Thousands of people at an anti-racism march in Dublin showing solidarity with refugees were told to “celebrate diversity” and “say no to division and a culture of fear created by far-right extremists”.
The rally, which moved from Parnell Square to the Custom House, was held in response to recent anti-migrant protests held around the country. Organisers of the Ireland For All march said as many as 50,000 people took part, although the number could not be confirmed independently. The Garda said it is policy not to provide estimates of crowd sizes.
Groups involved included United Against Racism, MASI, Forsa union, the National Women’s Council (NWC) and several political parties. Protesters carried placards stating “love triumphs over fear” and “refugees are welcome here”. Chants such as “when migrant rights are under attack, stand up fight back” and “the people united will never be defeated” could be heard throughout O’Connell Street as participants made their way to the Custom House.
There was a low-level but visible Garda presence at the event, which caused major traffic disruption. The march passed off without incident.
A planned counter-protest by anti-immigration activists at Parnell Square did not materialise. This is understood to be due to disagreement between anti-immigration groups and individuals over how to respond to the march and the alleged involvement of British far right agitator Tommy Robinson in one of the groups.
One group of activists responsible for many of the anti-immigration protests in Dublin in recent weeks objected to having any association with Robinson or his associates. Robinson, a convicted criminal and former leader of the English Defence League, has said he is in Ireland to “document” the anti-immigration movement. Robinson was not seen at Saturday’s demonstration.
The State is providing accommodation to more than 52,000 Ukrainian people and more than 19,300 asylum seekers – a significant increase in the numbers recorded in previous years. In recent months local groups have raised concerns that they had not been consulted before migrants were moved into their communities. Some have also raised concerns about a lack of services to cater for an increased population.
Politicians have argued that a lack of engagement from authorities in some cases has left a vacuum for misinformation to grow and false rumours to spread, sometimes by members of the far right.
Activist and academic Ailbhe Smyth told the rally that the large turnout sent a “huge message” to Government.
“Ireland For All is a broad 32-county Coalition of activists, grassroots and community groups, NGOs, political parties, trade unions, we are all in this coalition together. We have come together to celebrate that fabulous rich variety and diversity that is Ireland today,” she said.
“We are here to stand up against the hatred and disinformation being spewed out by far-right extremists. Their vile racism, transphobia and misogyny, deliberating scapegoating minorities, ratcheting up people’s fears and anxieties, driving a wedge in working class communities – we will not stand for that.”
Singer Christy Moore told the crowd he was there to express “revulsion” towards “the hatred and violence expressed by a small number of people” and on attacks against refugees.
Veteran civil rights campaigner and former MP Bernadette McAliskey said the demonstration was only the start. “There are questions that have to be asked of this nation. Which side are you on? That question has to be answered by our politicians, it has to be answered by the State, by the churches, by the organisations, by the individual people,” she said. “Are you on the side of humanity, decency, equal rights, or are you on the road to fascism?”
Traveller activist Rose Marie Maughan called recent anti-migrant protests “shameful and disturbing”.
“It’s not who we are as an Irish nation. I know what it’s like as a Traveller to be oppressed. We know how it feels to be protested against. We know what it’s like to have our homes and camps burned down. That is not the Ireland we need. I’m here as an Irish Traveller woman to say I see you, I respect you, you are welcome,” she told the crowd.
Leon Diop, founder of the activist group Black and Irish that was set up in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in the US, quoted the late John Hume to the crowd, stating: “Difference is the essence of humanity.”
“Difference should be a cause for celebration and not for conflict, Whether you were born in Ireland or Cameroon, Yemen or Ukraine: We’re here to celebrate each other and say no to division,” he said.
“There’s been a culture of fear and frustration growing in Ireland. The far right have played on people’s fears to shift the blame of these long-standing issues on to refugees and that is wrong. We need to replace this culture of fear and hatred with love and empathy.”
Speaking to The Irish Times at the protest, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said people are “right to be angry but not against asylum seekers and refugees” but against the housing and cost of living crisis, which “need to be resolved by the Government”.
“This State was born in the struggle against oppression, so it’s horrendous the far-right are trying to encourage racist division and we have to resist it. We’ve seen an enormous show today of opposition to hate,” he said.
Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon told The Irish Times that “anger is appropriate but where it’s directed is what will define is”.
“This call for change is what’s important ... This is an Ireland for all and worthy of all”.
Kay Mulhall, who attended the march with friends and activists from Tallaght, said she was at the protest to “counter all the negativity about refugees. We’re all people of the one group on this planet and we need to stand with each other and help each other”.
Another woman who attended the march, Lucy Morrissey, said she was “proud to stand with migrants and all people who come to Ireland seeking a better life”.
Speaking at the announcement of the demonstration on February 10th, organisers criticised comments made by the Taoiseach in Brussels earlier this month that Ireland needed to be “fair” but “firm” with refugees as “unfortunate” and “unhelpful” in the current climate.
Mr Varadkar said in Brussels that he was “in favour of migration”, believing it to be “a good thing”.
“It strengthens our economy, we wouldn’t run half our public services without migrants and [it] enriches our culture too,” he said. But he added that as well as being “fair” with refugees, Ireland needed “to be firm as well with people who come to the country with a story that doesn’t stack up. We need to be very clear to them, that their applications will be refused and that they will be sent home to their country of origin.”
Orla O’Connor, director of the NWC, said the Taoiseach’s comments were “unhelpful in the current climate” of increasing negative attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers. – Additional reporting: PA