Far right political group much less likely to gain traction in Ireland, conference told

Lack of any obvious figurehead makes an extremist political faction less likely

Online anti-immigrant sentiment is well established in Ireland but a successful far right political organisation is much less likely to gain traction, a conference has heard.

The growth in extremism is of increasing concern given online behaviour and a number of recent high profile incidents including attempts by far right elements to capitalise on concerns around direct provision.

However, the SAR Rise of Right Wing Extremism conference in Dublin on Friday heard that a brand of "Celtic nationalism" as well as a lack of any obvious figurehead makes an extremist political faction less likely to take hold.

"One of the arguments for the fact that there isn't necessarily a far right party or a far right movement is that nationalism in Ireland is very much, or can be understood, within a sort of Celtic context," said Dr Owen Worth of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Limerick.


He said while hate crime is rising in Ireland, Celtic nationalism was lacking in "destructive elements" and has adopted cooperation and internationalism, similar to the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Citing the academic Duncan McDonnell, an authority on the far right in Europe, he said there has been no figurehead or event in Ireland to provoke a following.

Earlier this week the retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon said a lack of Government consultation on the housing of asylum seekers was creating a vacuum filled with far-right "infiltrators".

The recent case of online death threats against a mixed-race couple who appeared in a Lidl advert also drew widespread condemnation.

Ian Acheson of the UK-based Sampsonhall consultancy, who has worked in the field of counter-terrorism for the British Home Office, told Friday's event that Irish online anti-migrant sentiment is well established and apparently growing.

“The people in Ireland who are being radicalised by anti-immigrant sentiment . . . refer sometimes to a restoration of ‘gaelic purity’ which they perceive as under threat somehow of replacement by alien ideologies (and) alien cultures,” he said.

“Whatever the public policy answer is to this small but growing problem, if it is bound up in moral superiority, in my view, it’s bound to fail.” He said a degree of empathy is often required to change people’s perceptions.

However, speaking to The Irish Times after addressing the conference, Dr Natasha Dromey of University College Cork said the Irish political spectrum is unlikely to allow for an overtly right wing party, at least in the short term.

“It’s probably not going to happen simply because our (post-colonial) history is so new,” she said. “We are still thinking about the national question, nationalism and a united Ireland.”

The real fear, she explained, would be that nationalistic-leaning groups would attempt to attract people by “using the narrative of the right in their rhetoric”, referring to organisations that are not yet well established.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times