Ugly scenes on the streets around Leinster House on Wednesday offer a stark reminder, should it be needed, of the danger for our democratic society posed by an emboldened far right. Elected representatives and employees were subjected to vile abuse, manhandling and threats of violence as they went about their work by a group of 200 or so individuals. The mob displayed a gallows with pictures of prominent politicians affixed and, as the day wore on, many people were trapped on the parliamentary grounds by thugs blocking the exits. Thirteen arrests were made.
Senior gardaí met members of the Oireachtas on Thursday to discuss security around Leinster House, including whether to introduce a new “safety zone”. That discussion is necessary but should proceed with caution: draconian measures can play into the hands of the same malevolent forces which caused them to be introduced. The right to peaceful political protest at our national parliament has been honoured and respected for generations. However, the safety of individuals and the integrity of the democratic process are paramount. There are questions to be asked too about whether advance Garda intelligence on the incident was all that it should have been. However, gardaí on duty on the day carried out their duties with courage and professionalism.
Just over a century since Mussolini’s march on Rome introduced fascism as a political concept to Europe and the world, its contours remain instantly recognisable. The valorisation of violence. The accusations of betrayal. The peddling of hate against outgroups and the marginalised. The vainglorious assertion of blood and soil nationalism and of a spurious ethnic identity. All of these were on show on Wednesday. Some may take solace from the relatively small numbers involved, but a cursory glance at the European political landscape will show that we live in a moment when the extreme right is on the march. There is no reason to assume that Ireland will remain immune. Certainly, the claim to speak on behalf of “the Irish people” by a political philosophy which has been soundly and repeatedly rejected at the ballot box is risible. But fascism by its nature is improvisational and predatory; it finds and exploits a society’s particular points of tension and can thrive at times of social discord. Wednesday’s crowd may have looked a rabble with a ragbag of thinly connected discontents. In fact it is seeking a weak point through which it can inject its poisonous ideology into mainstream discourse.
A period of intense electoral contestation is about to begin, with local, European and general elections all due within the next 15 months. At such a time it becomes more important than ever for civic society in all its dimensions to stand united and resolute against this evil, pernicious and anti-democratic threat.