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Leo Varadkar to mention Gaza during shamrock ceremony as he defends US trip

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said he will make reference to Gaza during the shamrock ceremony at the White House.

Ahead of what will be his final comments of the US trip for St Patrick’s Day, the Taoiseach defended the traditional March visit to Washington DC.

He said it was “not just a single event that lasts an hour” but a programme with “depth”.

The Taoiseach’s annual diplomatic meetings in the US capital have been dominated by the war in the Middle East and Ireland’s opposing position to the US.

Protests have been held in Dublin and Belfast to coincide with the trip and to push for a more aggressive policy on Gaza from the government as meetings were held with senior US figures.

Mr Varadkar has said throughout the trip that instead of a boycott, Ireland should engage in discussions to highlight issues such as the spiralling number of deaths and injuries in Gaza.

On Sunday, the trip will culminate in Mr Varadkar gifting a bowl of shamrocks to US President Joe Biden.

The Irish premier held a bilateral with the US President in the Oval Office on Friday where the two leaders discussed the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as Irish-US trade relations.

Mr Biden agreed with Mr Varadkar when he said there needed to be a ceasefire “as soon as possible”.

Taoiseach visit to the US
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) at a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House (Niall Carson/PA)

Asked whether he could have partaken in the Oval Office meeting with US President Joe Biden on Friday and then withdrawn from the shamrock ceremony on Sunday, Mr Varadkar said: “I suppose all these things go together.”

“I don’t think it would have been a wise decision or appropriate for me to take the time in the Oval Office and do that meeting and then turn around a day or two later and say that I wouldn’t participate in a ceremony that goes back 40 years.”

He said it would be a “misimpression” if people thought the trip to Washington DC was “just a single event that lasts for an hour where there are speeches and a bowl of shamrocks handed over”.

Although he said previously that the US should not be sending arms to Israel, the Taoiseach added he “wasn’t shocked” that the US would continue to, as it was long established policy.

“I would struggle to understand why other people would be shocked at that, perhaps they need to spend a bit more time reading foreign policy, because that is the established position of the US.

“I appreciate we live in a world where everyone has to be angry all the time and is encouraged to get angry and then when you’re not angry, you’re asked ‘why aren’t you angry?’

“That’s not the way I operate.”

He added: “What you do then is you do all you can to work for a ceasefire, to encourage our American and European partners to work towards that, to increase our humanitarian aid for Palestine, which we’ve done.

“So we’re doing everything we can, that’s practical, given our influence in the world, to push for a ceasefire and for lasting peace.

“I understand why other people may become consumed by anger.

“It’s just never a way that I’ve done my job.”