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Taoiseach presenting the bowl of shamrock to Joe Biden last year.
Washington DC

Varadkar to brunch with Biden before Patrick's Day shamrock ceremony

Tonight’s shamrock ceremony, with all its usual pomp and ceremony, will present a difficulty for the Taoiseach in terms of striking the right tone.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR will return to the White House today to attend a St Patrick’s Day brunch with US President Joe Biden. 

In the evening, the Taoiseach will present the traditional bowl of shamrock to Biden and  both men will deliver remarks. 

One of WWE’s biggest superstars, Becky Lynch, a native of Limerick, has also been invited to the ceremony, which is usually held on the same day as the Oval Office meeting.

However, this year the White House favoured splitting the programme, instead expanding the usual St Patrick’s Day celebrations over two days.

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

The ceremony is usually a cheerful affair, but an undercurrent of tension is expected to be present as the Taoiseach attempts to thread a needle between making positive remarks about the relationship between Ireland and America and making sobering comments about the reality of the loss of life in Gaza right now.

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.

Instead, the focus all week has been on Varadkar’s messaging and whether he has gone far enough to hammer home the message from the Irish people about where they stand on what is happening in Palestine.

Tonight’s shamrock ceremony, with all its usual pomp and ceremony, will present a difficulty for the Taoiseach in terms of striking the right tone.

Yesterday, Biden said in the Oval Office that he agreed with the Taoiseach’s calls for a ceasefire in Gaza “as soon as possible”.

However, speaking to reporters in Washington DC yesterday, Varadkar said there were areas in which the two administrations remain at odds.

When asked by The Journal if he told the US president that he does not believe that Israel’s actions are self defence, Varadkar said he made it “very clear” to Briden that Israel’s continued military actions in Gaza were not self-defence.

When put to him that the US is completely at odds with the Irish perspective on Palestine, Varadkar said “we need to bear in mind that there’s a long standing alliance between Israel and the US”.

“Israel, like any state, has the right to defend itself… but I’ve been very clear that what we’re seeing in Gaza, it goes well beyond self defence, and isn’t acceptable in our view. That’s why we’re encouraging the administration to continue with its efforts to put in place a ceasefire,” he added.

president-joe-biden-meets-with-irish-prime-minister-leo-varadkar-in-the-oval-office-of-the-white-house-friday-march-15-2024-in-washington-ap-photoevan-vucci Varadkar meeting Biden in the Oval Office on Friday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Asked about the US continuing to supply Israel with weapons, Varadkar said: “That’s something we don’t agree with, but the American government is a sovereign government that makes its own decisions.”

Varadkar said the US was working “very hard” towards a ceasefire, but Biden has stopped short of calling for an immediate end to hostilities.

Asked what he wanted to see happen in Gaza, Varadkar said: “The most important and most urgent thing is the need for a ceasefire so that the killing can stop, so that the hostages can go home, so that food and medicine can get into the people that need it in Gaza.

“Once that happens, we would hope that it becomes possible to build a more permanent ceasefire.

“I think everyone agrees that Hamas can’t be part of the governing of any Palestinian territory given what’s happened on 7 October, but we don’t believe that it should be occupied by Israel.

“We certainly don’t believe it should be resettled by Israel. We believe it should be handed back over to Palestinian civilian control and unlike was the case since 2005, it shouldn’t be blocked by Israel.”

Speaking to reporters about his meeting with the US President on Friday, the Taoiseach was asked if he believed Biden was fit for an election campaign.

Varadkar said: “I do and he’s in very good form, very engaged and very sharp.”

from-left-irish-prime-minster-leo-varadkar-president-joe-biden-and-speaker-of-the-house-mike-johnson-r-la-walk-down-the-steps-following-the-annual-st-patricks-day-gathering-at-the-capitol-in-w Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Prior to the brunch at the White House, which will be attended by a number of Catholic leaders and organisations, Biden will be attending mass.

Varadkar said he did not believe that he would be attending the mass with the president today, which had been proposed in early discussions of the itinerary for the week.

However, he added that he “would have been happy to” attend if there was such an invite.

Today’s events take place after Varadkar attended the Gridiron Club and Foundation Dinner, the oldest journalist association in Washington DC last night – alongside the US president and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff.

The club dinner, which includes skits and parodies, often has foreign heads of state in attendance. 

Varadkar said at the president’s table alongside other well-known names such Jeff Bezos, Amazon Executive Chairman and Bill Burns, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Almost every president has given at least one speech at the annual white-tie dinner. In his remarks, Biden made reference to how Varadkar was once an intern on Capitol Hill, telling the guests tonight: ”He took one look at Congress and he asked for another Guinness.”

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