This week a toxic stew of fearmongering and hatred, online and off, coincided with protests opposing the housing of refugees in various communities around Dublin and elsewhere.
In addition to the awful events homeless men camping beside the Tolka river at Ashtown had to endure – and which are now the subject of a garda investigation – they include a man giving a speech at a protest in Finglas on Wednesday evening saying, “The only way to f***ing deal with these c***s is burn them out of the f***ing place,” to cheers from the crowd.
It includes conspiratorial rage whipped up in Finglas regarding the alleged sexual assault of a woman with people claiming the alleged assault was perpetrated by non-Irish men. Teetering violence compelled the gardaí to release a statement that they were in fact looking for a white Irish man in relation to their investigation.
This is before we take into account gardaí's concern about a known criminal participating in the Finglas protests.
It’s before we get into a man being arrested by armed gardaí under the Offences Against the State Act this week following a series of inflammatory comments on social media in advance of a protest in Finglas.
The comforting and false theory that Irish people somehow magically won’t coalesce around the far-right has disintegrated this week. What we’re seeing is a victory for racists. Everyone who gets off on hating people based on where they’re from or what they look like, must be thrilled.
There has also been plenty of guff about “protecting women”, playing to one of the oldest racist tropes in the book, which is white people viewing whatever “The Other” of the day is – Black men, male refugees, Muslim men – as a predatory threat.
Let’s be clear about one thing: far-right agitators don’t care about women. At every juncture they oppose women’s rights, and embody a version of violence that is a direct threat to women.
It is apparent that this “concern” over women and children’s safety is only relevant to the far-right when it provides an opportunity to demonise, attack, harass, and oppress others. If it wasn’t, they would be the best women’s rights activists in the world. But they’re not. Because none of this is about countering sexual or physical violence against women. Their rhetoric is a barely visible smokescreen for racism.
We all know there are many, many neighbourhoods, communities, villages and towns across Ireland where people have been suffering generationally, where they have been ignored by policymakers, and where there is anger. There are now clear attempts to misdirect this anger to demonise others.
There is also no doubt that people have been yelling for years about reforming the Direct Provision system because it wasn’t fit for purpose from the get-go. There is no doubt that successive governments’ failed housing policies have caused untold stress and anger. There is no doubt that community engagement regarding housing refugees and asylum seekers has in many areas been totally inadequate.
But the response to that isn’t racism. Given that there is a racist sentiment within current protests against refugees being housed in communities, then anyone who doesn’t want to be a part of that needs to step away. Participating in protests where the far-right is active is not just misguided, it’s playing right into the hands of those preying on disenchantment and using and encouraging it as a weapon to misdirect grievances towards manufactured bogeymen.
We know far-right agitators have been operating for many years here, landing on whatever issue stirs up rage and conspiracy. We all know there is plenty of racism in Ireland. We’ve all heard people being racist. There is no such thing as “casual” racism, which is a term people use to brush things off. I’m talking about the bald, ignorant racism that exists with impunity in this country, at a very base level. Ask any person of colour in this country what their experience is. Ask any Traveller what they experience.
If racism wasn’t now a strong element of these protests, there would not be racist and xenophobic rhetoric and signs on display. There wouldn’t be chants of “get them out”. If you’re there and you don’t agree with that, if you want to stand up for your community without demonising others, you’re at the wrong protest.
It’s time for people to get real, and understand that what we are seeing is a lightening-rod moment emerging from a long-burgeoning racist, conspiratorial, fascistic movement, that while small and perhaps disparate, is growing.
The energy of asserting oneself and lashing out when you yourself feel marginalised is potent. It only takes one person acting recklessly to endanger lives. Unless authentic community leaders – not phoney ones – step in, as well as the garda, things will get uglier and uglier. We can’t say we haven’t been warned. It’s playing out right now.
The vast majority of people in localities where protests are coalescing around the country, most notably in Dublin, are against this sort of behaviour and mentality. Their decency is being denigrated and drowned out by a small number of people, including people who have no attachment to the communities they’re whipping up rage within.
The media has obviously been cautious not to amplify far-right agitation. However, as a society we all have a duty to call out and resist destructive, dangerous behaviour that ultimately threatens us all.