Taoiseach to ask Biden to become involved in the ‘drive for peace’ in Gaza

Varadkar backs decision by Catherine Martin to attend the SXSW festival in Austin despite boycott by some artists

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will ask US president Joe Biden to follow the lead of past presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and become involved in the push for peace in Gaza when he meets him later this week in the White House.

Speaking in Boston during the second day of this trip to the US, Mr Varadkar said he will be very keen to push the case for a ceasefire when he meets the President for the traditional ‘shamrock bowl ceremony’ in the Oval Room on Sunday.

“More importantly I will ask America to get involved once again in the drive for peace. It happened before with President Carter. It happened before with President Clinton, I think, hopefully, President Biden can take the lead on this,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he looked forward to engaging with President Biden later this week as well as vice-president Kamala Harris, the Speaker of the House or Representatives Mike Johnson and other congressional leaders.


“What I really want to say to them as thank you for your support so far [on Ukraine]. We need to remember the lessons from the 1930s. You can’t appease a dictator. Putin will come back for more.

“Europe and America must stand together on this. We have put forward a funding package as the European Union. The Americans have done the same thing. It’s in all our interests that that be done,” he said.

The Taoiseach also said that he believed that the stance of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Israel’s invasion of Gaza has shifted in recent months from an ‘unbalanced’ position to a more central stance.

Asked about Ms von der Leyen’s announcement that she would seek a second term as Commissioner, Mr Varadkar said that in the round the German politician had done a very good job as president of the Commission.

“She’s been very good to Ireland on Brexit, on climate, on Covid, on energy and on Ukraine. Her initial response to what was happening in Israel or Palestine was unbalanced, and I said so at the time. I think she’s listened to those concerns. Over the past few weeks and months, I think we’ve seen her position move much more to the centre,” Mr Varadkar said.

“She was crucial in making the decision that the European Union would resume funding for UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) when many other countries are suspending funding. That’s a demonstration of the fact that she understands the concerns that a lot of us have.”

UNRWA’s funding was suspended after allegations were made that some of its employees had taken part in the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7th.

Mr Varadkar added: “The one thing I would ask people is if they don’t think that Ursula von der Leyen is the right person for a second term, fair enough, but tell us who the alternative is and tell us why you think they’re better,” he said.

The Taoiseach also backed the decision by Minister for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin to attend the South by South West (SXSW) festival in Austin despite it being boycotted by several Irish artists, including Kneecap, Gavin James and Mick Flannery. Ms Martin is visiting the city in Texas during her trip to the US to coincide with St Patrick’s Day festivities.

“I fully appreciate that people have the right to boycott events, should they choose to do so. And I totally respect that. But it’s not the policy of the Irish Government to engage in boycotts.

“It’s one thing to exclude a country from an event or from a competition or from a sporting event, or a film festival for example. “It’s another thing to exclude yourself (when you were) not excluded and it’s not our policy to boycott. It’s our policy to engage. I absolutely appreciate that other people have a different view and so long as they’re consistent in their boycotts than I think that’s fair enough,” he said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking during a visit to Fenway Park, home of the Boston baseball team, the Red Sox. He was given a tour of the famous stadium and stood at the spot in the outfield where Éamon de Valera stood when he visited the famous ground in June 1919, during his tour of America to argue the case for Irish independence.

While there he met representatives of an Irish sports performance and technology company, Output Sports: its founder Martin O’Reilly and former Leinster rugby player Adam Byrne, now a biomedical engineer with the company.

The company has expanded from Dublin to the US, where from its base in Boston it works with over 300 clients operating at the elite level in sports.

Later on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar was due to attend a St Patrick’s Day ceremony for the Irish community in Boston.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times