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Dublin riots aftermath: You’ll never see eye-to-eye with someone who thinks you’re an animal

Why destroy your own city? Because it doesn’t feel like it belongs to you, you don’t feel welcome in it, writes Adam Doyle, the artist also known as Spicebag

“I want all of it,” one young lad shouted as he and his friends leapt over a window display and into the JD Sports on Mary Street in Dublin city centre on Thursday evening. Red Nike shoe boxes littered the road outside, along with broken glass and pieces of mannequins where I stood. Around me teenage girls giggled and shouted as windows were kicked through while bemused tourists recorded on their phones. A chaotic excitement permeated the air. The gardaí, dressed in riot gear, could be seen in the distance holding their position further up towards Arnotts.

On O’Connell Street buses and cars burned, and placards bearing xenophobic slogans were held up amid the chaos. On Abbey Street flaming bins separated groups of teenagers from a line of riot police getting into position, barely visible through the thick black smoke of burning plastic.

What happened in Dublin on Thursday night was terrible, but should come as no surprise. This is the result of simmering tensions in the north inner city finally hitting boiling point. Speaking to people in pubs on Talbot Street, or talking to the traders on Moore Street, you could see this coming. The knife attack was just the spark required to ignite the seeping fuel that has been spreading through the streets of the inner city for years.

The growing right-wing movement in Ireland has firmly taken root. People in disadvantaged communities have been told that the State has nothing but contempt for them. How we choose to label those involved will dictate how much of a victory the Republic’s new radical right can extract from this.


Checking my phone on Friday morning, as burned-out buses were carried on trucks under black tarps past my window, I saw those involved being called everything under the sun, from “feral animals” to “scrotes” (a word people use now because they can’t say another word) and worse. While it’s fair to say the violence and bigotry on Thursday night was horrific, the antidote to it isn’t more bigotry.

A riot in this part of the city is nothing new — years of neglect have cultivated a tradition of mob justice from a community that has been failed repeatedly by the State. The 2006 Love Ulster riots were notable for hundreds if not thousands of protesters, mostly comprising local youths along with some Republican political activists, who laid waste to O’Connell Street in anticipation of a unionist march.

Despite the ostensibly political motivation behind the Love Ulster riots, shops were looted and cars were burned as the mob took the opportunity to express their contempt for the establishment, a near mirror image of Thursday night’s events.

Around this time the area was reeling from the death of Terence Wheelock in Garda custody, an event that deepened the already serious tension between local youth and the gardaí.

The Wheelock family was very unhappy with the results of a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission investigation that found he had not been harmed by gardaí. They considered the State had been deaf to their plight, and organised and campaigned for years for an independent public inquiry while wider society ignored them.

Throughout this period the inner city was also still dealing with the fallout of Dublin’s destructive heroin epidemic, which tore lives and families apart and caused generational scars that are still visible today.

The response to that crisis by inner city communities was also rooted in a fundamental feeling of abandonment by the powers that be; groups of locals marched to the houses of suspected drug dealers and forced them out under the banner of the concerned parents movement. Those same concerned parents’ signs were once more seen at anti-immigrant protests last year, this time signalling concern over migrants and asylum seekers.

There is a common thread here: many in the area feel they can’t rely on the State as decades of neglect and negative interactions have led to a deep mistrust. This is easily co-opted and manipulated by outside forces, be it dissident Republicans, as was the case in the 2006 riots, or more recently the State’s growing far-right movement.

Despite the perception of many online, we’re not dealing with an army of far-right fanatics, we’re dealing with mostly vulnerable children and teenagers being whipped up into a frenzy and channelling generational anger at the establishment through whatever lens they’re handed.

It’s right to condemn the hateful message of the events of Thursday, but care must be taken that that condemnation doesn’t mirror the same hateful sentiment. It’s also right to decry the violence and seek justice, but we must remember that many present were among the most vulnerable youth in Irish society, many lacking the same tools to regulate emotions, whilst also feeling excluded from broader society. They are part of communities that feel unheard and unwelcome.

Why destroy your own city? Because it doesn’t feel like it belongs to you, you don’t feel welcome in it. The only way to fight this sentiment among communities that feel powerless in their own homes is to empower them, as compassion is a far greater tool against the far right than any amount of condemnation.

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You can’t police away the problems that ail Dublin’s poorer areas — change must come at a political level. Curbing far-right influence in the city isn’t the job of the gardaí, nor is alleviating social deprivation in the city. Change can come only with compassionate and pragmatic efforts to improve the area, and the community has to be involved in that process. Bringing people in from the cold, listening to their concerns, justified or not, and treating them like any other community in the country is the only way out of this. Otherwise, they’re easy pickings for far-right fear-mongers.

Demonising and dehumanising these communities pretty much ensures this will happen again. Calling people names and questioning their right to exist in the city means they’ll never trust you. You’ll never see eye-to-eye with someone who thinks you’re an animal.

  • Adam Doyle is an Irish artist operating under the moniker Spicebag, making work that engages with social issues in Ireland and beyond