Election Special – Extremists have been dealt a blow by the electorate but let’s not be complacent

Although the votes are still being counted, one thing is certain: The extremists have lost. In this election cycle we saw a large number of far-right candidates running for office. And they’ve all been told where to go by the electorate. At the time of writing, the majority of them failed to poll above 2% of first preference votes. This appears to be in keeping with the findings of the exit poll survey which reported that only 1% of those asked were concerned with immigration. 

Results like this are clear. No matter how hard its advocates tried, the far right message failed to find support with the majority of Irish people. Instead, the main concern appears to be with creating a more equal and just society. As a result, we have the rise of Sinn Féin and the Green Party at the expense of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two parties which have overseen the increasing neoliberalisation of Ireland. So yes, this is a victory for progressives.

The extremists have lost but let’s not be complacent. There are some who have won comfortably who have previously engaged in racist dog whistling. And these same people are considered to be part of the political mainstream. Dismissing this out of hand is dangerous.

In Galway, Noel Grealish received 8,043 first preference votes which all but assures his reelection. In what appeared to be an overture to the far right at a meeting last year, he accused asylum seekers of coming to Ireland to “sponge off the system”. He also went on to declare that “the only genuine refugees in Ireland are Christian ones fleeing ISIS”. A few months later he made a speech in the Dáil in which he suggested that the money sent back to Nigeria by Nigerians living in Ireland may be “the proceeds of crime or fraud”. 

In Cork, Michael Collins was reelected on the first count with 11,712 first preference votes. After Grealish made his comments last year Collins was quick to defend him. He argued that although Grealish’s comments were “a bit strong”, Grealish was essentially correct. Collins then went on to insist that the government should take care of Irish citizens before helping asylum seekers. He said:

Look after our own people first and then when that issue is sorted, let’s start looking at people from across the world.

Collins followed up on this by stating that “we’re losing our culture” due to immigration. 

What this shows is that racism is alive and well in the political mainstream. Neither men are on the fringes. They are firmly of the mainstream, albeit on the conservative side of the spectrum. Both of them made a conscious decision to pander to the far right. What was once was a fringe opinion can now be repeated by what appears to be eminently electable men. And as a result, the Overton window gradually shifts further to the right and the targeting of minorities by members of the Dáil becomes ever more acceptable. 

So, even though the extremists lost this time around that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to come. One Irish far-right YouTuber has argued that it’s not necessarily this election that matters as much as the next one. The presence of the far right has been on the up for 18 months. If the next government that’s formed is stable, the far right will then have years to organise and plan for the next elections. The far right’s failure today mustn’t blind us to the risks that possibly lay ahead. 

Featured image via Twitter