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Welcome to the new Ireland, warts, anger and all. The choices we make now will determine our future

The notion of a salt-of-the-earth minority unfairly maligned as extremists is fertile ground for populist sentiment, writes Adam Doyle, the artist known as Spicebag

Bally up, tool up.” The four words that shook middle Ireland awake. As the political class scrambled forth with every half-baked idea from illegal facial recognition technology (FRT) to – in the case of one Limerick councillor – shooting people in the head, it’s clear that the discombobulation hasn’t fully worn off.

Never waste a crisis, and the surveillance state solutions ironically favoured by the far right are now firmly on the agenda.

The riots constituted an appalling outburst of hatred, but they also signalled an end to the Pax Hibernia that had existed (mostly) for the past couple of decades. The threat of the radical right is now crystallised in the minds of many, but history teaches us that the weapons used to slay this new beast will not go away afterwards and may be used against the very communities people seek to protect.

Once normality was restored after the riots and the tents, sleeping bags and tourists returned to O’Connell Street, the first order of business has been catching those responsible. To this end, the Minister for Justice seems intent on FRT legislation through the Dáil – something that seems somewhat redundant against mostly masked individuals. On top of this, the Garda Public Order Unit will receive tasers, more riot police will be trained, and water cannons have been borrowed from the PSNI.


It’s not as if the ability of gardaí to maintain public order isn’t a worry, especially given 500 rioters saw the largest deployment of gardaí in the history of the State, but a trend toward increasingly sophisticated surveillance and heavier-handed policing might not be the answer.

Condemnation, for those on the receiving end, can be worn as a badge of honour and make people ‘drop out’ of mainstream political thought

The force has been haemorrhaging senior members and struggling to recruit new ones. Gadgets and gizmos are like using paracetamol to treat a severed limb.

It’s also important to note that increased surveillance does not necessarily equal improved public order or safety. London is a city with close to one million CCTV cameras – almost one for every 10 residents. The Met even employs FRT, but despite it all, it finds itself in the midst of an out-of-control knife-crime epidemic – a situation that has gotten so bad that private citizens at once stage took it upon themselves to do outreach and collect and turn in knives to the police.

Where the Met does seem to excel, however, is in monitoring protest and political agitation, unsurprisingly with the help of FRT, sparking accusations of overreach. It is extremely naive to assume that any extra powers given to the Garda, be it AI surveillance technology or tasers, will only ever be used against “baddies”. Once they’re in use, they’re not going anywhere.

Another genie unlikely to go back in its bottle is the rise of populism. A lot of the messaging from Government members regarding the riot carried echoes of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” speech. While it’s important to condemn last month’s events, condemning them without engaging with the root causes invites polarisation. Condemnation, for those on the receiving end, can be worn as a badge of honour and make people ”drop out” of mainstream political thought.

Even the term “far-right” has been embraced in a tongue-in-cheek way within Ireland’s far-right, with various online channels making fun of the notion that “mams with prams” protesting against asylum centres are “far-right”. Even the National Party has played on this notion with its “Not far-right but right so far” banners at last year’s protests.

This notion of a salt-of-the-earth minority unfairly maligned as extremists by out-of-touch politicians and a biased commentariat is fertile ground for populist sentiment, and something the radical right is carefully trying to cultivate. It creates a parallel political current which, as we’ve seen with Donald Trump in the US, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and most recently Javier Milei in Argentina, can quickly and sometimes unexpectedly crash over the status quo.

While it’s all well and good saying “this isn’t us” or some variation, the riots in Dublin were a violent expression of part of a wider silent movement taking place across the country, with the latest protests seeing hundreds gathering in Dromahair, Co Leitrim, and arson in Rosslare. If steps aren’t taken to assuage tensions, the threat of unknowingly germinating a “silent majority” grows. This is a serious problem that polemics aren’t going to solve.

Ireland is now entering into the culture war clown show, with heavyweights like Elon Musk cheering from the sidelines. The idea that Conor McGregor would soon lead a nativist populist movement would have sounded insane a few months ago; now it doesn’t seem as distant.

Last month’s events were frightening, but should we sign away civil liberties to feel safer?

Musk and McGregor aside, there is a glaring gap in the electoral market for an anti-immigration populist party. While Ireland’s right-wing movement is quite diffuse, it wouldn’t be in the realms of science-fiction to imagine that a couple of its advocates could put their heads together and create a political vehicle on which to enter the Dáil.

Ireland has also become a pet project for the British far right. Ireland has been graced with the presence of Tommy Robinson, celebrity hate-monger and founder of the English Defence League.

While many on the nationalist right are appalled by generally unionist right-wing “Brits“ sticking their noses in, the relationship does connect the Irish right to a sophisticated and continent-spanning network of networks, and all the tactics and support that brings with it.

Welcome to the new Ireland, warts, anger and all. Last month’s events were frightening, but should we sign away civil liberties to feel safer? Do we attempt to reach the disenfranchised or mock them into the arms of the growing right-wing beast? Weaponising state-sanctioned hate towards hate won’t work. It never does.

The choices we make, how we manage our fear and the courage we bring to bear will decide the Ireland we and future generations will have to live in.

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