Taoiseach insists he will not dilute Government’s criticism of Israel during US trip

Varadkar pledges to maintain pressure over Gaza when meeting US president and Congressional leaders

The Taoiseach has said he is adamant he will not dilute the Irish Government’s strong stance on Gaza or Ukraine when meeting US president Joe Biden and other senior politicians in Washington DC this weekend.

Leo Varadkar said he was mindful of the strong historic support for Israel in the US but indicated it would not deflect him from speaking out on the impact the ongoing Israeli attack on Gaza has had on its civilian population, particularly women and children.

“I appreciate that there will be differences of opinions in relation to Israel and Gaza,” he said on Thursday in Washington DC. “There’s very strong historic support for Israel in the US, for lots of different reasons, but that’s not going to deflect me from saying what I feel needs to be said.”

Mr Varadkar’s weeklong visit to the United States has been characterised by a series of speeches in which he has harshly criticised the Israeli conflict, honing in on particularly on the many thousands of Palestinian children who have been killed or severely injured. He has been similarly outspoken on the issue of Ukraine, strongly pledging its support to its effort to defend its territories in the face of the Russian invasion.


Asked on Thursday whether he had tempered his message to a US audience, Mr Varadkar said he had not but was mindful of different perspectives with regards to the tone of his speeches.

“Just to be very clear, there’s nothing I wouldn’t say here that I wouldn’t say back home or vice versa.,” he said. “Anytime you go anywhere in the world, you have to get the tone right and tailor the message for the audience that’s hearing it.

“When I was in Bucharest last week at the (European People’s Party) congress I was speaking to German people or to Greek people and that was a bit different from when you’re speaking to somebody back home.

“You have to be able to get the tone right, show that you can tailor the message in a way that people will hear and understand. That is the objective, to try to influence people.”

He said he had been encouraged in Bucharest by people who had come up to him to thank him for raising his perspective and to confide they were increasingly uncomfortable with their own government’s position.

“I didn’t expect it. So that kind of encouraged me to keep doing it,” he said.

Asked if he had received any blowback from US politicians or audiences to his criticism of Israel, he said: “Not so far.”

On the issue of Ukraine he was really encouraged by the response.

“We need America in this battle to save Ukrainian sovereignty and independence,” he said. “If Ukraine falls, Putin will have another target ...

“He will at some point test Nato, and the consequences for all of us will be very serious. So I’m very keen to use any opportunity I have to speak to US Congressional leaders in particular about getting the legislation passed to provide the funding and support for Ukraine that it needs.”

Mr Varadkar said that the appearance on stage together during the Ireland Funds Gala dinner in Washington on Wednesday night of Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly was a highlight.

“I have an abiding memory and that’s being whisked out of the Ireland Funds dinner in 2020 in the middle of the meal to be told that there was a meeting on Nphet under way and that the pandemic had come to Ireland,

“I now have another abiding memory. And that’s from last night. Seeing the First Minister, and Deputy First Minister on the stage together was powerful, to make the speeches they made, demonstrating the great chemistry that they have. They’re working well together.”

He said the Ireland Funds had raised $600 million for Ireland over the years and it was good for it to see the Good Friday Agreement working again. personified by Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly.

Mr Varadkar said he agreed with Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan that the makeshift campsite of between 100 and 200 tents clustered around the International Protection offices in Mount Street should be cleared. He said that the Government was not in a position at this moment in time to provide accommodation to those seeking asylum in Ireland but that Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman was doing his best to come up with solutions.

“His team is working very hard to try to find some forms of shelter so, at the very least, we can get people off the streets.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times