Varadkar says boycotting US trip would be ‘a mistake’

It would be “a mistake” for Ireland to boycott a shamrock presentation to the American president over US military aid in Israel, the Irish premier has said.

Leo Varadkar will travel to Washington DC next week where he will present Joe Biden with shamrock as part of annual engagements on St Patrick’s Day.

Some opposition politicians have called on the Irish leader to forego the tradition due to the conflict in Gaza.

Speaking in the Irish parliament on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said he does not believe in boycotts in terms of international affairs.

He said it would diminish Ireland’s influence in the world to refuse to engage with other countries.

Mr Varadkar said: “It is an opportunity to speak to leaders in the US on the Hill and also President Biden and Vice President Harris.

“We’re one of only 200 countries in the world. There are not many countries in the world that are guaranteed a meeting once a year.

“It would be a big mistake for us to boycott that and to lose that important engagement that occurs every year since the 1980s.

“But I will use my opportunity both in private in the Oval Office and in public in the White House to make clear how the Irish people feel about the situation in Gaza and how we believe the US needs and ought to adopt an approach that will help to bring about a peace settlement in the region.”

Mr Varadkar said the Irish Government had called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at Government Buildings, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“We believe that a humanitarian ceasefire for a number of weeks can then lead to a permanent ceasefire.”

He said there had been a “welcome shift” in the US position demonstrated by recent comments from vice president Kamala Harris.

Ms Harris said that, given the “immense scale of suffering” in Gaza, there must be “an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks”.

Mr Varadkar added: “I hope we will see this further elaborated on in the days and weeks ahead.”

He was responding to a question from an opposition politician who said the World Health Organisation had discovered 15 children in Gazan hospitals who have starved to death.

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Solidarity TD Mick Barry (Brian Lawless/PA)

Solidarity representative Mick Barry said that half a million people are “one step away” from starvation.

He told the Dail: “Hundreds of those people gathered in Gaza City last Thursday morning before the dawn.

“As they moved towards the aid trucks carrying flour, they were gunned down by Israeli soldiers – 115 people died, more than 700 people were injured. It was a massacre.”

Mr Barry said the US was supplying weapons and bullets to Israel and is also aiming to ramp up military aid.

He added: “While it is true that the Biden administration is now pushing for a six-week pause in the fighting, there is no question but that Biden has armed and financed a campaign that the International Court of Justice itself believes worthy of investigation as possible genocide.”

Mr Barry said Mr Varadkar would soon be joining Mr Biden in celebration of St Patrick’s Day in Washington.

He added: “You plan to give him a bowl of shamrock on behalf of the Irish people. You plan to pose, no doubt, for photographs with a man who has armed and financed mass murder. That’s the truth. I believe that that is wrong.”

Mr Barry said: “You have the opportunity to exert some real pressure here. Tell Biden there will be no shamrock when there is not a total ceasefire and an end to the bloody occupation.”

Mr Varadkar replied: “You seem to be a little bit obsessed about the bowl of shamrock and that takes about 20 seconds.

“The real opportunity is the sit-down meeting in the Oval Office with President Biden and his team and also the opportunity to speak in the White House publicly in front of guests of the president and some from the Irish embassy as well.

“And that’s the opportunity that I will take to reaffirm the importance of our relationship with the US – economic, political, cultural.

“But also to say that there are issues on which we disagree.”

Mr Varadkar also said he shared the “horror at the killings of civilians” queuing up for aid, adding it was important that a full independent investigation be carried out.

In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that Mr Biden would host the Taoiseach for a bilateral meeting on March 15, followed by a St Patrick’s Day celebration on March 17.

She said: “The leaders will reaffirm the close and enduring partnership between the United States and Ireland and the extraordinary bonds between our people.

“They will discuss our countries’ shared commitment to continue supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s brutal aggression, as well as our co-ordination on a range of other global issues, including the Middle East.

“They will reaffirm their steadfast support for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as we welcome the recent restoration of Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly.”