Varadkar concerned by rise of anti-Islamic group Pegida

Minister also condemns violent attacks on group and says Ireland needs free speech

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has expressed concern at the establishment of an Irish branch of anti-Islamic group Pegida.

He also condemned the violence perpetrated on the group by some anti-racist campaigners at a rally in Dublin on Saturday.

Mr Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant to Ireland, said the rise of potentially racist forces such as Pegida was a source of real concern, as was the violence perpetrated by a small number of anti-racist campaigners who attacked some members of Pegida on O'Connell Street.

“I think it would be a very dark time for our politics if we saw extremism coming on the Right. We have extremism coming in on the Left already and we’ve seen what that means in terms of extreme policies and violence directed towards politicians and others,” he said.

“I also believe in free speech and I think we need to allow people to say things that maybe we don’t like to hear. That’s important in a democracy and I don’t think that violence is the answer to people whom you don’t agree with.”

Mr Varadkar said it was important to acknowledge that there were many people in Ireland from an immigrant background, including many of the Muslim faith who were making an important contribution to both the Irish economy and the Irish health service.

Meanwhile Identity Ireland (many of whose members are also part of Pegida Ireland) has issued a statement condemning what it described as "a dark day for democracy and free speech in Ireland".

Many of the group’s members, including chairman Peter O’Loughlin, were attacked on Saturday in Dublin city centre where they had planned to launch Pegida Ireland and hold an anti-Islam rally.

According to Identity Ireland, innocent Pegida supporters and bystanders were set upon “by violent thugs bent on causing bodily harm and preventing the rally from going ahead through violence and intimidation”.

Mr O’ Loughlin was hospitalised after being struck on the head while travelling on the Luas with five other members of the group. Identity Ireland said the members were attacked by “20 odd Black and Tan thugs who had no issue with starting a melee in a carriage with elderly women, children and a baby.”

The group paid tribute to the gardaí for protecting “innocent Pegida supporters”.

They suggested that some of those who perpetrated the attacks on their members on O’Connell St and Talbot St were “imported foreign thugs from Britain”.

Identity Ireland said that it planned to work closely with An Garda Síochána in preparation for Pegida Ireland's next rally. "We will strive to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for everyone to express real, strongly felt concerns about our country, society, governance and civilisation," it said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times