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Mary Lou McDonald says Patrick's Day trip will let Ireland send 'clear message' to US on Gaza

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the party will send a delegation to Washington DC to “make a case for an end to violence” in Gaza.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 29th 2024, 2:57 PM

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has said that St Patrick’s Day will provide an opportunity for Ireland to send “a very clear message” to US leaders over the situation in Gaza. 

Pressure is also mounting on the party to boycott its annual St Patrick’s Day trip to the United States in light of the American government’s support of Israel. Mary Lou McDonald travels to Washington DC annually for the tradition.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One today, McDonald confirmed she would be attending.

“I believe [there is] a very important opportunity on this St Patrick’s Day, of all St Patrick’s Day, to bring a very clear message from Ireland to the United States in respect of Gaza, the West Bank, what has been happening in Palestine and to make that clear,” she said. 

The Sinn Féin leader said the United States has been “on the wrong side of this for a very long time, that didn’t just emerge in October last”. 

McDonald said she would “differ” with Eastwood on his stance regarding the St Patrick’s Day trip. 

“It’s important that we’re there,” she said.

“President Biden and others need to be moved onto the correct path, which is in the first instance a path of ceasefire.”

Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O’Neill has also said the party’s St Patrick’s Day trip will be in “pursuit of peace”.  

Pressure has been mounting in recent weeks for parties across the island of Ireland to boycott the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States in light of the American government’s support of Israel.

 The Irish Government has been criticised for its unwavering commitment to the tradition.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said that no politician should meet with Joe Biden or any members of the US administration for St Patrick’s Day “as long as this genocide is continuing, as long as the US is providing huge amounts of military and political support”.

Speaking earlier this month, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that cancelling the trip to Washington over America’s support for Israel “doesn’t make sense”

“You have to engage,” he said.

“The only way to increase pressure, the only way you can get a resolution on this is to get international pressure that is so overwhelming that there is a stop to the violence.”

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said today that St Patrick’s Day events are an opportunity to “get that message out” to call for a Gaza ceasefire.

“I think it’s all the more important we go abroad this year to spread a message, our view, on Gaza and other issues,” Ryan said.

“That what’s happening is completely unacceptable, there has to be a ceasefire now,” he said. 

“Why wouldn’t we use the opportunity of the global stage that we have on St Patrick’s Day to get that message out. I think that’s what we will and should do.”

However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he will not attend the White House celebrations on St Patrick’s Day in protest at the situation in Gaza. 

He said he will, however, send a party delegation to Washington DC to meet with senior lawmakers and leaders to “make a case for an end to violence” in the region. 

Eastwood, who visited Khan Younis in 2012, said he “cannot in good conscience attend White House parties for St Patrick’s Day while the administration turns its face the other way and refuses to call for an immediate ceasefire”. 

“I could not rub shoulders, drink Guinness, and have the craic while the horrifying impacts of the brutal war in Gaza continues. It would be the very opposite of solidarity with a people on the brink of destruction,” he said. 

Eastwood said every leader will have to take their own decision on how they approach the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.  

“I am offering no criticism of anyone else because there is no easy answer to any of this. But I know that my own conscience, and the values of the party I lead, are not consistent with celebration in the face of overwhelming violence,” the SDLP leader said. 

Speaking of the decision to send a party delegation to Washington DC, Eastwood said that “it is in our party’s DNA to work toward peace wherever possible”.

“We will use our influence to press strongly for an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas,” he said. 

“I am not naive to the scale of the impact this action will have. But faced with the scenes of destruction across Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas of human habitation on our planet, I honestly believe it would be wrong to attend these celebrations and that not attending sends a far more powerful message,” Eastwood said. 

“The first, and most important, principle of peace is that the killing must stop. The US has enormous influence over the pace of that first step in Gaza and southern Israel. I sincerely hope that they use it and join those of us calling for an immediate ceasefire soon.”

With reporting by Mairead Maguire and Press Association