Irish Eyes Scowl at Sinn Fein’s St Patrick’s Day With Biden

The party leaders’ decision to visit the White House has provoked intense criticism in a country where support for the Palestinian cause remains the strongest in Europe, Mick Hall reports.

The White House lit in green for St. Patrick’s Day 2021. (White House, Cameron Smith)

By Mick Hall
Special to Consortium News

Many Irish eyes have been left scowling over a decision by Sinn Fein to visit U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House to celebrate St Patrick’s Day amid genocide in Gaza.

The party’s leader Mary Lou McDonald is meeting Biden and his officials alongside her associate, party Vice President Michelle O’Neill at Friday’s festivities, joining Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Deputy Prime Minister Micheál Martin.

It is a long-held tradition for Irish political, cultural and sporting figures to visit Washington and take part in the diplomatic event, which celebrates the two countries’ historic links. 

Over 30 million U.S. citizens claim Irish ancestry, including Biden himself, who traces his roots to counties Louth and Mayo. The event is also a useful photo opportunity for politicians seeking votes on both sides of the Atlantic.

For Sinn Fein it is a further opportunity to cement its image as a mainstream constitutional party able to make pragmatic decisions and be a safe pair of hands as it faces into an election that could see it become the next government of the southern Irish state.

The party, which became the biggest grouping in the Northern Ireland Assembly after an election in 2022 that saw O’Neill installed as its first minister, is currently polling at 28 percent of the vote south of the Irish border and could make another historic gain by leading a new coalition government after elections, scheduled for March 2025.

Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill in 2018. (Sinn Féin, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

McDonald and party finance spokesman Pearse Doherty had a two-day stay in New York this month, attending meetings with U.S. businesses operating in Ireland “about future economic growth and opportunity.”

McDonald delivered a keynote address to an Irish Unity Summit in the city’s Cooper Hall on March 1, setting out her vision — an end to the partition of Ireland, which she sees as the democratic outworking of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. The agreement included provisions for a future Irish border poll, which could enact constitutional change on the island if a majority voted for it. 

However, Sinn Fein’s decision to go ahead with its White House visit has provoked intense criticism at home where support for the Palestinian cause remains the strongest in Europe and where many believe politicians are not doing enough to challenge Israel and its chief supporter, the United States.

Nearly 32,000 Palestinians are now officially recorded as dead, mostly women and children, with Israel’s bombing of Gaza taking on even more ghoulish forms. 

As Gazans die from famine caused by Israel’s military siege, IDF tanks and rockets have been targeting crowds of starving people waiting for aid, killing 112 in the ‘flour massacre” south-west of Gaza city on Feb. 29. 

With such scenes being replicated regularly and posted on social media as Israel’s continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing and what the International Court of Justice sees as a plausible case of genocide, tensions have been running high over the White House event.

Pro-Palestine protest in Dublin on Nov. 18, 2023. (Sinn Féin, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Popular Irish comedian Tadhg Hickey took to Twitter this week to vent his anger and disappointment. He said:

“I’ve been a Sinn Féin supporter and Irish republican since school. One of the things that attracted me to SF was its internationalism, its solidarity with the oppressed wherever they may be: South Africa, Cuba, Palestine et al. SF says Palestinians will understand the party going to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day because we must put our own struggle (Irish unity) first. 

“But the simple fact is my friends from Gaza, Hebron & Tulkarm don’t understand. No Palestinian, besides members of the PA, can understand how their ally could shake hands with the sponsors of their ongoing genocide right now…”

Back in January former party leader Gerry Adams articulated the crux of Sinn Fein’s position when he argued Irish America remained an important source of political support that helped to advance its cause. He claimed Palestinians would understand it needed to put “its struggle” first.

“Serious people involved in struggle… understand that your own struggle, whether it be internationalist, has to be your primary focus,” Adams said.

O’Neill also rejected the argument that not attending would send a stronger message that genocide was taking place in Gaza and it would be inappropriate to meet Biden given his deep complicity. She told Irish broadcaster RTE the party would raise the issue of Gaza and push for a ceasefire. 

“The U.S. has always been a very strong partner for peace and actually a critical player in achieving our own peace process and I would hope that the U.S. would use that same pragmatism the same approach they took to our peace process and take that to the Middle East,” she said. 

Biden, right, touring Carlingford Castle in County Louth with Ireland’s Micheál Martin, April 2023. (The White House, Public Domain)

O’Neill told Irish media in February that Hamas would eventually be a “partner for peace” in the Middle East and urged peace talks. 

However, many would see her characterization of U.S. peace-making as naïve at best, blithely ignoring that the dynamics of conflict in the Middle East are radically different to the Northern Ireland conflict. 

Good Friday Agreement

Sinn Fein successfully galvanised Irish-America to pressure its elected representatives to help it gain entry into peace talks and the political process in the face of a hostile British establishment and an intransigent British unionist population in Northern Ireland who demanded its exclusion and a military solution to the conflict. 

The Good Friday Agreement was brokered with the help of the Clinton administration and in particular, Democratic Party Sen. George Mitchell, whose “Mitchell Principles” established the basis for peace talks in 1996. 

By contrast the U.S. is an apparent partner for war in the Middle East, giving the colonial settler state of Israel diplomatic cover in the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council, as well as billions of dollars in military support over the past five months of Israel’s onslaught in Gaza. Israel has long been a key geo-strategic asset to pursuing U.S. imperial interests in the region.

Ireland’s Varadkar visiting the Trump White House in March 2019. (White House, Shealah Craighead)

U.S. officials also understood a peaceful Ireland presented a better environment for U.S. multinationals to operate, their presence bringing more political leverage over any future Irish government. 

A report in June 2023 by the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland said 950 American companies now operated in the Republic of Ireland alone, employing 376,000 people. 

These facts on the ground were brought to bear on the Irish government after the Occupied Territories Bill (2018) banning trade with and economic support for illegal settlements in Israeli-occupied territories was passed by majorities in both the Seanad (upper house) and the Dáil (lower house). It has been blocked by the current governing party Fine Gael, while Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail have stated they will enact the legislation if in power next year.

After the bill was passed, then Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was warned the vote would mean commercial relations between the U.S. and Ireland taking a hit.

Several politicians from the Irish-American stronghold of Massachusetts, including then Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said the bill was anti-Semitic. A letter signed by 10 members of Congress warned of “potentially severe implications” to Ireland’s economy. 

Some of Sinn Fein’s domestic critics believe the party, well versed in political expediency and compromise of its past radical politics, may succumb to such pressure just as easily as Coveney and his colleagues.

Electoral Tightrope

Having evolved from the political wing of the Provisional IRA, the modern Sinn Fein leadership has always walked an electoral tightrope of keeping its more traditional radical supporters onboard its political programme, while it strategically waters down its socialist and international politics to gain wider appeal as it edges towards entering government.

Irish-Palestinian activist Farrah Koutteineh, head of public relations at the London-based Palestinian Return Centre, believes the party is using the Palestinian cause to garner votes and its St Patrick’s Day Biden visit demonstrates its lack of principle.

She is a former member of the party. A letter sent to her Belfast home in April last year announced her expulsion, which she said did not give a reason. In an opinion piece for The New Arab she put it down to a clash she had with a party convenor at a Palestine Working Group meeting, where she argued the party should update its policy on advocating a two-state solution as it was “void in a settler colonial reality.”

In February, she was ejected from a Sinn Fein meeting in Belfast with another Palestinian activist after interrupting proceedings to object to the St Patrick’s Day plans and to denounce the presence of the Palestinian Authority representative to Ireland, Dr. Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid, as she was about to address the meeting. 

O’Neill, Abdalmajid and McDonald in November 2023. (Sinn Féin, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Abdalmajid is a popular figure, particularly within Sinn Fein, who has been invited to various party events to address members and supporters. 

Koutteineh says the party’s promotion of PA personalities like Abdalmajid reflects the fact it has sold out its radical past and lacks any meaningful internationalism regarding the plight of Palestinians. She calls its support for Palestine “stagnant performative activism”, which includes its stated push for a ceasefire and peace process during its leaders’ St Patrick’s Day visit.

The party has a long history with the PLO and other Arab anti-colonial movements. Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi supplied the IRA with tonnes of modern weaponry and cash for two decades right up until the late 1980s. 

Such militant connections may no longer exist for the party and its now defunct military wing, but such links have not fully dissipated in Ireland.

In 2020, British media reported claims of an MI5 agent outed within the Real IRA (RIRA) that the dissident group, which is still operating in Northern Ireland, had cultivated a relationship with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. 

Dissidents have also expressed solidarity with the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic, flying flags atop lampposts in housing estates across Northern Ireland where they draw support.

Ireland has maintained a military neutrality policy since its inception in 1921 and has refused to join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance, even though pressure to change that policy has been building since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Sinn Fein has been vocal in its defence of neutrality, yet its critique of the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine aligns strikingly with that of NATO countries, seeing Russia as a colonial expansionist aggressor and a threat to European nations’ sovereignty. Its position arguably poses a danger of undermining its own rationale for keeping a policy, which defines a big part of Irish identity. For those like Hickey and Koutteineh, attending Biden’s St Patrick’s Day bash also betrays Ireland’s long tradition of anti-imperialist solidarity.

The party undoubtedly remains the most vocal supporter of Palestinian rights among European parties. It is currently pushing Ireland’s coalition government parties to stop stalling on processing another piece of legislation it introduced before Parliament last year, the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill 2023, which prohibits and restricts how Ireland’s Strategic Investment Fund is used.

However, others in Ireland are more direct and uncompromising. The party may have underestimated how unpopular its decision to pose for the cameras with Biden and court America’s power structures would be.

Irish Member of European Parliament Clare Daly may have summed up populist sentiment in Ireland best when she chastised the U.S. for sending $17.6 billion in military aid to Israel, calling Biden a “sick monster.” Referring to Ireland’s own catastrophic colonial-inspired famine in 1847, she told the EU Parliament in Strasburg on Wednesday:

“As Irish politicians shamefully cross the Atlantic to doff a cap for St Patrick’s Day and pay homage to this butcher, they should remember that our history with relations to the U.S. comes from our famine. Irish Americans should know the people of Ireland stand against ‘Genocide Joe’. We stand with Palestine. Tiocfaidh ar la (Our day will come).”

Mick Hall is an independent journalist based in New Zealand. He is a former digital journalist at Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and former Australian Associated Press (AAP) staffer, having also written investigative stories for various newspapers, including the New Zealand Herald.

13 comments for “Irish Eyes Scowl at Sinn Fein’s St Patrick’s Day With Biden

  1. CaseyG
    March 16, 2024 at 19:05


    Irish eyes are not smiling , BIDEN.

  2. March 16, 2024 at 06:14

    Sinn Fein are now the same rent-seekers as all the other Irish parties.

  3. Marilyn Henighan
    March 15, 2024 at 16:35

    Thank goodness for Clare Daly who knows how to speak truth to power.

  4. Will Durant
    March 15, 2024 at 13:09

    No oatmeal in Clare Daly’s mouth! Her clarity is refreshing, her moral compass pointing Due North, as ever. She clearly sees the “banality of evil” when people go along to get along. One cannot make nice with sociopaths like Biden, et. al. One always comes away tainted, guilty by association by treating them as if their actions are sane and reasonable. It brings to mind psychologist Erich Fromm’s phrase, the “pathology of normalcy” and Gabor Mate’s recent book The Myth of Normal. Joe Biden and his ilk are considered normal only because we have been inured to their casual cruelty by accepting that that is just the way the world has to work. It isn’t. We call ourselves free, yet we are willing slaves in this group psychopathy. Change is possible, but we must never hesitate to speak Truth to power. Clare Daly knows this, as should we all.

  5. Lois Gagnon
    March 15, 2024 at 12:32

    Seems similar to what happened to the German Greens. Lust for power corrupts even those who start out with the best of intentions. Keeping one’s politics close to the ground is the only defense against this insidious betrayal of those you claim to represent.

  6. Ian Brown
    March 15, 2024 at 10:44

    And for what? So Biden can forget their names, or the day of the week and give an insulting folksy story that then turns to total jibberish and blank looks? Even the photo op alone will be humiliating, let alone the fact that good Uncle Joe is a driving participant in a modern holocaust.

  7. Barbara Barnwell Mullin
    March 15, 2024 at 10:35

    Shameful sell out by Sinn Fein to Genocide Joe.

  8. Ian Brown
    March 15, 2024 at 10:26

    Sinn Fein would do well to remember that next year they will likely be shaking Donald Trump’s hand while still holding their tongues on a colonial genocide. Despite the policy being equally as odious, the look domestically will be even uglier.

    Ireland is very enmeshed with the US, but the public is indeed strongly against the genocide. I fear that Ireland is becoming just another European country with a government that reports to Washington and thumbs voters in the eye.

  9. Michael G
    March 15, 2024 at 10:01

    I love Clare Daly.
    Here in the US she’d be a before the Powell Memo old school lefty. Before the Democrats turned away from blue collar. You had to work for a living? your an old school lefty. How many millions of us in the US had to work for a living? How many billions of us worldwide? The Uniparty supports only those on top of the top 10%. The people who are responsible for this ongoing genocide. I wonder what the going rate is for being the only person in a UN Security Council Resolution Vote to raise your hand? Contract work, but I bet it pays like you wouldn’t believe.

  10. Paul Citro
    March 15, 2024 at 08:32

    You can’t shake Biden’s blood stained hand without getting blood on your own.

  11. Tim N
    March 15, 2024 at 07:25

    Total sell-out, complete with the weaselly justifications. Good God. Go Clare Daly!

  12. Steve
    March 15, 2024 at 04:44

    I find it ironic that the people who fought for independence from the UK are now more than happy to sell out their nation to the USA. No good ever comes from dependence on uncle Sam.

  13. DW Bartoo
    March 14, 2024 at 20:26

    So, I wondered what Claire Daly might be having to say.

    Thank you, Mick Hall, for sharing her thoughts.


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