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Duncan Smith: TDs in the Dáil who throw around references to Nazis need to think again

The Labour TD reacts to Dáil debates yesterday in which references to ‘Stalinist’ and ‘Nazism’ were used.

Image: YouTube/VideoParliament Ireland

WORDS MATTER AND they matter even more in a national parliament. This week the words “Stalinist” and “Nazism” were bandied about in the Dáil, almost casually, in order to make criticism of the Government’s approach to planning, Covid restrictions and the cancellation of the taxi drivers’ strike.

All very important and serious issues, but an accurate comparison to Hitler and the Nazis? I think not.

In a time of such crisis in the world, when Covid has radicalised members of far-right movements, it is important for those in public positions to remember words matter, context matters, history matters. World War 2 ended a mere 76 years ago. We cannot allow this flippancy around language to creep into Irish politics.

The far-right in Ireland are organised, deploying sophisticated tactics and disinformation campaigns that fundamentally seek to destabilise our democracy. They’ve used Covid-19 as a lightning rod to stoke fear and recruit allies, referring to the pandemic itself as a con, trying to undermine the seriousness of what we’re living through globally.

Their words, their tone, the context that they seek to set is a threat to us all. This is why when we talk, debate and challenge each other in our national parliament, we need to be very careful with the words that we use and the concepts that our language is intrinsically tied to. Like Nazism.

Dangerous comparisons

Equating Nazism with how we talk about the pandemic response is fundamentally incorrect, dangerous and disrespectful. The Nazis carried out the Holocaust, they murdered people of colour, gay people, the Roma Community.

They burned books, censored academia and instituted mass propaganda and fake news machinery. It was a totalitarian regime, the likes of which is hard to fathom and one I hope we never see the likes of again.

This history remains close. Only last week, there was a radio interview with a Nazi hunter. There are members of parliament whose families have been scared by the horrific acts of violence committed by the Nazis.

My colleague Senator Ivana Bacik’s grandfather was imprisoned by the Nazis. So, the casual comparison is not only wrong but deeply hurtful and offensive to the lives destroyed by this force of evil. It diminishes and denigrates the memory of their victims.

Lots of issues, like the Government response to the pandemic, require and demand passionate, robust debate. It is the absolute duty of opposition politicians to interrogate the Government’s decisions and assess judgement calls made. Debate requires both emotion and passion. Government must understand the views and experiences of our constituents.

However, this passionate, emotional debate can happen without talking about extreme nationalism. Bringing up every issue through the prism of rage and hyperbole is dangerous. Being quick to anger only serves to disengage people when we actually need to get angry about issues.

In a world of fake news and a 24-hour news cycle, we all have an obligation to be vigilant of the words we use and why we use them. In a world where those who shout louder or make a bigger, more outrageous statement are heard, even when silencing others, the parliament must lead by example. We need to set a tone for when we need to bring fervour and passion to our scrutiny, and when we need to bring rage.

Language carries weight

But what we should never do is casually throw around unfounded comparisons to Stalinism and Nazism regimes that murdered, killed, maimed and raped, leaving millions of people devastated and a world shook to its very core.

Speaking on the topic of the cancellation of the taxi drivers strike which drove Mattie McGrath to draw upon the term “Nazism”, Richard Boyd Barrett managed to speak stridently in opposition to the cancellation of this demonstration, reflecting my own view, without once needing to draw upon divisive or disrespectful language.

Unfortunately, racism is on the rise in this country. Students of history are well aware of the fact that just because something happened 76 years ago does not mean it won’t or can’t happen again.

When we have a far-right that are looking to make gains and grounds, looking to spread their system of hatred, looking for their language to be reflected in our public discourse, we need to resist their calls. We need our parliamentarians to be strong in opposing this.

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People are frustrated about the lockdown, there’s no doubt about that, but we must address those concerns rather than allow their fears and anxieties to be exploited by those implementing the tactics they’ve seen benefit other far-right parties and groups elsewhere.

As a parliament, we must professionally examine each and every measure imposed on the public to ensure that it is necessary and will be effective to save lives. As a nation, we must protest the manipulation and weaponisation of language.

Accepting his re-election in Dublin Castle in October 2018, our President Michael D. Higgins said: “Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.”

As a parliamentarian, I am calling on all my colleagues in the Oireachtas to lead by example. I am calling on parliamentarians to not walk down the dangerous path that other public figures have chosen to take. I am calling on parliamentarians to choose healing over hurt and empowerment over division.

Duncan Smith is a Labour Party TD first elected to Dáil Éireann in 2020 for Dublin Fingal.

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