The contempt for civilised values displayed by the rioters in Dublin last week echoes in extreme form the pervasive narrative that has taken a grip on public discourse over the past few years portraying this country as a failed state.
If the default setting of Opposition politicians and much of the media is that everything about this country is wrong, can it be any surprise that a small group of extremists and the local criminal fraternity took advantage of a tragedy to wreak havoc.
The immediate rush by Sinn Féin and other Opposition parties to blame the violence and thuggery on the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner and call for their resignations, it is symptomatic of how shallow political debate has become.
The redoubtable Heather Humphreys met this form of attack head on when she told the Dáil on Wednesday night that she was “sickened” by Sinn Féin lecturing people about the rule of law. She dismissed Mary Lou McDonald’s call for resignations by pointing out that the Sinn Féin leader had “welcomed...into her party” Jonathan Dowdall, “a torturer...who helped facilitate murder.”
“When I look at the actions of extremist groups such as the far right, what do I see? I see anonymous trolls spreading vile vitriol and hatred on social media attacking every person who does not share their warped views. Who does that remind you of? Sinn Féin more than any other party has introduced a nastiness and divisiveness into Irish politics,” said Humphreys.
It is no coincidence that those who flaunt tricolours and spread hatred on social media from the opposite ends of the political spectrum share a common contempt for the State and its institutions.
One bit of good news last weekend was that the Irish writer Paul Lynch won the prestigious Booker Prize for his brilliant and frightening novel Prophet Song. The book portrays an Ireland of the near future where a totalitarian nationalist regime has taken control and all the freedoms we currently take for granted have vanished. What might have seemed far-fetched a week ago may not appear so now.
Lynch in an interview after his win referred to the two Arts Council bursaries he had received during the four years it took him to write the book and he remarked that “none of this would be possible without the support of the Irish State”.
The relatively comfortable circumstances in which the vast majority of us live are due to the way the politicians and public servants have over a number of decades created the conditions for the prosperous modern Irish state to emerge. Of course, lots of people feel they should be doing better in one way or another but international comparisons show that this country is one of the best places on earth to live.
The problem is that so many people simply do not believe this to be the case. This is often not the result of personal experience but because they have swallowed the negative narrative being peddled by those who want to get their hands on the levers of power to introduce radical change and establish a very different kind of society.
The fact that so many immigrants have flocked to our shores over the past two decades to work at all levels of society from top to bottom is in itself enough to debunk the narrative of endless misery that so many native-born citizens are prone to accept.
The immediate challenge facing the Government is to deal with the failure in policing that allowed last week’s riot to get so out of control. The sight of gardaí allowing themselves to be attacked by thugs without even drawing their batons to protect themselves, never mind the public, was shocking.
The gardaí do appear to have a case when they claim their hands have been tied when it comes to dealing with violent disorder. Labour TD Alan Kelly gave voice to the feelings of many people some months ago when he expressed dismay at the prosecution of a garda for chasing the three men with previous convictions for burglary who were killed driving the wrong way on the M7 in 2021.
The fact that so many gardaí are leaving the force, despite the relatively good pay and that it is proving impossible to recruit enough new members to bring the force up to strength, suggests that something is seriously wrong.
Instead of spending so much time devising legislation to deal with the difficult-to-define concept of “hate speech” the Minister for Justice and her officials need to focus on how to deter the far more dangerous physical expressions of hate we saw on our streets last week.
That said, there is a need to keep the episode in proportion. A French tourist who witnessed the riot remarked that things like that happen in her country every week.
The Dublin riot involved a small number of sinister political activists combined with the local “gurrier” element to cause chaos. If it acts as a wake-up call to society about the dangers of heeding the siren call of extremists, some good may ultimately come of it.