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Dublin, Ireland. Pictured are residents gathered outside Finglas Garda Station tonight, protesting against asylum seekers entering Ireland.

Paul Murphy Anti-refugee protests a far cry from grassroots 'no to water charges' campaigns

‘You’d have to have your head in the sand not to notice that Ireland’s emerging far-right is playing a crucial role here,’ writes the Dublin TD.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Feb 2023

AS NIGHT FOLLOWS day, racist violence follows anti-refugee protests. Across Europe, the rise of far-right ideas has seen an increase in attacks on migrants and people of colour. This pattern is being repeated here in a horrifyingly short space of time.

It’s just over two months since the first protests at East Wall. Since Christmas, there has been a wave of protests, including outside centres for asylum seekers and constituency offices of opposition TDs. The threat of violence has been present at many. One protest last Wednesday in Finglas saw a masked man speak from the microphone and declare, “there is no point standing here outside of the garda station, you have to go to where these c***s are staying and burn them out of it”.

Already, we have seen a proliferation of videos depicting violence against migrants and people of colour. On Saturday 28 January, a shelter where homeless migrant men were  with living was set upon by people with dogs, sticks and a baseball bat at Ashtown. On Monday 30 January, a building in Sherrard Street was set alight, seemingly because it was wrongly suspected of being planned for use by asylum seekers. On Wednesday 1 February, footage emerged of someone attempting to drive over a pedestrian after asking them “are you an immigrant?” On Thursday 2 February, a group of international students were racially abused and physically attacked at the Broadstone – DIT Luas stop.

If there is no determined resistance to stop them, this will get worse. The consequences are as predictable as they are tragic. Presumably, most people attending the anti-refugee protests would not support violent attacks against refugees. However, there is a minority who are feeling more and more emboldened to unleash their racism into verbal and physical assaults.

Who is far-right?

Dare to mention the far-right’s involvement on social media, and you will be inundated with outrage from people claiming you are calling them far-right. Of course, most people who oppose refugees are not far-right. Most people who attend the protests are not even far-right but are driven to take part out of rage and despair at the government’s failure to take any real action to deal with the housing and homelessness crisis or to properly resource our health service.

But you’d have to have your head in the sand not to notice that Ireland’s emerging far-right is playing a crucial role here.

The first announcement of a majority of these protests comes from far-right Telegram pages. Instantaneously, identical ‘Tallaght/Mullingar/Drimnagh etc. says No’ graphics appear. This is a far cry from the organic grassroots saying no campaigns against the water charges. So many people have positive memories of those campaigns, of a time when working-class communities came together to fight the system and won. What is happening now is the opposite – people are being pitted against each other so that the real culprits for the crises in housing and health get off the hook.

Self-declared ‘citizen journalists’ like Derek Blighe and Philip Dwyer are often first on the scene of these protests to film them, feeding participants far-right talking points and taking the microphone to speak. Dwyer is a dog-kicking ex-member of the National Party who was expelled after making a grotesque propaganda video at Ashling Murphy’s grave. Their messages are amplified by clickbait site run by Leo Sherlock.

The National Party has been another consistent participant in these protests. If you’re in any doubt about their ideology, it recently quoted Hitler at length on Telegram. Its leader Justin Barrett came to prominence as a leader of the extremist anti-choice Youth Defence, and regularly spoke at international far-right rallies. He wrote a book which calls for an authoritarian form of government with the return of Catholic church domination.

Another party participating in these protests is the Irish Freedom Party. Malachy Steenson, one of the leaders of the protests in East Wall, spoke at their recent conference. Their leader, Herman Kelly is a former press officer for Nigel Farage. He has promoted the far-right “great replacement theory” including claiming during an interview that “the first thing they want to do is kill Irish kids and [they] want to replace them with every nationality who wants to come into our country”.

These connections to the British far-right aren’t unusual. Indeed for people who like to portray themselves as patriots and wrap themselves in the tricolour, their links to British fascism and loyalism are remarkable.

The latest development has seen people engage with, and take guidance from, the leader of the British neo-Nazi group, ‘Patriotic Alternative’, Mark Collett. A former chairman of young BNP, Collett has previously stated his heroes are UDA and LVF leaders, Johnny Adair and Billy Wright.

What is the far-right’s agenda? It is not about housing people or stopping violence against women – issues that they cynically try to abuse to turn people against migrants.

If they were actually concerned about these issues, they would have been active in the very many protests and movements about housing and gender-based violence over the last years – they have been at none. In fact, they oppose a rent freeze and are even against inserting the right to housing into the constitution, because they consider it an infringement of the right of landlords to do what they want with their ‘private property’.

Instead, it is about building a far-right organisation in Ireland from those who attend the protests, winning them to their broader world-view of fighting for the creation of a dictatorial theocratic state where rights for women, LGBTQ+ people, migrants and workers are eradicated. An important next step for them will be next year’s local elections where they will aim to make a breakthrough. In the last week, Ireland First has applied to register as a political party.

The establishment won’t stop the far-right

The reaction of the government and establishment parties follows the depressingly predictable pattern seen elsewhere in Europe. Instead of boldly challenging the disinformation being spread, they accept the far-right’s framing and pander to it. Thus, the government has doubled down on its discrimination against asylum seekers from anywhere other than Ukraine. It has decided that single men should be simply thrown onto the street with a €20 Dunnes voucher. Its response to protests has been to say they will speed up deportations of asylum seekers.

The consequence of all of this is to simply legitimise the arguments of the far-right and shift the political terrain further to the right.

Even before the emergence of the anti-refugee protests, government politicians were only too happy for something other than their slavish adherence to the free market to be blamed for the ongoing housing crisis. Darragh O’Brien, the Minister responsible for providing housing, suggested “economic migrants” were putting a strain on homeless services.

Successive governments have created the underlying conditions of crises in our communities that have bred the alienation which the far-right is preying upon.

As long as people are blaming asylum seekers for the housing crisis which existed long before the war in Ukraine, they will not be blaming the government. As long as they think the problem is that the state is caring for migrants, they will not be looking at the cosy connections between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the big corporate landlords and private developers. The establishment parties are responsible for the conditions that have enabled the rise of the far-right. They will not be a part of stopping it.

No pasarán

If the government will not stop the far-right, who will?

Ordinary people.

The vast majority are appalled by violence against refugees and horrified by shouts of “get them out” at the temporary homes of traumatised people fleeing war and persecution. For now, those people are mostly passive. They are stunned by what appears to be the sudden emergence of far-right and racist language and mobilisations.

But there is excellent work going on. ‘For all’ groups have sprung up right across the country. These groups are providing meaningful help to asylum seekers who need it and working to integrate them into our communities. They are also having the ‘hard conversations’ – with friends, neighbours and workmates who have genuine questions and fears. All of this is essential.

It needs to be matched with mobilisation. We need to bring out all of those people and the community groups, football clubs, and trade unions that they are a part of. We need to contest control of the streets which the far-right is seeking to achieve.

Monday saw an impressive solidarity protest of 500 called by Le Chéile and United Against Racism. But that is just the start. A broad coalition of trade unionists, progressive parties, anti-racist organisations, cost of living activists and many others is coming together to demand an Ireland For All. We will be marching from Parnell Square at 1.30pm on Saturday 18 February.

We need thousands to be there to give a visible expression of the solidarity and welcome that most people feel. If we succeed, it will give confidence to anti-racists across the country to make the arguments that can win people away from the influence of racist ideas.

This will not be a mobilisation in support of government policy – but against it. Against the neglect of our communities. Against the failure of the government to bring the vacant homes into use. Against the annual crises in our health services which result from under-investment and promotion of private healthcare.

But it will also be a mobilisation against the attempt to scapegoat refugees for these crises. If we accept the lie that they are responsible for our crises, we undermine the fight against those who actually are.

United we stand, divided we fall.

Paul Murphy is a People Before Profit TD for Dublin South West, a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise Trade and Employment, and the party’s spokesperson on Workers’ Rights.


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