Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his upcoming St. Patrick's Day visit to the White House amidst sustained calls to boycott the traditional engagements.

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that on Friday, March 15, US President Joe Biden will host Varadkar for a bilateral meeting, and that Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff will host Varadkar and his partner Matthew Barrett for a breakfast at the Naval Observatory.

In Dublin, however, Varadkar continues to face criticism for his decision to partake in St. Patrick's Day engagements in the US in light of Biden's response to the war in Gaza.

TD Mick Barry of People Before Profit said to Varadkar in the Dáil on Tuesday: “In not much more than a week's time, the Taoiseach plans to get on a plane, travel to the US Capitol and join Joe Biden in a day of celebration.

"He plans to give the latter a bowl of shamrock on behalf of the Irish people.

"He plans to pose, no doubt, for photographs with a man who has armed and financed mass murder.

“That is the truth of it. I believe that is wrong. I am confident in saying that large numbers of people on this island also think it is wrong.

“More than 30 million people in the US claim Irish descent. Many of their ancestors fled the kind of famine conditions now beginning to appear in Gaza. This is an election year in the US. The Taoiseach has the opportunity to exert some real pressure here. He should tell Biden that there will be no shamrock while there is not a total ceasefire and an end to the bloody occupation.

"Sometimes you have to stand up and do the right thing.”

Responding, the Taoiseach reiterated the Irish Government’s call for an immediate ceasefire and said he welcomes the call made by Vice President Harris for a humanitarian ceasefire, which he says  is a “welcome shift in the position of the US.”

Varadkar continued: “On my visit to the White House, which will occur next week, I do not believe in boycotts. That has never been the approach I have taken to international affairs.

"The visit will present an opportunity to speak to leaders in the US on Capitol Hill and also to President Biden and Vice President Harris. 

“Ireland is one of 200 countries in the world. Not many countries are guaranteed a meeting once a year with the US. It would be a big mistake for us to boycott that and to lose the important engagement that has occurred every year since the 1980s. 

“However, I will use the opportunity - in private, in the Oval Office and in public in the White House - to make clear how the Irish people feel about the situation in Gaza and how we believe the US needs to adopt an approach that will help to bring about a peace settlement in the region.”

TD Barry said: “In our view, no party in this House should attend a celebration with Joe Biden while this Israeli terror campaign is being waged.”

He added: “Is the Taoiseach seriously saying that if bombs are raining down from the sky on the people of Rafah in their tents and if the noise and fury of a ground invasion is taking place outside those tents, that he will go to Washington and present a bowl of shamrock on behalf of the Irish people to the man who is more responsible than anyone else on the planet for arming and financing the military force involved?”

Varadkar said Barry seemed “a little bit obsessed” with the presentation of a bowl of shamrock, which he says “takes about 20 seconds.”

Varadkar continued: "The real opportunity is in the sit-down meeting in the Oval Office with President Biden and his team.

"There is also the opportunity to speak publicly in the White House before guests of the President, as well as some from the Irish embassy. That is the opportunity I will take to reaffirm the importance of our relationship with the US on economic, political and cultural levels.

"I will also say there are issues on which we disagree, and I will take the opportunity to do so in private and in public.

"It would be a mistake for any Irish Government to boycott those events. Once that slot is lost, it would be easily transferred to another country, and it might never return again. We would diminish our influence in the world if we refused to meet people and refused to engage with them, including and particularly our allies and friends, such as the US."

Meanwhile, an online petition calling on Irish politicians to boycott St. Patrick's Day celebrations at The White House this year has gained more than 17,000 signatures.