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Debunked: One political party's false election claims on immigration, neutrality and NATO

A leaflet by Ireland First contains a number of inaccuracies.

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EUROPEAN ELECTION LEAFLETS distributed by an anti-immigration political party are filled with false claims, misleading slogans, and contradictions.

The party, named Ireland First, was registered last year after social media channels with its name and logo were set up on foot of anti-immigrant protests across the country.

In early May, party leader Derek Blighe announced on X: “2,370,000 Ireland First flyers [are] about to be delivered to every letter box in the republic”. 

The short leaflet, which includes a quotation from “Padraig Pearce” – a mis-spelling of 1916 leader Pádraig Pearse – has a number of inaccuracies.

Who are Ireland First?

Ireland First is led by Blighe, a Cork-based far right social media personality who also bills himself as a ‘citizen journalist’.

Originally from Ireland, he previously emigrated to Canada to work in the construction industry before returning here, where he has gained prominence by appearing regularly at anti-immigrant protests over the past 18 months.

The party’s social media pages share far-right talking points and posts on various platforms that regularly target immigrants, asylum seekers, members of the LGBTQIA community, as well as sitting TDs from both Government and opposition parties and businesses which provide services to asylum seekers.

Posts by the party and Blighe describe the asylum system as “a massive psyop [psychological operation"] and refer to immigration as an “invasion”, a “replacement” of the Irish people, and a “plantation” – a shorthand for the ‘Great Plantation’, an Irish-specific version of the Great Replacement Theory

Ireland First’s channel on the messaging app Telegram also includes examples of what the Irish Times last year described as ”overt racism, homophobia, anti-semitism and sometimes calls for violence” (though it also said there was no evidence of such views being sanctioned by the party’s leadership).

Blighe has been fact-checked by The Journal on multiple occasions over the past year for his incorrect or misleading claims about migrants.

He has referred to Direct Provision accommodation centres as “plantation centres” and has wrongly linked asylum seekers to cases of rape and sexual assault.

He has also claimed falsely that the war in Ukraine is a scam, and that refugees are arriving in Ireland under false pretenses, often referring to them as “illegal fakeugees” and calling for women and children seeking asylum in Ireland to be deported.

In January, he posted on X that Ireland First would not be running candidates in the upcoming European elections and that it would instead endorse its “partners” in the far-right Irish Freedom Party.

However, that decision does not appear to have stuck. Since March, Blighe has been fundraising online and raised more than €10,800 on GoFundMe, much made up of dozens of people who donated more than €100. The top donor has given €715.

The Leaflet

A lot of the claims on the leaflet are based on vague political spin. At one point, it says Ireland First would “reverse anti-Ireland legislation” and enshrine “pro-Ireland mandates”.

Other claims are somewhat contradictory, such as a statement that Ireland First stands for “freedom of movement” below a section where it says the party aims to enforce “freedom of movement limits” against EU citizens.

However, a number of claims on the leaflet are outright false.

Screenshot 2024-05-28 155934 A copy of the leaflet Ireland First Ireland First

One section looks at the Dublin III Regulation, a soon-to-be-replaced EU agreement that determines how EU member states should process applications for asylum (the full text of the regulation can be read here).

The regulation features in a section on immigration — the largest part of the leaflet — which begins with a commitment to: “Secure Irish borders by properly implementing the Dublin III regulation which states that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first safe country.”

However, the Dublin III Regulation does not say that.

The regulation states that handling an asylum claim is up to the first member state where an asylum seeker makes an application for international protection.

There is a widely held misconception in Ireland that asylum seekers are required to apply for asylum in the first safe country that they enter.

But the reality is different: asylum seekers may not make a claim for international protection when they enter a country – there is no legal obligation for asylum seekers to do this.

But if an asylum seeker does apply for international protection in an EU country, that country is then obliged to process their claim.

If the applicant was previously based in a different EU member state, then the country handling their application has the option, under certain conditions, to request that the former country progress with the application instead.

Speaking to The Journal, immigration and human rights solicitor Wendy Lyon explained that no obligations are placed on applicants.

Instead, as she puts it, “the obligations are placed on states”.

Another section of the Ireland First leaflet deals with the issue of neutrality and claims that: “Irish neutrality is enshrined in our constitution.”

But this is not the case – it’s actually a matter of Government policy.

The Irish Constitution (which can be read in full here) never mentions neutrality; it actually lays out the conditions for Ireland to participate in war.

“War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann,” it says, meaning that Dáil Eireann has the power to enter Ireland into a state of war.

The constitution also states that “in the case of actual invasion”, the Government may take steps to protect the State without Dáil approval.

There have been efforts to enshrine neutrality in the constitution — as recently as a Sinn Féin Dáil motion last year — but calls for a referendum on the issue have been rejected so far.

Another section of the Ireland First leaflet suggests that Ireland is a member of NATO.

After the claim that neutrality is enshrined in the Irish constitution, the leaflet says: “We will seek to review our membership of any military partnerships i.e. PESCO, NATO.”

However, Ireland is not in the NATO military alliance, which is made up of 32 other countries.

Ireland is in the Partnership for Peace programme, which was created to encourage cooperation, particularly between former Cold War rivals.

The organisation is fairly uncontroversial and, as well as all the members of NATO, it also includes Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Switzerland.

The leaflet is correct to say that Ireland is a member of PESCO, which is the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation project. Every EU member state is, aside from Malta.

PESCO aims to provide a structure for EU member states to “jointly plan, develop and invest in shared capability projects, and enhance the operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces”.

This largely focuses on joint procurement of equipment.

Elsewhere, the Ireland First leaflet describes the party’s agricultural policy as follows: “To reverse reckless agricultural policies and seek to have total food security and self-sustainability”.

However, it is unclear what food insecurity the party would address.

The most recent Global Food Security Index, published by The Economist Group in 2022, ranks Ireland as the second most food secure country of the 113 counties that they analysed.

When it comes to meat and dairy, Ireland produces “more than enough to feed itself many times over”, according to Teagasc, Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority.

The CSO estimated in 2022 that Ireland’s “Self-Sufficiency in Total Meat” was at 262%. This means that despite the average Irish person eating 93.9kg of meat every year, we still exported more than a million tonnes of carcass abroad in 2022.

That same year, the National Milk Agency, a state body established by law, released a report which stated that “over 90% of Irish milk supplies are destined for export markets while less than 10% of milk supplies are consumed on the domestic market as Fresh Milk and as manufactured dairy products.”

Contains reporting by Stephen McDermott and Jane Matthews.

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.


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