperialists”.

However, the Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said she couldn’t refuse the “unparalleled access” to senior US figures that St Patrick’s week presented.

She took part in gala events in Washington alongside Stormont’s Sinn Fein First Minister Michelle O’Neill and DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

Ms McDonald told Sky News it was her “responsibility and duty” to speak to anyone she can “in a bid to stop” the spiralling death toll during an interview on the programme Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips.

Asked whether she should have boycotted the White House reception this year, Ms McDonald admitted that “words aren’t enough” but added “I’m not talking about words”.

“I’m talking about concrete action. We need a ceasefire. We need to end the slaughter of women and children in Gaza. 30,000 deaths now.”

She continued: “So the question isn’t ‘why did you come?’ The question has to be ‘how could you possibly stay away?’

“In a way, we have a unique position as Irish political leaders in that we have a very strong, relationship with the United States, very strong, unparalleled access in a week like this.

“And we also have a very strong relationship with the Palestinian struggle and a strong commitment to freedom for Palestine and self-determination, an end to the occupation.

“How on earth could I possibly justify not coming and not pressing that case in the strongest possible terms?”

She said that there was an “unanswerable need” for a ceasefire and for the US to lead on that amid “the ongoing vicious, criminal bombardment of Gaza”.

“We’ve had very frank conversations with individual members on the Hill, with the administration itself and our message has been very clear: we come here as friends, as people who have had the benefit of great support from the United States for our own peace process, and we acknowledge that, but in respect of Palestine they have got it dangerously badly wrong and the ceasefire now has to be the absolute priority for everybody concerned.”

Irish politicians have emphasised the need for dialogue as part of efforts to ensure a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stating “it’s not our policy to boycott, it’s our policy to engage”.

In a speech at the White House, Varadkar explained the Irish approach in moving comments as he referenced his late-son Beau Biden during the shamrock ceremony in the White House.

Mr Varadkar described Beau Biden as a “courageous” Irish-American and a “decorated war hero” who spoke eloquently about the promises that leaders should make.

“To quote his words,” Leo Varadkar said, “it’s about the promises we make our children who deserve a chance to succeed. It about the promises we make each other, that sacred promise to work for a better future.

The president became visibly emotional when Mr Varadkar mentioned his son’s quotes and appeared to wipe a tear from his eye.

The Taoiseach thanked Mr Biden for his support for Ukraine in Russia’s war. Speaking about Gaza, the Taoiseach referenced comments made by former US President John F Kennedy when he spoke in the Dáil in 1963.

Mr Kennedy urged the Irish parliament to work towards peace and protect the weak whether they were in Cork or the Congo or Galway to the Gaza Strip.

Mr Varadkar said he had always believed America was a “force for good in the world” that had “helped to advance liberty and democracy around the globe”.

The Taoiseach said the Irish people were “deeply troubled about the catastrophe that’s unfolding before our eyes in Gaza” - but also stopped short of calling for a permanent ceasefire.

“When I travel the world, leaders often ask me why the Irish have so much empathy for the Palestinian people. The answer is simple: we see our history in their eyes. A story of displacement and dispossession, a national identity questioned and denied, forced emigration, discrimination, and now – hunger,” he said.

“So we support your work, and that of your administration, to secure a humanitarian ceasefire and to create the space for lasting peace.

“The people of Gaza desperately need food, medicine and shelter. Most especially they need the bombs to stop. This has to stop. On both sides. The hostages brought home. And humanitarian relief allowed in,” he added.

Mr Varadkar called on Israel to “reverse its precipitous decision” to authorise a land incursion into Rafah.

He said that after 100 years of violence in the Middle East the only secure future for the region was a two state solution that recognises Israel and Palestine.

“Ireland stands ready to recognise a Palestinian state with like-minded partners when it is most helpful for peace,” he said.

“Mr President, we also see Israel’s history reflected in our eyes. A diaspora whose heart never left home no matter how many generations passed. A nation state that was reborn. And a language revived,” he added.

He said it was possible for Israel and Palestine to resolve their conflict because the “life of a Palestinian child is equal to that of an Israeli one”.

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