Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin leaders not for turning on White House St Patrick’s Day celebrations as Gaza death toll reaches almost 30,000

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill with party president Mary Lou McDonald in the office of the first minister at Stormont
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill and party president Mary Lou McDonald (Liam McBurney/Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Sinn Féin has signalled that it has no intention of reversing its leaders’ decision to join the St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the White House.

A long-standing Belfast-based Palestinian activist, who has lost 42 family members since Israel began its indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks by Hamas, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the party.

More than 28,340 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the past four months.

In recent days, Israel has launched an all-out military assault on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, which is one of the last refuges for people displaced since the conflict escalated.

On Tuesday, a request by People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll for an urgent Stormont debate on situation in Rafah was declined by the assembly speaker.

Gaza City-born Saeb Shaath had appealed to Sinn Féin through The Irish News to reverse its decision to accept President Joe Biden’s invitation to Washington DC next month.

Saeb Shaath  (left) pictured with Khalid El-Astal (right) at a Palestine Rally in Belfast 
Saeb Shaath Saeb Shaath pictured at a Palestine Rally at Belfast City Hall on Saturday. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill have said they join the celebrations at the White House “in pursuit of peace”.

Mr Shaath, a former head of the Palestine General Delegation to Ireland, said the party’s decision was “wrong” because, he claimed, President Biden was supporting Israeli genocide.

“We consider Sinn Féin as our brothers and sisters. We have counted on them in the past to stand with the people of Palestine. I am deeply disappointed that they will entertain Joe Biden in the White House,” he said.

“It is very obvious that Joe Biden is involved in supporting Israel’s genocide in Gaza. It is wrong for Sinn Féin to go to the White House.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, whose party will go to Washington for St Patrick’s Day but will not join the White House celebrations, described what was happening in Gaza as a “televised genocide – with evidence right in front of our eyes”.

He said the international community was “still sending arms to Israel to slaughter civilians”.

“I can’t raise a glass in Washington DC with the people responsible for sustaining this genocide while the murder of innocents continues,” he said.

“I won’t be at any White House St Patrick’s Day celebrations this year and neither will any SDLP representative - it is for others to determine their own approach.”

Mr Carroll said he was disappointed his matter of the day debating the Israeli assault on Rafah had not been selected.

He said the assembly should “urgently endorse the call for a ceasefire in Gaza” and called for MLAs to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and its backers.

“Those who claim to support the Palestinian people can no longer pay lip service to their plight,” the West Belfast MLA said.

“This genocide demands action and parties across this island must boycott the White House on St Patrick’s Day due to US complicity in this genocide.”

A Sinn Féin spokesperson told The Irish News there was no change in the party’s decision, taken last month, to attend the White House.