The first two months of the new Irish government have been, as any reasonable person will agree, a disaster. It has lurched from one crisis to the next; from one error to the next formidable misjudgement. What does it say about the make-up of Irish politics when a global pandemic takes a backseat to the political equivalent of the Jerry Springer Show?
It seems that the coalition government gifted us by the Green Party consists of exactly the kind of people you’d find on that hit nineties show mentioned above. We’ve seen drunk drivers, liars, obfuscaters, lawbreakers, and arrogance almost beyond belief. The only thing missing has been Micheál Martin flinging a chair at someone. One hopes that will soon be rectified during the next cabinet meeting.
But despite the incredulity-inducing behaviour of Ireland’s political elite, the situation is dangerous. Mismanagement of the response to the pandemic, as well as a lack of care for the safety of schoolchildren returning to school, has put lives at risk. And it has offered an opening that hucksters and extremists have begun to exploit.
The rally held in Dublin last Saturday shows this. Gathered at the Custom House were between 1,500 and 2,000 people. Many would have been there to simply protest against the government’s handling of the pandemic. But what they heard and saw there was something different.
Speakers told the crowd that COVID-19 wasn’t really a threat and that it was being blown out of proportion by a government clambering for greater powers. Essentially, a totalitarian hellscape awaits us. Legislation forcing people to wear masks in shops is seen as one of the first steps towards dystopia.
Attendees heard other conspiracy theories about the pandemic; that the government intends on taking children away from families who don’t abide by COVID-19 legislation and that there’s a treatment for the virus in the form of hydroxychloroquine. And, even more bizarrely, that stocks of the drug around the world were destroyed as the pandemic began to take hold in order ensure the spread of the virus.
This may all sound outlandish but people gathered in large numbers to hear this. Upon listening to the message they willingly cheered along. Alarms bells should be ringing. And that’s because the rally showed the intersection of conspiratorial thinking, public anger, and a growing far-right movement trying to recruit new followers.
The fact is that some of the people doing the speaking were affiliated with far-right parties and their views. Members of the Irish Freedom Party, National Party, Síol na hÉireann, and Yellow Vests were there representing their groups and ideas.
For these organisations, asylum seekers and migrants are seen as a threat. Conspiracy theories intertwine with racism and we get the “Great Replacement”, a theory that’s been described as the “ideological glue” of the far right. Although some of the people at last Saturday’s rally may not hold these views, they inadvertently gave succour to a growing movement that threatens the lives of many people.
It’s easy to scoff at the crowd who turned up for the rally. But we shouldn’t. A genuine anger at an Irish upper class, who seem to think they are not subject to health guidelines introduced as the result of the pandemic, brought some of them to the Custom House. To them, the dismissal of the regulations by the upper echelons of Irish society shows that the pandemic isn’t a threat after all. Or, if it is, the rules simply don’t apply equally to everyone.
The Irish far right is using this moment of anger and uncertainty to recruit new members. It’s a well-practised bait and switch move. Far-right movements claim to represent the people and their anger, point to the hypocrisies of those in power, and remind these same people they are not alone. It’s a powerful and sometimes convincing claim to make, especially for angry and weary people.
But it’s a scam. Hatred needs foot soldiers. And by giving people answers and meaning that they didn’t previously have they become ripe for recruitment. That’s what last Saturday was about. It was simply a recruitment drive for new soldiers in Ireland’s rising far right. And it was a demonstration of the violence to be meted out to dissenters.
Anti-racism activists have noted the increasingly fanatical rhetoric in Ireland for the last two years. Racists have become more emboldened and far-right groups spouting bizarre and extremist rhetoric have sprung up. The targeting of minorities is a regular occurrence and death threats unsurprising.
So, Saturday’s rally should be a wake-up call for everyone. Extremism is only getting started in Ireland and it’s already a viable threat. Left unchallenged who knows what the consequences will be. But one thing that is certain is that it’s minorities and those challenging racism that will pay the price if extremism goes uncontested.
Featured image via YouTube – Screenshot