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Taoiseach tells US of duty to ‘bring peace to Holy Land’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that Europe and the US have a responsibility to bring “peace and justice to the Holy Land”.

Speaking at the Irelands Funds gala dinner in Washington DC last night, the Taoiseach spoke of the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

The event was also addressed by Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minster Emma Little-Pengelly.

The Ireland Funds gala raised $1.2 million for the work of the fund, supporting cross community and cross border projects in Ireland.

But while the night celebrated the peace process in Northern Ireland, Mr Varadkar said Ireland stands with Ukraine in its defence of freedom and democracy, and that Europe and the US have a responsibility to help end what he called the injustices in the Middle East.

“I know almost 5,000 miles away from here, there is another frontier,” Mr Varadkar said.

“A battlefield and a frontier for freedom where the great people of Ukraine are fighting an adversary who threatens their freedom and democracy.

“And I want you to know that Ireland stands with democracy, stands with liberty and stands with the rule of law. And we stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

“Further away again, there is another frontier, stained by the blood of the innocent and the tears of the suffering.

“The brutal and indiscriminate attacks carried out by Hamas on Israeli civilians on 7 October were vicious terrorist crimes and atrocities and there is no context that explains or excuses them in any way.

“As we sit here tonight in this wonderful building, Palestinian civilians, who are not responsible for the crimes of Hamas are being subject to humiliation and starvation and that is wrong.

“We as Europeans and Americans, that are at least in some part responsible for the troubles in that region, have a duty to do all that we can to bring peace and justice to the Holy Land.”

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill (L) and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly

The biggest cheers of the night were for Ms O’Neil and Ms Little-Pengelly, whose appearance in Washington just weeks after the formation of the new Northern Ireland Executive was warmly received.

“For me and for Emma there is no doubt that we are in a new era in the north of Ireland, Northern Ireland,” Ms O’Neill said.

“A new generation of leaders are now at the helm. All I can do this evening is to ask you to continue this journey with us, to continue to look towards the future”

Ms Little-Pengelly said she wanted to thank the US for its support in solving Northern Ireland’s problems.

“Thank you for being with us through the difficult times and for all of your help and support,” she said.

“But thank you especially for continuing that journey with us as we grow our economy and work towards developing and prosperity.

“Our place is that amazing place of hope and potential that we want to unlock by working together.

“We want to work hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder in terms of that investment, and building that amazing future that we know that Northern Ireland has.”

Among those attending were Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, along with several US Senators and members of the House of Representatives, and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul.

Last year the Irelands Funds worldwide provided grants worth more than $22m to some 340 non-profit organisations throughout Ireland, north and south, and around the world.

Mr Varadkar is on a week-long visit to Washington, which will see him engage with US President Joe Biden at the White House on a variety of issues, including economic ties between the two countries and the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking in Washington DC last night

Northern Ireland ‘open for business’

Representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive, which was restored six weeks ago after a long-running boycott by the DUP over post-Brexit trading arrangements, arrived in Washington DC for engagements with investors, community groups and politicians.

Ms O’Neill said Stormont representatives were in the US to advocate for Northern Ireland and set out shared priorities.

She said: “We’re also here with a clarion call to all US investors that we’re open for businesses, that government has been reinstated – it’s functional again.”

Ms Little-Pengelly said Northern Ireland is a place of “great hope, determination and ambition”.

She added: “We want to work hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of that investment and building that amazing future we know that Northern Ireland has.”

Mr Heaton-Harris praised the two leaders’ message to the US audience.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “Two amazing women are leading their nation, bringing a message of positivity about the future about what Northern Ireland can achieve.

“I don’t think you can ask for a better message to this crowd”.

Mr Heaton-Harris said he would be using his time in the US to emphasise that Northern Ireland has unique economic opportunities and that the UK government is “always going to support” the region.

Asked if he felt the Westminster administration had to play catch-up with announcements from the Irish Government about investment in projects in Northern Ireland, he added: “I think we’re pretty comfortable with the £14.8 billion block funding and the £3.3 billion we stuck in to get the Executive back up and running.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald at the gala in Washington DC

During his speech to the gala, Mr Varadkar said there was “new hope and new beginning” for Northern Ireland following the restoration of power-sharing.

He said: “We will do whatever it takes to help build and make the idea of a better future a reality for everyone.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald defended the party’s attendance at US events, amid calls for Irish politicians to boycott the Washington trip over Gaza.

Ms McDonald told reporters at the black-tie, $1,000-per-ticket gala that she would “talk to the devil himself” to bring about ceasefire.

She said: “I feel a huge sense of responsibility to do everything that I possibly can to bring about ceasefire, to advocate for the people of Palestine.”

Additional reporting PA

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