Colum Eastwood MP, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), issued a statement today, January 29, as the discussion around an Irish boycott of the annual White House visit for St. Patrick's Day heats up.

The SDLP confirmed today that it will not take part in "celebratory" St. Patrick's Day events at the White House this year, but the party will send a delegation to Washington DC "to engage with senior lawmakers, Irish Americans, and Palestinian Americans to make the case for an end to violence."

In a statement on Monday, Eastwood reflected on the friendship and shared history between Ireland and the US and said "we have a duty to be honest with our friends and allies - especially when we think they’re wrong."

Eastwood said that in his view, the scenes in Gaza represent "a clear act of genocide" and that the "response of the US administration has been particularly atrocious."

The Derry politician recalled witnessing "the impact of unspeakable violence in Gaza" during a 2012 visit to Khan Younis.

He continued: “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."

Eastwood acknowledged that every political leader "will have to take their own decision on how they approach St. Patrick’s Day" and said he is offering "no criticism of anyone else because there is no easy answer to any of this."

"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."

He continued: “The SDLP will send a delegation to Washington DC. We will meet with senior lawmakers, 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 has to 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."

What’s happening in Gaza is a genocide and the response of the international community is heinously deficient.

I can’t in good conscience attend White House parties, rub shoulders and drink Guinness while the horrifying impacts of this brutal war continue.

— Colum Eastwood (@columeastwood) January 29, 2024

The SDLP's announcement comes the day after The Irish Times reported that Dr. Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid, the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland, said she would not advocate for representatives of the Irish Government or the Opposition to turn down invitations to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I wouldn’t say go or not to go ... I know how important this visit is,” she said, adding that she would "respect" whatever decision Irish politicians made about the US trip.

The Palestinian ambassador said she hoped Irish politicians attending engagements in the White House and Capitol Hill raised the war in Gaza “in a serious way” during any talks with the US administration.

“Please keep the just cause of Palestinians in your hearts, your minds, in your talks,” she said. Ireland should try to use its close relationship with the US to push the case for a ceasefire in Gaza and self-determination for Palestinians, she said, according to The Irish Times.

Previously, Sinn Féin leaders said they will go to the US for St. Patrick’s Day “in pursuit of peace," while Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that it wouldn't make sense to boycott the annual St. Patrick's Day visit to the White House. 

Ireland's People Before Profit (PBP) party, however, continues to call for an Irish boycott of the event that goes back decades.

Meanwhile, an online petition urging all Irish politicians to "boycott St. Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House" in 2024 has received nearly 10,800 signatures since being launched a month ago.