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‘We're not talking about this enough': Ireland warned to take action against radicalisation

An expert has said better integration of asylum seekers and refugees must play a role in this process.

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AN EXPERT IN youth radicalisation has warned that Ireland must act to prevent the spread of extreme ideologies here.

Professor Pat Dolan has said better integration of asylum seekers and refugees must play a role in this process.

Dolan, a co-founder and Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, has done extensive research on youth radicalisation and how it can be prevented.

pat new Professor Pat Dolan Niamh Heery Niamh Heery

His work in this area focuses on the potential risk and susceptibility of younger people to violent ideology, and the role young people can play in overcoming fundamentalism.

Speaking to, Dolan said he and his colleagues were “not getting that much airplay” for their research until the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January 2015, where two brothers shot dead 12 people in relation to depictions of the prophet Muhammed in the satirical magazine.

“Sadly, for all the wrong reasons, the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January, three years ago now, that really focused the mind. So that’s an example of a negative influence, but there have been very positive influences as well.”

Dolan said “good, proactive work” is being done in communities to prevent violence, adding that young people have sometimes led these initiatives.

“They’ve done it in the context of having a sense of belonging in the community, feeling they’re actually part of the community, that they’ve ownership of the community, that they’re not different to the community, that they are the community – and this is a key underpinning principle.”

Dolan has helped develop an empathy programme for students that is currently being piloted in a number of secondary schools. / YouTube

Video produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films 

Research has shown that children who are taught about empathy and how to see things from another person’s point of view are less likely to engage in prejudicial or aggressive behaviour, which in turn means divisions between people from different backgrounds are less likely to happen.

While acknowledging the role the internet plays in promoting violence and extremism, Dolan said it would be “a very naive approach” to blame it on this alone.

“That’s not to say the internet doesn’t play a role, but really community belonging is key.

“We need to prevent youth violence and extremism. We need communities where youths feel they have a role to play and they’re respected.”

‘A humanitarian crisis’

Dolan describes the refugee crisis as the “modern Holocaust” and is very critical of Ireland’s response to it. He said the number of refugees Ireland has taken in is “a joke”, stating: “It’s not a serious humanitarian response to a humanitarian crisis.”

The Irish Refugee Protection Programme was established in September 2015 to, in the government’s words, respond to “the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict in the Middle East and Africa”.

Under this programme, the government has pledged to accept 4,000 people into the State. Some 1,040 people were to come to Ireland under the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme, currently focused on resettling refugees from Lebanon.

Portraits of Rescued Migrants from SAR Zone Riham, a 30-year-old Syrian woman, had been living in Libya but left for Europe after her husband was murdered Samuel Nacar / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images Samuel Nacar / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

From 2014-2018, 834 Syrian refugees arrived in Ireland. Since 2011, just over 1,000 people from Syria have applied for asylum or international protection here. A further 10,800 people from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sudan have applied for asylum here since 2011.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality told Ireland has “a record of living up to its humanitarian commitments with regard to persons seeking international protection from conflict or oppression”.

“In general terms, a key aspect of Ireland’s general immigration arrangements is to maintain in place appropriate and proportionate measures to support community safety and security while facilitating lawful immigration to the State for a range of purposes,” they stated.

Direct Provision

Dolan takes serious issue with the Direct Provision (DP) system. More than 5,000 people live in over 30 DP centres around Ireland while they await a decision on their status. Some people have been living in such centres for years due to delays in the process and seeking appeals.

People in the centres are provided with meals and given a weekly allowance of just €21.60. The system was set up as a temporary measure 18 years ago.

90529694 Protesters calling for an end to Direct Provision at a demonstration last November Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

Dolan believes future leaders will have to apologise for DP centres in the same way past and current leaders have apologised for mother and baby homes and the Magdalene Laundries.

“We have a Taoiseach, a former Taoiseach who’s apologised for it. I guarantee that we will have to make the same apology to people in this country who have not been given human respect, it just is outrageous.

We are inviting people, young people who come to a country where they can’t work, where they can’t get educated, where learning the language is difficult, where we put them in the most isolated places where no one else would live and they’re not given respect. And despite the goodwill of some, the lack of goodwill of many is the problem.

In February, the Supreme Court formally declared that the absolute ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional. The Cabinet had agreed to lift the ban last November, in line with a European directive.

Some groups have been critical of the restrictions that will placed on employment for those seeking asylum, with the Immigrant Council of Ireland describing the limitations being placed on the scheme as a “missed opportunity”.

‘Will it take an attack in Ireland? Is that what it’s going to take?’

Dolan said it’s “inevitable” some people “will be lured into feeling that they don’t belong” and, as a result, may be more susceptible to radicalisation.

“We’re inviting something here that we’re not talking about enough. And it really worries me. Will it take an attack in Ireland? Is that what it’s going to take? Do we have to wait for this attack to do what we need to do?

“The evidence is already there that if you marginalise people so much they still stay on the margins, it will lead them to do things that we don’t want them to do. So, you know, this is not rocket science.”

The threat level of a terror attack happening in Ireland is deemed to be moderate – this means that an attack is possible but not likely, according to An Garda Síochána, who say they monitor the situation constantly. / YouTube

Video produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films 

One Syrian refugee living in Ireland told us people in DP centres are often “really isolated”.

“The only have contact with each other. They might meet four or five people in the town who are just good people who come and talk to them or teach them English.

“I saw people waiting for three years, for example. It’s insane that in three years you don’t get an answer.

“They wake up and have nothing to do, they have no friends. They might experience psychological problems while they are waiting.

“It’s dangerous to be isolated … If someone has the intention to [radicalise them], then it will be more likely to happen,” he said.

When asked if some people in DP centres could be more susceptible to being influenced by radical views due to the isolation they may feel, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said there is “no evidence” to suggest this is true.

Earlier in the Radical Pathways series, we spoke to Dr Ajmal Hussain, Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Manchester, about why people become radicalised.

Hussain’s work is based in Birmingham and Manchester, cities that are “known for their multiculturalism”. He himself is second generation British, his parents immigrated to the UK from South Asia.

Through his work, Hussain said he has learned about “how precarious” the lives of many refugees and asylum seekers often are in terms of work, education and accommodation.

“We tend to think about asylum seekers and refugees in the context of where they’ve come from or the kind of journey that they’ve undertaken.

So it might be a Syrian refugee or a Libyan refugee or an Eritrean refugee, you know, and we think of where they’ve come from or what they’ve been through, but what’s really more important is where they’re at now actually, and the current situation.

Hussain said that, while the sometimes “horrific” treatment they may have experienced in their home countries or on the journey to Europe may make a small minority of people more susceptible to radicalisation, it can also make them resilient.

In any case, he said they need support when they arrive in a new country, not to be “stigmatised” or “housed in a hostel” long-term.

He said people who have an uncertain future can be “much more vulnerable” to radical ideologies.

Migrant communities are more established in the UK than in Ireland, with some dating back generations. Being able to “maintain a connection” with people from a similar background, while integrating with the wider community has been essential in this regard, Hussain noted.

When developing anti-radicalisation and extremism programmes, he said Ireland “could and should involve communities as much as possible”, through policies that “enable grassroots involvement” without stigmatising people. You can read about An Garda Síochána’s anti-radicalisation and counter-terrorism work here.


In terms of integration of refugees in Ireland, Dolan said “there are pockets of very good things”, citing the Syrian community in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, as an example of this.

However, he said this may be “a singular song” rather than a symphony. Dolan said Ireland should embrace welcoming refugees for both humanitarian and economic reasons, noting the skills these people can bring to the Irish workforce.

“I think we need to not look at this as a threat, that we need to welcome this and embrace it – not just for humanitarian reasons, there are actually good economic reasons for this.

I think the likelihood of anything horrible happening here will be lessened the more and more we embrace diversity as a country.

“From a human rights perspective, every human has a right to a good standard of living. We’re part of the United Nations as a country, we’re part of the European Union. We need to stand up to what we pledge to … It’s a humanitarian crisis.”

Dolan noted that Irish people “have emigrated for generations and continue to emigrate”. He questioned why some individuals think it’s acceptable for Irish people to seek status and better opportunities in places such as the US, but don’t agree with people from other countries doing the same thing in Ireland.

“We’re illegal in other countries and we make pleas to American presidents, God help us, that we can get recognised in those countries, but we won’t recognise people coming here. I mean, what does that tell us?”

Migrants seen packed in their boat crossing the ocean into People from Libya being rescued by the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms last Sunday Samuel Nacar / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images Samuel Nacar / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

When asked about what the government is doing to support integration, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality referred to the Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2022 which was published last year.

They told us this strategy “seeks to ensure that government policies across all areas will continue to contribute to the successful integration of all migrants” and “builds upon the existing policies and actions which are already being implemented across a range of government departments and agencies”.

Fifteen projects were selected following an open call for proposals under the National Integration Funding Programme in 2017. This initiative is worth €600,000 per year over three years.

Examples of projects being funded through this programme include:

  • A nationwide project to support English language acquisition
  • An employment and integration project in Dublin for vulnerable and socially excluded immigrants, which will increase the employability of members of the target group
  • A Cork-based project providing practical support and advice to immigrants
  • A nationwide anti-racism project involving children and young people

Some 131 community-based projects also received small grants from a pot of €500,000 in total in 2017. A further €500,000 will be made available this year.

Speaking to people who have been radicalised

Dolan said there is no “one simple solution” to preventing radicalisation and violent extremism, believing that a number of avenues must be explored.

“If you want to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem. And we have to sit down and listen to people.

“One thing I’ve learned from listening to [people who were radicalised], and listening is an important word in this context, is that they would say they felt they were being driven down a road and it was like there were no avenues off the road, no real alternatives for them.”

Dolan said none of these people became a jihadist “for the sake of becoming jihadist”.

“They said it was because of the things that happened up to that point. So it wasn’t just a sudden road, pardon the pun, road to Damascus moment for them. It was a series of things and, yes, the internet was involved in that and clerics who did rope them in were involved.”

Dolan said many of the people he interviewed who held extreme views were never violent, adding that a “basic human block” stopped this from happening.

“There was a filter in their heads – and it was the same filter that you, I, anybody has.”

He said these people may have thought ‘I’m really angry about the way I’m treated, I’m really angry with the West’ but that they also thought ‘I just don’t want to harm other people.’

Of course, there are different forms of radicalisation but Islamic radicalisation has been particularly in the spotlight of late. Dolan said many of the Muslims he has worked with say that branding an entire religion as extremist is “crazy”.

“It’s like in Ireland in the 1970s saying that everyone who was a Catholic was in the IRA – it’s a stupid correlation.”

Dolan said it’s vital to listen to people who have direct experience of radicalisation if we want to stop it from happening in Ireland and beyond.

He said, through his work with UNESCO, he’s aware that some politicians in Middle Eastern countries are “now recognising the fact that the youth have to have a voice in government, they have to have a voice in policy, they have to be given a voice as to what they think the solutions are to youth radicalisation and youth extremist violence”.

“It’s not too late to start that now. It’s never too late to start that.”

This week, is exploring the themes of radicalisation, Islamophobia and integration. The series, Radical Pathways, looks at the situation in Ireland, as well as what we can learn from the experiences of other countries, particularly the UK and Denmark.

Videos produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films

Supported by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund and the Tony Ryan Trust