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Resisting the new far right in Ireland

16 January 2024
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By Bernie McAdam

The recent riot in Dublin dramatically shone a new light on the activities of Ireland’s emerging far right. In the wake of a stabbing incident outside a Dublin school, a far right protest against migrants and refugees, orchestrated by a racist outpouring from far right networks on social media, developed into running battles with the Gardai (Irish police). This was followed by looting and attacks on public transport including an assault on a migrant bus driver, as many ethnic minority people in the city centre cowered for their safety.

The truth of the stabbing was as far removed from the racist rumours as can be. Instead of an Algerian immigrant being the stabber, it was an Irishman suffering from mental illness. In fact Caio Benicio, a Brazilian Deliveroo driver, came to the rescue of the young girl being attacked and beat off the assailant with his motorcycle helmet.

This riot comes against a backdrop of a surge in attacks on refugee camps and harassment of library workers over the past year. Several anti-refugee protests have taken place outside asylum centres, often with local support and hate speeches from well known far right activists. Makeshift camps have been physically attacked in Ashtown and most recently in Sandwith Street in Dublin, where tents were burnt down. 

Alongside this has been the targeting of elected representatives from Sinn Fein and People before Profit (PbP) who have defended migrants’ rights in the Dail (Parliament). Martin Kenny, Sinn Fein TD (MP), has had an arson attack on his home in Leitrim and Paul Murphy PbP TD has been physically attacked and had his home picketed by far right thugs. PbP – Solidarity TD Mick Barry has also had his office targeted.

Libraries have been picketed and breached by far right goons with the accompanying harassment of library workers. All of this to stop the provision of LGBT+ reading materials, drag events and ‘pornographic’ books. The picket of Cork City Library in July was organised by Ireland First, the latest far right party in Ireland. The Irish Freedom Party and National Party constitute the other two main groups on the far right spectrum.

Attacks on migrants

Ireland has only recently begun to see the emergence of far right groups and, while they still remain small, they are beginning to relate to and orchestrate a growing hostility to migrants and refugees. The rise of right wing populism internationally, in particular the election of Trump, was the initial boost to the Irish far right. Alarm bells started to ring when a right wing Presidential candidate Peter Casey who claimed that Travellers ‘were basically people camping in other people’s lands’ came second in 2018. Anti-Traveller racism has historically been a major focus for discrimination in Ireland.

Over the past 20 years or so Ireland has seen numerous struggles and mass campaigns that have sought to roll back government policies and reactionary social legislation. This ranged from movements against bin charges, household and property tax charges to the successful mass mobilisations against water charges. Alongside this came the victorious referenda results that ensured marriage equality and the repeal of the eighth amendment, which improved abortion rights.

A backlash against these movements was always going to occur. The Catholic Church in particular would have been reeling from the referenda results. Little wonder that the emerging far right was keen to link up with malcontents that espoused a traditional Catholic viewpoint that was rooted in anti-LGBT+ rights and hostility to a woman’s right to choose. 

However the main target for the far right was always going to be migrants and refugees. Although their vote was small, the far right felt confident enough to stand in a range of elections in the last five years, as anti-refugee protests increased. They began to capitalise on anti-immigrant prejudices.

This was followed by the COVID crisis that saw fascist activists hang their hat on anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination conspiracy theories and protests. But it was the Irish government’s acceptance of 70,000 Ukrainian refugees in 2022 that saw the far right spring into action.

The Irish government decided to house as many of the Ukrainian refugees as possible in hotels, vacant buildings, etc. but all other refugees had to fend for themselves. This has resulted in homeless camps and around 500 refugees living on the streets. It has made these camps easy targets for the fascists. Not only homeless camps, but hotels accommodating refugees have also been the target.

The crisis was made worse when the government announced in March that hotel contracts to house refugees would be terminated, as hoteliers approached the tourist season. In a country that already lacks 250,000 homes, and where there is a shortage of affordable homes to rent and buy, it is little wonder that far right activists have gained a hearing in some working class communities. The Irish government’s neglect of the housing crisis and its discriminatory policies have fuelled this rise in racism.

How to stop the far right

In Ireland the recent period has seen mass movements and progressive social change but this has hardly been a result of interventions by trade union leaders. The Irish working class has been under the cosh in terms of attacks on its standard of living.

Years of austerity, the impact of Covid, a health service not fit for purpose and a chronic housing crisis have devastated working class households and communities. But the trade union leadership has not challenged this state of affairs. Indeed they are complicit in the government attacks, restraining their members through their signing of Social Partnership Agreements.

If the organised working class through its trade unions continues to sit on the sidelines, then we can expect a more significant threat from the right. The bureaucrats’ complacency in representing its workers is matched by its cringing uselessness in the face of racist attacks against migrant workers.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) organised a small lunchtime rally in response to the riot, with ICTU General Secretary Owen Reidy talking of ‘our wonderful Gardai’. This is a completely inadequate response. Neither is it the point, made by Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, that the government and Commissioner ‘have failed to resource the Gardai correctly’. The Gardai, who took a very soft and ineffective stance against the rioters, are not going to defend migrants or any other section of workers in struggle!

There have been important mobilisations against the right, from the left who helped defend the camp in Sandwith Street to the tens of thousands that marched in the ‘Ireland For All’ demonstration last year against the rise in racism. The recent growth of ‘For All’ campaigns could well act as a catalyst for a coordinated anti-racist and anti-fascist united front.

The urgent need right now is a united front of left wing and working class organisations that can adequately defend refugees and smash up fascist attacks. An emboldened far right will not stop at refugees as we have already witnessed in the intimidation of left TDs. Fascism’s growth will be determined by its ability to control the streets, as an effective street fighting force. Fascist terror cannot be argued with, but it can be physically stopped. Organised self-defence is a necessity and needs to be seriously built.

Refugees are not the problem. The problem is the government’s inadequate response to the ongoing housing crisis. For too long the government has protected the interests of multinational big business, property developers and absentee landlords. We must demand emergency policies to accommodate the homeless and to house refugees, using vacant commercial and corporate properties.

We need a massive emergency programme of socially useful public works to provide full employment and develop the economic and social infrastructure. Working class communities should be involved in drawing up an audit of social need that addresses issues like the chronic housing shortage, run down housing stock, as well as the building of a publicly funded National Health Service with equal access. 

These public works should be part of a democratically developed plan of production under workers’ control. A massive house building programme would form one part of this plan and, like the rest of the programme, be funded by taxing the rich. Such a step would open up the struggle to build a socialist society where production would be for need, not capitalist greed! 

Fascism is a product of capitalist decay. Bourgeois ‘democratic’ governments facilitate the growth of fascism by their inability to solve the problems of capitalism in crisis. Similarly the lack of a revolutionary alternative to capitalism can only aid the growth of the far right. Such a revolutionary alternative, based on a working class programme of action, needs to be built now so that it can dispatch fascism and capitalism into the dustbin of history!

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