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'Cries of the innocent will haunt us if we stay silent': Taoiseach calls for Gaza ceasefire in Boston speech

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar begins a week-long visit to Boston and Washington.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has used his first speech in the US to call for humanitarian ceasefire in Palestine.

Leo Varadkar begins a week-long visit stateside for the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations, which will include a meeting with US President Joe Biden on Friday and the traditional shamrock ceremony on Sunday.

The Taoiseach arrived in Boston today, and in his first speech of the trip at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

A number of high-profile American politicians were in attendance this evening, including Joe Kennedy, the US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland.

Varadkar began his speech tonight by stating that what happened on 7 October “was an act of pure evil and hatred, and it can never be forgotten or excused”.

The Taoiseach went on to state that no one can turn away from what is happening to the Palestinian people:

The cries of the innocent will haunt us forever if we stay silent.

“The cries will engender more retaliation and beget more violence and revenge. No child ever gave their consent for terrorist acts. No child should ever be punished for them.

“It is unconscionable that they are dying not just as a result of relentless bombing and destruction, but of hunger and thirst and from an absence of medical treatment and care.”

Michael D Higgins strong statement

His speech comes just hours after President Michael D Higgins issued a strong statement condemning what is taking place in Gaza.

Varadkar told attendees at this evening’s function, the first of many in the week to mark St Patrick’s Day, that “when thousands of children are killed in response no one can avert their eyes”.

“The life of a child is the greatest gift of all. Childhood should be a blessing. Today in Gaza, for so many it is a death sentence and a curse.

“We all know that there are guilty people who perpetrated unspeakable acts of terrorism.  But there are innocent men, women and children suffering for their sins. They should not be subject to collective punishment.”

Calls for a boycott

In the run up to this trip to the US there have been calls for the Taoiseach to boycott the visit to the White House, given America’s support for Israel. However Varadkar said he would rather use his voice in the US this week to put forward the position of the Irish people.

The Taoiseach’s speech, while strong in its call for a ceasefire, also said Ireland has always been a true friend to the United States and reminded the attendees this evening of the role the US played in bringing about peace on our island.

Given that the speech was taking place in the JFK Library, Varadkar also highlighted how the nation mourned the death of John F Kennedy and his brother when they were killed.

In 1963, when President Kennedy visited Ireland, Varadkar said he laid down a challenge to the country of his ancestors.

“His stirring words suggested that Ireland’s destiny was to play a part in world affairs, as the ‘protector of the weak and [the] voice of the small”, said Varadkar.

President Kennedy did not ask us to distinguish between the weak and the oppressed, the Taoiseach said.

‘We must speak up’

“We must speak up for them all. We must dedicate ourselves to freedom and peace, in Gaza as well as in the rest of the world. 

“Courage in the face of crisis, unshakeable optimism in the darkest of times, faith in the future – that is the Kennedy story,” he said.

The Taoiseach said Ireland recognises that the cause of peace has benefitted so much from the contributions of the Kennedy family. 

“The United States, more than any other country, helped bring about peace and reconciliation on the island  – and the contribution of the Kennedy family has been central to that story.”

Varadkar said the cycle of violence in the Middle East has claimed many victims, stating there is a need for a consistent response.

“If we do not see and respect the equal value of a child of Israel and a child of Palestine – then the Global South, most of the world in fact, will not listen when we call for them to stand by the rules and institutions that are the bedrock of a civilised world.

“We will all be losers and our world will be infinitely less secure.

“Consistent application of international law and international humanitarian law – to state and non-state actors alike – has to be the basis on which the international community engages with one another.

Ireland’s call for a ceasefire

“So, Ireland will continue to call for an immediate ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and a massive and sustained increase in humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

“We will also continue to call and to work for a meaningful political pathway leading to self-determination for the Palestinian people. A fully fledged nation for their own people in the land of their forefathers.”

Varadkar reminded the audience this evening of Ireland’s own “painful history”.

“We know that a ceasefire does not mean surrender. A ceasefire does not mean weakness.  A ceasefire does not mean forgiveness. 

“A ceasefire means hope. It means breaking free of the perpetual cycle of violence, recrimination and retaliation.  It means believing in our shared humanity instead of a need for revenge,” he said.

Varadkar said Ireland is determined to speak out against injustice without fear or favour.


The Taoiseach also used his speech to address what he described as ‘Ukraine fatigue’.

“When I hear people talk of ‘Ukraine fatigue’, I think of the Ukrainian men and women who are making incredible sacrifices to defend not only their own sovereignty and territorial integrity, but to defend European security and freedom; to defend the values and the existential interests that the transatlantic alliance is built on.

“We cannot say to them that we are ‘fatigued’ by this in the face of their enormous sacrifice and their incredible bravery,’”he said.

Varadkar added:

“When I meet President Biden later this week, I will thank him for the strong and steadfast stand that the United States has taken in opposing Putin’s war of aggression. I cannot overstate the appreciation of the European Union for the leadership role played by the United States at this time of crisis on our continent.

“Some try to ignore the conflict but fail to realise that the conflict will not ignore them. Ukraine is facing an adversary that will not stop there. As an international community we must speak out, and we must act, because if Ukraine falls so too will a shadow that will bring darkness to us all.

“We must not forget the lessons of the 1930s in Europe. ‘You cannot appease a dictator,” he said.

Concluding, the Taoiseach said he would leave people with one final thought. 

Recalling, one of Kennedy’s speeches, where he presented a strategy for peace, while confronting the possibility of nuclear war, Varadkar said today we have to ask ourselves to consider the greatest challenges of our time and what kind of strategy for peace is necessary. 

“We cannot pay tribute to the words, unless we also promise to live up to their meaning,” he said.

Political Editor Christina Finn will be in the US throughout the week for the Taoiseach’s visit. Follow @thejournal_ie and @christinafinn8 for all the latest.