Northern Ireland

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood to boycott White House St Patrick’s Day celebrations in protest over Israel-Hamas war

US President Joe Biden with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
US President Joe Biden pictured with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood during his visit to Belfast in April 2023.

THE SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said he will not attend St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the White House this year in protest over the United States’ “atrocious” handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Stormont’s party leaders usually travel to the event each year as part of annual effort to boost investment in Northern Ireland.

Mr Eastwood, who visited the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis in 2012, has said the US must now apply more pressure to reach a ceasefire and “preserve the dignity and humanity of the civilian population in Gaza and southern Israel”.

US President Joe Biden has consistently been calling for Israel to change its military tactics against Gaza, but critics say this has been not been enough.

As one of Israel’s main allies and military suppliers, the United States is under increased scrutiny as the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel must prevent genocidal acts but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.

Mr Eastwood has said his party will instead send a delegation to Washington DC to engage with senior lawmakers, Irish Americans and Palestinian Americans to call for an end to violence.

“We have a duty to be honest with our friends and allies - especially when we think they’re wrong,” Mr Eastwood said.

“The scenes of destruction and annihilation in Gaza represent, in my view, a clear act of genocide. With more than 26,000 people dead, and more than 10,000 of them children, the response of the international community has been heinously deficient.

“The response of the US administration has been particularly atrocious.”

During his 2012 visit, the Foyle MP said he had seen the effects of violence that left over 100 civilians dead and hundreds more injured.

“I have seen children’s playgrounds reduced to rubble and homes destroyed. The people of Gaza now go to bed again every night knowing that they may never wake up,” he said.

“In that context, and having seen its impact before, I cannot in good conscience attend White House parties for St Patrick’s Day while the administration turns its face the other way and refuses to call for an immediate ceasefire.

“I could not rub shoulders, drink Guinness, and have the craic while the horrifying impacts of the brutal war in Gaza continue. It would be the very opposite of solidarity with a people on the brink of destruction.”

Mr Eastwood said he would not criticise other party leaders for attending, but said his own conscience meant he could not go to celebrate at a time of “overwhelming violence”.

Sinn Fein has said it will travel to Washington.

“It is in our party’s DNA to work toward peace wherever possible. We will use our influence to press strongly for an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas,” he said.

“I am not naive to the scale of the impact this action will have. But faced with the scenes of destruction across Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas of human habitation on our planet, I honestly believe it would be wrong to attend these celebrations and that not attending sends a far more powerful message.

“The first, and most important, principle of peace is that the killing must stop. The US has enormous influence over the pace of that first step in Gaza and southern Israel. I sincerely hope that they use it and join those of us calling for an immediate ceasefire soon.”