Editorial – Facebook continues to be a battleground in far-right organising against asylum seekers

A photo of a phone's login screen for Facebook.

As soon as it was announced that a direct provision centre was to be located in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, the now familiar pattern once again emerged. A Facebook group was set up to protest the centre. In the group, which has now gone private, what are now common themes in similar groups surfaced. First there is the unsuitability of the town for a direct provision centre. Then there are questions as to why homeless Irish people aren’t being looked after first. And finally, and most worryingly, there are comments filled with racism and hatred for asylum seekers. 

This follows the pattern of the last two years. As soon as it is made known that asylum seekers are being placed in a town or village, a Facebook group is set up to let the rest of the country know that the asylum seekers are not welcome. Most of these groups, however, consist of members from outside the communities in question. In many cases it’s the same people across multiple groups making the same kind of comments. 

Targeting asylum seekers

Portrayed as a local issue and to do with resources, these groups only serve one purpose: Whipping up hatred of asylum seekers and migrants. In the Tullamore group, posts in which it was claimed asylum seekers were linked to increases in violent crime went unchallenged and, in fact, were supported. In one case users of the group were advised to watch an anti-asylum seeker video posted by a well-known Irish far-right YouTuber. Nothing about this is surprising. 

Even less surprising was the turnout at the protest the group held outside the hostel where the asylum seekers are to be housed. According to Midlands 103, roughly 30 people showed up. And out of that, reports have emerged that only a small amount of the protestors were from Tullamore. Given the hysteria that the group has tired to create its members were probably expecting a larger turnout. 

Groups like this, and other far-right, anti-asylum seeker groups, accuse the left of being in an echo chamber and not wanting to reckon with reality. The irony is that the Tullamore group is just this. It’s the same talking points over and over again that have been seen in other similar groups; the same people, the same propaganda, the same racism. The intention is to stir uninformed locals into a frenzy by feeding them this toxic mix. It didn’t work. 

A long war

But we’ve not been so lucky before. What was ineffective in Tullamore worked in Oughterard a few months ago when it was revealed that asylum seekers were to be housed in the area. Racist lies and talking points were shared across private groups on Facebook. This culminated in an ugly public meeting. Events in Oughterard will not be forgotten any time soon. 

The aim is to make it completely untenable for the government to house asylum seekers anywhere in the country. What racists want is for not one asylum seeker to be allowed into Ireland and the ones already here to be deported. There is a small but solid online network of people dedicated to promoting this aim. What we see in the Tullamore group is exactly this. 

Even though far-right activists put a lot of effort into creating fear of asylum seekers and attempting to block direct provision centres, they have been largely unsuccessful. But that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. They are zealots. And they will pursue their goal until the very end. Asylum seekers and anti-racism activists, as always, will be their targets.

Considering the involvement of the US far right with extremists here, the stakes are probably higher than most realise. So the Tullamore protest might have been a complete failure but the same people will just evolve their tactics. For them, these small battles are just part of a larger and longer war. And it’s a war they intend on winning.

Featured image via Piqsels