Mary Lou McDonald has said there is no ambiguity about Sinn Fein’s stance on US foreign policy, but she insisted Irish issues will be her “port of call” when speaking to Joe Biden.
It comes after a TD accused the US president of using the Dail chamber as a “soapbox” to air his foreign policy agenda as statements will not be taken from political parties following his remarks to parliamentarians.
Ms McDonald indicated that she shares concerns about America’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the country’s support for Israel, but said a boycott of the US president’s address to the Irish parliament is the “wrong choice”.
People Before Profit is boycotting the historic speech by Mr Biden to both houses of the Oireachtas over objections to his foreign policy.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy told the PA news agency it is possible to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement while also raising concerns about US foreign policy.
“We think it’s our duty to speak out about this and to draw attention to it… It’s treated as a visit by an interesting Irish-American celebrity, as opposed to a visit of the most powerful person in the world who needs to be asked hard questions about the kinds of policies that he is pursuing,” he said.
When asked about Sinn Fein’s position, he said there is “no indication” the party is going to raise the foreign policy criticisms it has.
“When Biden speaks in the Dail this afternoon – and I presume he will make allusions to Ukraine, hints towards Nato, the importance of the West standing together, etc – Sinn Fein TDs will, together with every other single TD and Senator in the Dail I presume, stand up and give a standing ovation.
“That is not raising necessary criticisms of Joe Biden, that is allowing him to present himself as something that he’s not.
This has been the policy previously for US presidents who address the Dail, Mr Murphy said the Oireachtas Business Committee heard this was due to “the prominence and stature of the position of US presidents”.
Mr Murphy added: “We do think that if you go to address a parliament, which is made up of representatives of people representing different viewpoints, you really should listen to the views of those people.
“This visit he’s just speaking, there’s no response by anybody, no questions, no nothing.
“All that Leinster House is being used for is a soapbox to push Biden’s agenda.”
He said that in the absence of statements, the best way to show opposition is “by not participating in the whole thing”.
Speaking earlier, Ms McDonald heaped praise on the US contribution to the peace process, but said Sinn Fein’s concerns about aspects of Washington’s foreign policy are well known.
Asked directly if she shares left-wing criticisms of US foreign policy, she said: “Of course I do. And those are legitimate criticisms. I very much doubt that anybody in the American administration is unaware of the wide criticism of many of their foreign policy stances.”
Questioned whether she would raise concerns about Israel with the president, she added: “I’ll meet him today. I’m not sure what opportunity I will have to have any length of a conversation with him.
“My first port of call with the president is Ireland and Irish affairs, marking progress, marking their contribution, but my position as regards Palestine, the rights of the Palestinian people, and Israeli apartheid are well, well documented.
“There is nobody with any ambiguous or lack of clarity of my or Sinn Fein’s position on all of those matters. Today, this visit is about Ireland.
“This visit is about the political impasse that we have here.
“The political opportunities that I want us to grasp with both hands, and the United States of America is a partner in that, and for the criticism of their foreign policy, be very clear, Ireland, building peace in Ireland, the success of all of this, is very much an American foreign policy triumph, and is very, very much to their credit.”
Asked about the planned boycott, US National Security Council senior director for Europe Amanda Sloat told reporters on Thursday morning that Mr Biden was looking forward to meeting the leaders of the main political parties in Ireland.
“He has received an incredibly warm welcome here in Ireland.
“He is very much appreciative of the invitation to address the houses of parliament today.
She said it was a “historic opportunity” for Mr Biden to set out his views to the Irish people.