America and Ireland have always had a long and treasured history, but in recent months the mood has shifted. The reason for this can largely be reduced to one word: Gaza.
Since the Hamas attack on 7 October, America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, Israel, has engaged in a brutal campaign that has alienated political leaders in Ireland. This week, Ireland’s longest-serving senator, David Norris, used his final speech in the Senate chamber to castigate Israel’s actions in Gaza. At the same time, Dublin’s City Council voted to raise the Palestinian flag above the building’s roof, while some Irish politicians have even endorsed an intifada.
All the while, a large portion of public anger has been directed at America. The mural of President Joe Biden erected when he visited his ancestral village of Ballina in County Mayo was defaced with blood recently, featuring the nickname “Genocide Joe”.
At a reception held at the US Ambassador’s residence in Dublin last month, protestors aggressively confronted Irish politicians as they left the house. Additionally, several politicians have called for the annual Shamrock festival at the White House to be boycotted. “The US is the number one supporter of what is happening in Palestine right now. Without US support, it could not be happening,” said People Before Profit’s Member of the Irish Parliament, or TD, Paul Murphy.
There are, however, some politicians who are being more careful. Former taoiseach Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald have refused to boycott the visit, with the latter saying, “You need to be very careful about any idea of boycotting: the Irish relationship with the United States is a very long-standing one, a very valuable one.”
That might be the understatement of the year. Sinn Féin has for decades been heavily reliant on the US for diplomatic pressure and funding. It was Bill Clinton who offered then Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams a visa to visit America in 1994, and it was the diaspora in America which provided funding to Sinn Féin’s armed wing, the provisional IRA, through bodies such as the Irish Northern Aid Committee (NORAID).
Since then, Sinn Féin has been firmly tied to the Star Spangled Banner, but that closeness is coming into question amid Israeli shelling of Gaza. As with its immigration stance, Sinn Féin is finding it hard to balance its pro-Palestinian faction with its closeness to America.
Gaza isn’t the only point of foreign policy rupture between the two countries. Earlier this month, China’s premier Li Qiang landed in Dublin to a warm reception from Irish politicians, with President Michael D. Higgins offering him a “cead mile fáilte” — a hundred thousand welcomes. Beyond the pleasantries, diplomatic breakthroughs were achieved too. Suspended beef exports from Ireland to the People’s Republic were resumed and China announced plans to unilaterally permit visa-free entry for Irish citizens.
Ireland, as the only country in the EU to run a trade surplus with China, is caught right in the middle of this economic squabble between the West and the Global South. How it grapples with its solidarity with the Global South and its reliance on the West will impact its domestic politics and soft-power foreign policy for years to come.
Ireland’s American dream is coming to an end, and its nightmare is just beginning.