Events in Dublin yesterday were shocking but not entirely surprising. The government has mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic from day one. Lockdowns were announced when they really weren’t lockdowns for a select few. Airports remained open for travellers without the need for mandatory quarantine. Yes, that’s soon to change. It’s only taken a year since the pandemic hit for the government to make the move.
During the same period people have seen how the government has gambled with their lives and those of the people most dear to them. Those with expertise in combatting the virus, such as the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), were undermined in the national media. Our leaders and prominent journalists in Ireland’s paper of record lead the charge against the recommendations backed up by science. People were given mixed and sometimes unclear messages. NPHET was to guide us through this pandemic until it wasn’t. People’s safety was paramount until business interests took precedence at various times in the last year, but especially in the lead-up to Christmas.
Filling the gap
Into this breach have poured various anti-lockdown and far-right groups who’ve given answers — even bizarre or simplistic ones — to people who feel like all they’ve gotten from the government in the last year has been obfuscation and shifting of blame. The latter harks back to the days of the bank guarantee when the government of the time told us “we all partied”. Therefore, we had to bail out the banks and our children have to pay for it. Today the same tactic is used to tell us we’re all to blame for having had some of the worst COVID figures in the world.
Online groups are waging a large disinformation campaign to take advantage of this governmental psychopathy. COVID, it’s claimed, is part of a conspiracy to take away people’s freedoms or that it’s merely a seasonal illness. Other claims are that the recurring lockdowns are simply the government’s way of testing people’s pliability. On top of all this the groups and individuals attempting to boost their numbers consistently downplay the danger of the virus.
Taking to the streets
All of this resulted in hundreds of people taking to the streets of Dublin for an anti-lockdown rally. Fed up of seemingly endless lockdowns as well as being fed lies and half-truths by conspiracy theorists and far-right agitators, they were led on to the streets by extremists. Events such as this have two functions: To attack the state and recruit new followers.
With this in mind, the presence of the National Party at the rally was not unplanned or surprising. Also, a member of the crowd shooting fireworks at gardaí was unlikely a spontaneous event. Both serve the purpose of recruitment and challenging the state and the representatives of its power in the form of the gardaí.
But footage of a member of the crowd shooting fireworks at gardaí is uncouth because it allows the general public a peak behind the curtain. Naturally, then, the conspiracy theory quickly emerged online that it was a member of “anti-fa” who fired the rockets at gardaí. Extremists spreading conspiracy theories like this to deflect blame onto the left is nothing new.
A spokesperson for the Garda Press Office told The Beacon that the protestors targeted gardaí “with fireworks, missiles and spit”. As a result, gardaí arrested 23 people. Three gardaí were also injured, with one needing treatment in hospital for their injuries. In total, 125 gardaí were there to police the event.
Feeding the problem
In spite of this, matters haven’t been helped by RTÉ parroting garda commissioner Drew Harris’s line that both the far left and the far right were involved in the fracas in Dublin.
Utterances like this are dangerous. Gardaí are well aware of the threat posed by far-right extremists in Ireland. A Freedom of Information (FoI) request The Beacon submitted to the Department of Justice late last year revealed that it’s actively monitoring the far right in Ireland. So attempting to paint these extremists in the same light as left-wing activists who played absolutely no part in what happened in Dublin is as curious as much as it’s troubling.
Both the mainstream media as well as the authorities appear to not appreciate the danger posed by the assortment of anti-lockdown and far-right groups that caused violence in Dublin yesterday. Across Facebook and Twitter, but also on Telegram, they’ve organised and festered for the last few years. And in the twelve months the process has rapidly accelerated.
Le Chéile has rightly pointed out that the far right has “been seeking to capitalise on the frustration felt by many with the government’s Covid strategy”. And what happened in Dublin “gives a glimpse of the danger that they present”.
What we saw in Dublin yesterday is likely just the beginning of more to come. Given the government’s mishandling of the pandemic and the undermining of NPHET by it and some in the press, the far right will continue to try latching on to the issue. How successful it is depends entirely upon what the government does in the coming days and weeks. You’d be right to be pessimistic.
Featured image via Screenshot