Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Surrealing in the Years Has the establishment finally noticed the far-right?

The far-right have been doing this, in public, for months.

THIS WEEK SHOULD have been a celebration of one of the strangest events in the Irish calendar. 

On Thursday, the National Ploughing Championships 2023 drew to a close. We should be talking about the latest iteration of an event where punters can turn up with the thoughts of meeting the President or buying a cow in equal measure. We should be talking about how a collection of Irish people broke the Guinness World Record for the largest ever welly-throw. If anything fits the premise of this column, it’s the ploughing.

Alas, events this week tripped out of the surreal. We now find ourselves facing down its close cousin: the grotesque.

As the Dáil returned from its summer recess on Wednesday, hundreds gathered outside alongside a mock gallows, complete with noose, as part of a “wide-ranging” demonstration that led to 13 arrests and further investigation by Gardaí.

While these protesters certainly espouse various anti-immigration, anti-vaccination, anti-education stances, all of these causes are a backdrop to the more immediate motive of scaring people. When you build a gallows outside a building, it’s not because you want your voice to be heard. It’s because you want people to feel threatened on an existential level. 

How do we know that’s what they want? Because they have been doing it, in public, for months. 

Since late 2022, there have been incidents of refugee tents being destroyed and burned, there has been harassment of library workers to the point that public libraries have had to shut. Buildings supposedly earmarked for refugee accommodation have been burned out. Traffic has been shut down by hordes of protesters, some of whom have gathered outside emergency accommodation with the affect of intimidating families who have done nothing besides flee persecution in their home countries. In Clare, men boarded a bus to conduct a “headcount of asylum seekers,” something Gardaí allowed as part of their policy of “positive engagement” with such protesters.  

Wednesday’s events marked the culmination of a yearlong failure to address this movement. 

We cannot say for certain what exactly the rationale has been for letting this cohort go about their business with such freedom, but as we review public pronouncements by politicians this week, it feels safe to assume that tide is turning.

Speaking on Virgin Media, Fianna Fáil spokesperson for justice Jim O’Callaghan said: “I haven’t seen a protest as nasty as the protest today since I’ve been elected to the Dáil.” 

It’s likely that O’Callaghan was specifically referring to protests directly outside Leinster House, but the remarks betray a naivety that will leave a sour taste in the mouths of those who have been warning of the far-right’s advance all year long. Can it really be true that O’Callaghan wasn’t aware until Wednesday that these same nasty protests have been happening up and down the country?

Green Party TD Marc O’Cáthasaigh invoked the memory of Jo Cox, the UK Labour MP who was assassinated by a man who had far-right nationalist affiliations. It is a frightening prospect – and one that civil servants and refugees having been living with all year.

Still, it’s clear that the political searchlight has at last fixed its gaze on the far-right.

Michael Healy-Rae – perhaps one of Ireland’s most socially conservative TDs – having voted against Marriage Equality in 2015, also lashed out at the demonstrators after footage went viral of him being hurried from the scene by Gardaí.

Healy-Rae, whose 20-year-old intern had her phone disappear in the pandemonium, called those gathered “disgraceful” and said “All I saw was people jumping up and down using horrible language that should not be used in any form of protest and there was no coherent message from them.”

There is some truth to this. They are visually off-putting, their motivations diffuse, and their aims ranging from uninformed to outright nonsensical. One of their hashtags for the event read ‘Ireland for the Irish’.

Now seems the moment to note that in the past seven days, we have broken the Guinness World Record for most people throwing wellies as part of a festival devoted primarily to the sport of ploughing. We’re winning in the rugby. Two Irish authors have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Mickey Harte just blew everyone’s mind by becoming the Derry coach. Ireland is still very much the same bizarre little place it always was. Our traditions are emphatically and self-evidently not under threat.

But Healy-Rae is wrong on the point that there is no coherent message. There is one. It is that this group of people will continue to trade in fear for as long as they are allowed.

Anyone standing foot on Irish soil should be free from violent harassment. Many people knew this before the far-right turned up outside Leinster House with a make-believe instrument of public execution, but some have only realised it since.

The hope now is that the far-right has, at long last, overplayed its hand. By making politicians feel unsafe, as opposed to say, librarians and refugees, it is possible that they’ve brought their grace period to an end.