The Irish Times view on conspiracy theories: a hallucinatory web of falsities and fantasy

It should be a matter of grave concern that such theories can now be heard not just on the political fringes but in the Dáil chamber

There is nothing particularly new about conspiracy theories. Anti-Semitism, the most enduring and pernicious of them all, can be traced back to the early Middle Ages at least. But the modern era appears to be particularly prone to beliefs which seek to assign blame for the ills of the world to a secretive, malevolent cabal. An NPR/Ipsos poll in 2020, for example, found 17 per cent of Americans believed the QAnon theory that Satan-worshipping, child-abusing elites were trying to control US politics and media. A further 37 per cent were not sure whether the theory was true or not.

New research published in Ireland for the Electoral Commission is less disturbing but finds worrying evidence of similar trends. Ten per cent of respondents said it was “definitely true” that a small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major decisions in world politics. A further 24 per cent said it was “probably true”, with 20 per cent unsure. Significant minorities believed “groups of scientists manipulate, fabricate or suppress evidence in order to deceive the public” and that “experiments involving new drugs or technologies are routinely carried out on the public without their knowledge or consent”.

One obvious counter to these beliefs is to point out how extraordinarily difficult it would be to keep such conspiracies concealed. The levels of co-ordination, discipline and secrecy required for a worldwide plot of the sort described by the racist Great Replacement Theory would be far beyond the capabilities of even the most sophisticated organisation.

But such ideas would be unlikely to find an audience if they did not have some grounding, however tenuous, in reality. Privileged elites do often exert power in hidden ways. Big tech does prey on its customers’ psychological weaknesses. Tobacco and chemical companies have concealed the devastating impact of their products.


Conspiracy theorists take these undeniable truths, which have often been revealed by evidence-based journalism and legal inquiry, spinning them into a hallucinatory web of falsities and fantasy. The process has been described as a “template imposed upon the world to give the appearance of order to events”. Complexities are replaced by a single, satisfyingly simple culprit.

Several factors can be blamed for the rise in conspiracy theories: the shock of the 2008 financial crash; the aftermath of the global pandemic; the displacement of traditional media by unregulated platforms. But at its heart is a collapse in trust in public institutions. It is those who hold liberal democratic values in contempt who stand to gain most. So it should be a matter of grave concern that such theories can now be heard not just on the political fringes but in the Dáil chamber. It is imperative, therefore, that they should be firmly refuted whenever and wherever they arise