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Irish Leader Urges ‘Bombs to Stop’ in Gaza in St. Patrick’s Day Speech That Moves Biden to Tears

4 minute read

It’s an annual tradition for the leader of Ireland to spend St. Patrick’s Day with the leader of the United States to celebrate the close bonds between the two countries. But what would normally be a festive occasion at the White House, especially as President Joe Biden likes to herald his own personal Irish heritage and pride, took a more somber tone on Sunday night as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar took the opportunity to spotlight the role the U.S. could play in bringing peace to the Middle East.

“I have been thinking a lot about sacred promises,” the Irish leader said early in his speech. “I’ve been thinking, in particular, of the words of one courageous Irish American, a lawyer and a decorated war hero, who spoke so eloquently about the sacred promises that we make as leaders. To quote his words, ‘It’s about just 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.’”

Varadkar added, “Those were the words of Beau Biden,” referring to President Biden’s late son, an Iraq War veteran and Bronze Star recipient who died in 2015 of cancer at age 46. Biden was visibly moved to tears upon mention of Beau.

“President Biden, one of your country’s most sacred promises is to defend the principles of democracy and freedom against tyranny and oppression,” Varadkar continued, commending the U.S. President and his administration for standing up for Ukraine after its invasion by Russia. 

The Taoiseach then reached for another reference, former President and famous Irish American John F. Kennedy, whose death before his time, like Beau, Varadkar said, meant “their words can assume a kind of prophecy, a sort of sacred promise to the future.”

Kennedy “issued a challenge to the Irish nation to be ‘the protector of the weak and of the small,’” Varadkar quoted from a speech the former U.S. President gave to the Irish Parliament in 1963, “‘from Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza Strip.’”

In recent months, Ireland has emerged as one of Europe’s most outspoken critics of Israel’s deadly war against Hamas. “The Irish people are deeply troubled about the catastrophe that’s unfolding before our eyes in Gaza,” Varadkar said. “When I travel the world, leaders often ask me why the Irish have so much empathy for the Palestinian people.”

He went on to explain: “The answer is simple: we see our history in their eyes. A story of displacement and dispossession, a national identity questioned and denied, forced emigration, discrimination, and now hunger.” Varadkar reiterated his nation’s calls for a lasting ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and a two-state solution.

“The people of Gaza desperately need food, medicine and shelter. Most especially they need the bombs to stop. This has to stop. On both sides,” he said, calling also for the hostages Hamas took on Oct. 7 to be returned.

“We also see Israel’s history reflected in our eyes,” Varadkar insisted. “A diaspora whose heart never left home no matter how many generations passed. A nation state that was reborn. And a language revived.”

Varadkar stressed the role the U.S. could play in bringing peace to the Middle East, saying, “I believe it is possible to be for Israel and for Palestine and I believe you do too,” and referencing the U.S.’s critical role in the Northern Ireland peace process. “I have always believed that America is a force for good in the world,” Varadkar said.

Varadkar’s remarks—tugging on Biden’s heartstrings, interjecting flattery, and resting on the principles and bonds shared between Biden’s nation and his ancestral homeland—may have been a diplomatically savvy way to exert pressure on the U.S. President, who has recently taken a more critical tone toward Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his military’s actions in Gaza yet remains one of Israel’s staunchest allies.

The speech also comes after Varadkar faced some criticism from home over the contradiction of his outward friendship with the U.S.—and cheerful holiday visit—despite the U.S.’s backing of Israel. Best-selling Irish author Sally Rooney published an op-ed in the Irish Times on Saturday that lambasted a government that “can bask in the moral glow of condemning the bombers, while preserving a cosy relationship with those supplying the bombs.”

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