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Taoiseach tells US President during shamrock ceremony that Irish people are 'deeply troubled' about Gaza

Varadkar brought the US President to tears by quoting his late son.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR told US President Joe Biden during the St Patrick’s Day shamrock ceremony in the White House that the Irish people are “deeply troubled” about the catastrophe that is unfolding in Gaza.

The event in the East Room of the White House marked the end of a week of engagements which involved an earlier bilateral between the two leaders. 

Varadkar, as indicated to reporters earlier today, mentioned the situation in Gaza in his speech, stating:

I believe it’s possible to be for Israel and Palestine. And I believe you do too.

He said Ireland sees its own history in that of the Palestinians and of the Israelis. 

“Mr President, as you know, the Irish people are deeply troubled about the catastrophe that’s unfolding before our eyes in Gaza. When I travel the world, leaders often ask me why the Irish have such empathy for the Palestinian people? And the answer is simple. We see our history and there is a story of displacement, of dispossession.”

He said the Palestinians have a similar story to our own – one of displacement, of dispossession, national identity being denied, forced emigration, discrimination, and now hunger.

‘Need the bombs to stop’

“So we support your work and that of your administration to secure a humanitarian ceasefire and create a great space for lasting peace. The people of Gaza desperately need food, medicine and shelter, and most especially they need the bombs to stop.

“This has to stop on both sides. The hostages brought home and humanitarian relief allowed it,” said Varadkar. 

“The life of a Palestinian child is equal to that of an Israeli one and the aspirations of the Palestinian people to have a homeland and a fully fledged state in the land of their forefathers is equal to that of Israel’s,” said the Taoiseach.

Varadkar also told the president at the ceremony that he believes there are lessons that can be drawn from our own peace process in Northern Ireland, highlighting the crucial role America played.

He said Northern Ireland operates under a joint office in which they are co-equal.

Varadkar described First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly as two “courageous women demonstrating every day what’s possible by putting aside old animosities and working together”. 

The Taoiseach also told the president that he also sees Israel’s history reflected in our eyes, where a nation-state was reborn and a language revived.

Two-state solution

“Israel must reverse its precipitous decision to authorise a land incursion into Rafah,” said Varadkar, who added that the only secure future lies in two states “peaceful and sovereign side-by-side.”.

He said Ireland stands ready to recognise a Palestinian state with like minded partners when it’s most helpful for peace. 

Biden said the two-state solution is the only path to lasting peace, adding that he agreed that a ceasefire is needed. 

Israel has carried out a relentless bombardment and ground offensive which has killed at least 31,645 people in Gaza, most of them women and children.

Varadkar told the packed out room that he was reminded by the words of President John F Kennedy, who spoke to the Oireachtas in the final months of his life, stating:

“President Kennedy issued a challenge to the Irish nation to be, ‘the protector of the weak and of the small’. 

“When somebody dies before their time, as he did, their words can assume a kind of prophecy, a sort of sacred promise to the future.

“As a country, we have tried to live up to the mission he set for us when he predicted that one day we would do something to give to the world, ‘a future of peace with freedom’.

“These words resonate even more strongly today. And tonight, let us all reflect on the words of President Kennedy when he urged us to do the ‘most important work of peace’ in protecting the weak and small, as he said in the Irish Parliament: ‘from Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza Strip’.

The Taoiseach said he has always believed that America is a force for good in the world. 

“You have helped to advance liberty and democracy around the globe. You saved Europe and the world from fascism in the 1940s and from communism after that. You stopped ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and Bosnia and helped bring peace to Ireland and unification to Germany. Today, you stand with us in our fight to save democracy and freedom in Ukraine,” he said.

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Biden was reduced to tears tonight after Varadkar paid tribute to his late son in a moving speech about leadership at the White House.

“To quote his words, it is about, ‘the promises we make to our children, who deserve a chance to succeed.’  The promises we make to each other. The sacred promise to work for a better future for all. Those were the words of Beau Biden,” Varadkar said to the president who looked clearly moved by the Taoiseach recollecting his late son’s words.

Varadkar said when leaders are elected to office, they each make a sacred promise to the communities they serve, their party and country.

“We dedicate ourselves to honour it, not always succeeding, but always doing our best no matter how challenging the circumstances,” he added.

He told the president that one of the America’s most sacred promises is to defend the principles of democracy and freedom against tyranny and oppression. 

“When Ukraine was invaded you honoured that promise and stood firm against an adversary who tore up the rule book of international law and repudiated our sacred humanity,” said the Taoiseach, who added that Ireland stands with Ukraine for as long as it takes. 

Boycott calls

The Taoiseach faced calls to boycott the St Patrick’s Day trip to the White House this year, given the military support the US is providing Israel.

Speaking to reporters before the event this evening, Varadkar said the St Patrick’s Day engagements in the White House “are about a lot more than the shamrock ceremony”.

“I think that’s to misunderstand what me, as Taoiseach, and previous Taoisigh, do here.

“We’re a small country, we can use our voice, and we can call for an immediate ceasefire, as we have for quite some time now.

“A country that’s big and powerful and influential like America, they’re the ones that can make it happen. But they don’t just make it happen by calling for it – they have to try and negotiate it, and that is what they’re doing,” he said.

Biden is the second US president Varadkar has met as Taoiseach, having already met with Donald Trump for previous celebrations. 

Traditionally, the shamrock ceremony takes place on the same day as the Oval Office meeting, however the White House split the St Patrick’s Day programme this year. 

The ceremony in the East Room of the White House took place after Varadkar and his partner Matthew Barrett had brunch with the US president and the Papal Nuncio of the US. 

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Speaking at the brunch where Catholic leaders were in attendance, the US president said St Patrick’s Day is a special day in the Biden household.

“It’s not just about heritage, it really is about faith,” he said. 

Biden said he has always believed “from the beginning, that we’re all created equal, and the image of God, that every single human being deserves to be treated with dignity”.

“My dad used to have an expression, my dad would say, ‘Joey a job is about a lot more than the paycheque. It’s about dignity, it’s about respect’.

“It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, ‘honey, it’s going to be okay, and it’s not enough to wish the world would be better. We have a duty to make it better,” said Biden. 

He thanked Catholic organisations for the work they do inside the United States and around the world.

After the brunch, Biden took Varadkar on an impromptu tour of the White House residence. Varadkar is due to travel back to Dublin tonight.

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