Over the weekend, members of the far right staged yet another “free speech” rally outside the Dáil. Tensions were high as anti-fascist activists gathered on the opposite side of the road, with a large number of gardaí deployed between the two groups. Eventually the tensions boiled over as both sides clashed with the gardaí and with each other. As usual, the far right was quick to jump on the arrest of a number of anti-fascist activists.
But what the extremists weren’t so keen to draw attention to were the comments made by members of their own side. In one video, shot by someone attending the far-right rally, a man can be heard calling for the reintroduction of gas chambers, presumably for the people on the other side of the road. In another video a National Party supporter calls the anti-fascist activists “vermin” and argues that “you know what should be done with vermin”. Other videos captured homophobic comments. One man was even recorded saying he was “proud to be a racist”.
Perhaps the penny will have finally dropped for those who blindly supported these “free speech” rallies? It was never about free speech. As we’ve written here before on more than one occasion, it has always and only been about the far right’s ability to target activists and minorities. Free speech for these people is just a cover. They want to be able to say what they want with no consequences.
What is perhaps ironic about all of this is that technically the law, as it currently stands, is likely enough to charge people for hate speech. It’s just that enforcement of the law has been essentially non-existent. So, the far right may get what it wants and no new hate crime or hate speech laws will be introduced. Instead, greater enforcement of the already-existing laws could be encouraged; a conundrum that has perhaps not been considered by said opponents of any new legislation.
But these are the extremists. As worrying as they may be, the actions of mainstream political parties and their supporters is more concerning. Reports have circulated on Twitter of canvassers for Fine Gael attempting to blame the housing crisis on refugees who are on the housing list. By trying to shift the blame away from their own party they are putting minorities in very real danger. And it will only embolden fascists and racists to point to this and say that even the political mainstream agrees with them.
Maybe this is merely a short-term tactic to divert attention from Fine Gael’s horrendous record while in power. Or maybe it portends of something more sinister? The party’s fascist history is well known. Only time will tell if a tactic used during a, quite frankly, desperate political campaign turns into a long-term policy.
With polling day less than a week away, expect things to get even uglier. Fine Gael are flailing and its supporters are liable to lash out even further in the coming days. Expect the same from the National Party and other far-right candidates. Minorities are easy targets in the current economic climate. And clearly the hope in some parts is that this translates into votes.
The tactic is not likely to succeed, at least in the normal sense of being converted into seats in the Dáil. But it will encourage the racists who live amongst us to continue with what they’re doing. And if by the time the next general election comes around the political mainstream have turned a tactic into political policy, then, all bets are off.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Ardfern