Editorial – The rise of the Irish far right makes the coming election a potentially dangerous time

It now looks certain that a general election will be held next month. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced that he will be dissolving the Dáil in the coming days. And this means that a general election is now upon us. Perhaps Varadkar knows that his days and the days of his Fine Gael government were numbered one way or another. And by calling an early election he hopes to stave off political decimation. 

Regardless of his motives, the election presents an opportunity for activists and those on the left to put forward a platform of equality and inclusion. This means tackling head-on the venality and racist dog whistling of Irish politicians. These same people were a few months ago calling asylum seekers spongers and were arguing for us to “Look after our own people first”. Now they will have to answer to the electorate. 

But this is also the big question. Will voters reward them with re-election or will voters make their displeasure known at the ballot box? This is not an unimportant issue. Quite simply, it could be a portend of the Irish political scene to come for the next few years of the new Dáil. In this possible scenario politicians who have been rewarded with re-election, after having targeted asylum seekers and migrants living in Ireland, play more and more to their newfound racist constituency. What were dog whistles before now become shouts. 

The other possible scenario is that we do in fact end up with far-right extremists being elected. It is unlikely. But their campaigns will be vicious nonetheless. One independent candidate in the upcoming elections, Niall McConnell, recently told a meeting of fellow extremists in Brussels that Jews and liberals are to blame for Europe’s woes. He said that “totalitarian liberals” are attacking the Christian and nationalist heritage of Europe. And they are being aided in this, he argued, by “jihadi Islamists the Zionist elite have imported”.

He is just one example of what to expect from the far right during this election. Others of similar persuasion previously announced their candidacy. And their own beliefs and utterances are comparably obscene; calls for mass deportations of asylum seekers and those born outside of Ireland, attempts to link crime to the colour of people’s skin, and a desire for a fascist Catholic government. 

Again, it is unlikely that any of these candidates will be elected. But the Fine Gael government has made the ground ripe for exploitation by the far right. Fine Gael’s lack of concern about the failing health system, housing, and homelessness are gifts to the far right. Add to this the general malaise for Fianna Fáil, who have propped up Varadkar’s party, and the lack of a coherent left-wing message and it means that the far right could do better than expected. 

But even in defeat the far right is dangerous. A loss but with a large number of first preferences will embolden the extremists. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote there was a sharp increase in hate crimes. What’s to say that the same thing won’t happen here if a number of the far-right candidates get a few thousand votes each? We’ve already seen a noticeable uptick in hate speech in the previous 12 months. Throw in the far right’s election propaganda and the result is easy to predict. 

As always, the targets will be minorities and anybody who dares to speak out against the far right. But this must not deter us from calling out hatred where we see it. Regardless of the government’s failings, we must not allow this to act as the fuel for the fire of racism which the far right thrives on. And, hopefully, once the elections are over the far right will have been dealt a blow from which it won’t recover. 

Featured image via Flickr – William Murphy