SDLP says it will not attend St Patrick’s events at White House in protest at situation in Gaza

PA Images. Colum Eastwood SDLP leader at party conference in Derry on Saturday 25 March 2023
Mr Eastwood said the scale and intensity of violence could not be justified and called on the US to become an advocate for a ceasefire.

The SDLP has said it will not attend celebratory St Patrick’s events at the White House in protest at the situation in Gaza, but will send a delegation to Washington to raise its concerns. The decision comes amid calls from pro-Palestinian supporters on the island of Ireland for parties to boycott the annual St Patrick’s engagements in Washington in March, because of the US’s ongoing support for Israel as it pursues its offensive in Gaza. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP said he could not in good conscience attend celebratory events at the White House while the civilian population in Gaza “lives in constant fear of eradication”.

He accused the US administration of an “atrocious” response to the conflict. Mr Eastwood said the scale and intensity of violence could not be justified and called on the US to become an advocate for a ceasefire. He said his party would send a delegation to Washington to “engage with senior lawmakers, Irish Americans and Palestinian Americans to make the case for an end to violence”. “The bonds of friendship and shared history between Ireland and the United States have forged one of the warmest and most enduring international relationships in the world today,” he said. “It is because we are so close historically, diplomatically and, many of us, personally, that we have a duty to be honest with our friends and allies, especially when we think they’re wrong. “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. “I have seen the impact of unspeakable violence in Gaza. In November 2012 I visited Khan Younis and the surrounding districts days after an appalling escalation in violence that left more than 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. “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.”

Sinn Fein has faced criticism from pro-Palestinian activists in Ireland for not boycotting Washington in March. The party has said it will use events in the US capital to raise its concerns about the situation in Gaza. On Sunday, Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty said his party would not “shirk” its responsibility to voice its opposition to the US administration’s stance. Mr Eastwood said every party leader would have to make their “own decision” on how they approach St Patrick’s Day in the US. “I am offering no criticism of anyone else because there is no easy answer to any of this,” he said. “But I know that my own conscience, and the values of the party I lead, are not consistent with celebration in the face of overwhelming violence. “The SDLP will send a delegation to Washington DC. We will meet with senior law makers, with Irish-American leaders and with Palestinian-Americans to make the case for an end to violence. “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. “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.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...