Alan Shatter

Confront Irish Premier During St Patricks Day USA Visit


The Irish government has for many years used St Patricks Day, 17th March,  for a multiplicity of co-ordinated global diplomatic and public relations initiatives, to promote Ireland as an attractive EU base for multinational companies and to attract tourism. This year 38 senior and junior government ministers and parliamentary leaders will visit 86 cities in 48 countries as part of Ireland’s five day St Patricks Day Programme. Israel is not included. Eleven visits to different parts of the United States, illustrates the importance attached to the Ireland/ American relationship. In 2023 Irish embassies and missions globally engaged in 900 St Patricks Day events, the embassy in Washington DC in 34 across the US.

The event that annually attracts most global attention is the White House engagement of the Taoiseach, Ireland’s Prime Minister, currently Leo Varadkar. Behind all the ballyhoo, Dublin perceives it as a unique annual engagement with the President on issues of Irish concern, both domestic and global, with members of the administration and those on the Hill. It is also an opportunity to thank the administration for America’s vital help in resolving fundamental problems on the island of Ireland and to highlight common values and interests. This year will be no different.

The US played a pivotal role in the conclusion of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ending 30 years of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and domestic grown terrorism, including that of the Irish Republican Army ( IRA). Last year President Joe Biden visited Ireland to mark the Agreements  twenty fifth anniversary. 

More recently the US provided Ireland with crucial support in resolving major difficulties caused by Brexit, historically one of the UK’s most foolish acts of economic self harm. Their resolution this February resulted in the restoration, after almost two years suspension, of Northern Ireland’s Assembly and power sharing Executive. For the first time, the Assembly elected a Sinn Fein First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein being for decades the political front of the IRA. All of this will feature in this years St Patrick’s Day speeches. 

But this years events in Washington should go beyond such references, exchanging shamrock, familial reminiscing, celebratory dining, Irish jokes and music. President Biden and members of Congress, including the Friends of Ireland caucus, should confront both the Irish government and the leaders of Sinn Fein, also visiting Washington, on their obsessive unbalanced criticism of Israel since the Hamas conducted pogrom of 7th October. 

Whilst condemning that days slaughter and atrocities and demanding the release of hostages held in Gaza, the Irish government is one of Israel’s harshest EU critics. Rightly demanding effective action to resolve the humanitarian disaster impacting Palestinian civilians in Gaza, its stance has involved largely ignoring Israel still being daily targeted by terrorist missiles fired from Gaza and Lebanon, Israel’s legitimate security concerns, over 200,000 Israelis evacuating their homes to escape Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIIJ) and Hezbollah aggression and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. Proven extensive terrorist tunnels throughout Gaza were recently depicted by Ireland’s junior Foreign Minister as “a few little manholes”! Also ignored is Hamas’s refusal to disclose the condition and status of any hostage and the absence of ICRC visits, storage of armaments in UNRWA facilities, schools, mosques, hospitals and homes , Hamas hijacking aid, its dedication to Israel’s eradication and promise to repeat its 7th October atrocities. In its repetitive calls for a permanent ceasefire, not simply a truce, and Varadkar depicting Israel as “ blinded by rage”, behaving “ like a rogue state”, violating international law and not acting like a “normal” democracy, Ireland presents as comfortable with Hamas’s brutal rule in Gaza being restored, contrary to the Biden administration’s view, and ignores that inevitability resulting in future atrocities and conflict. 

The Irish government never criticises the Palestinian Authorities pay for slay policy nor Hamas’s total rejection of a two state solution which it, like the US, advocates and is considering rewarding terrorist barbarity by recognising Palestine as a state. It also never explicitly criticises Iranian advocacy of Israel’s destruction, Holocaust denial and its use of  Hamas, PIJ, Hezbollah, the Houthis and other groups as terrorist proxies within its “ axis of resistance”. Particularly astonishing is the Irish governments dereliction of duty in failing to explicitly call out Hezbollah’s daily violations of UNSC Resolution 1701 undermining the peacekeeping role of UNIFIL and putting at risk the safety of the 330 Irish troops currently deployed with UNIFIL in Southern Lebanon. Meanwhile it is publicly signalling it may follow up its recent criticism of Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ)  hearing addressing Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank by supporting South Africa’s action in the same court accusing Israel of genocide. Boosting UNRWA funding whilst suspended by the U.S. and various other states, Ireland together with Spain, has asked the European Commission to conduct a critical review of EU/ Israel trade relations. The EU is Israel’s biggest trade partner accounting for 28.8% of its trade in goods in 2022, 31.9% of Israel’s imports coming from the EU and 25.6% of its exports going to the EU.

Last St Patricks Day Varadkar and Biden lauded their two countries standing together to support Ukraine against Russian aggression. This year Varadkar should be asked why Ireland does not stand with the USA in supporting Israel against Iran’s terrorist proxies, Iranian aggression and ignores Iran’s  regional hegemonic aspirations.  The perversity of a state whose Taoiseach visited the German ambassador in Dublin in May 1945 to express condolences on the death of Hitler and which denied Jews trying to escape Nazi tyranny and Holocaust survivors a safe haven considering accusing Israel of genocide should also not be ignored. 

Sinn Fein leaders too have questions to answer. They should be confronted on their obsessive demonising anti Israel rhetoric and boycott advocacy, inciting antisemitism, ignoring Palestinian terrorist atrocities and all lessons learnt from the Irish peace process when addressing the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. Their  parliamentary members support for Israel’s replacement by a Palestinian state and their demand that Ireland support South Africa’s ICJ accusation of genocide should also be addressed.

Finally, if Varadkar repeats last years breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, they should ask why Ireland’s Parliament has neither debated nor adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, adopted two years ago by Northern Ireland’s Assembly despite Sinn Fein opposition. Escalation of antisemitism in Ireland, partially fuelled  by the Irish governments extreme anti Israel rhetoric, requires that failure be no longer ignored.

Alan Shatter is a former Irish Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, a former chairperson of the Irish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a fellow of the independent Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

About the Author
Alan Shatter is a former Irish Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, a former chairperson of the Irish Parliaments Foreign Affairs Committee, a former member of the EU’s Council of Justice & Home Affairs Ministers & Council of Defence Ministers, a Fellow of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Chairperson of Magen David Adom Ireland, a retired solicitor advocate, author of academic legal works, novels and occasional and an occasional lecturer and broadcaster on legal issues and contemporary Irish domestic and international politics. The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs is included amongst the publications for which he has written.