To those who knew her Ashling Murphy was “a shining light”. A national school teacher in Tullamore and a talented musician, she had decided to take up running in the new year. But only two weeks into 2022 she became yet another victim of male violence at just 23 years old. Gardaí are currently investigating her murder but their missteps, including the apparent leaking of information to journalists in major Irish papers, has painted a tawdry picture of the inquiry in the eyes of the public.
And, to make matters worse, elements of the Irish far right also latched on to the leaked information as a way to push their own racist, anti-migrant narrative.
When news of the murder broke the media quickly disclosed the fact that gardaí had arrested a suspect. In their reporting they noted that he was originally from Romania, lived locally, and was “known” to gardaí. Considering the tragedy had rightly angered women across the country — seeing it as yet more evidence of the violence and fear they live under because of men — it was a time for men to more or less shut up. And rightly so. But for some this seemed just the right time to use the murder of the teacher to try and whip up racist hysteria.
Almost immediately Telegram channels and social media websites were littered with the press’s reporting of the then suspect’s nationality. Apparently this was proof that Ireland’s borders must be shut given the supposedly inherent risk all migrants pose to the country.
In one particularly notorious far-right Telegram channel the admin accused the suspect at the time of a litany of crimes, including suggestions that he was involved in an earlier incident involving “a suspected murder”. The man’s presence in Ireland was proof, according to the admin, that “Our borders are wide open to the world’s trash”. Describing him as “a foreign junkie scumbag”, the admin also went on to pontificate that “the Libtard [sic] narrative will focus on the ‘teach men not to rape/pandemic of male violence against women’ and denounce any attempts to link ethnicity/race to the crime while they themselves make it solely a gender issue”. And they called for “justice to be brought on the foreign scum who did this”. At the time of writing the channel in question has over 2,000 members.
Another related Telegram channel posted a meme with “#ourbordersourchoice” written across the bottom. In the same channel the admin forwarded a post from a third Telegram channel in which it’s written that government ministers Roderic O’Gorman and Helen McEntee are the “two people to blame for the murder of an indigenous Irish woman”. Going on, the author accuses the ministers of “flooding Ireland with every type of illegal as part of a deliberate ploy to get revenge on us for their own personal vendettas”.
On his personal Telegram channel Critiqued, aka Paul O’Neil, a far-right agitator aligned with the National Party, also jumped into the fray. As a result of the murder he called Offaly unsafe “because of foreigner scum lurking in it” and denigrated the then suspect in the murder as “Romanian filth”.
Twitter was no better. Even though the platform has anti-harassment and anti-racism policies in place it didn’t stop the onslaught directed at the man gardaí had arrested. The Irish Freedom Party (IFP) took the opportunity to link the murder to border security. It tweeted that the EU’s “open borders means migrants come to Ireland unchecked and not vetted”, letting criminals “come and go as they please”. Hermann Kelly, the IFP president, has previously expressed his belief in the so-called “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. Other accounts were more forthright.
The National Party wrote that Ireland has “a serious immigration problem”. Mick O’Keefe, a far-right extremist associated with the National Party, accused Irish women of “doing everything in their power to minimise” what happened “because the offender was foreign”. Veering off even further into conspiracy theories he also declared that members of civil society groups “have already begun working on this mans [sic] behalf”. Former Irish soldier Michael Connell, who goes under the username of Satirical Soldier, also tried to link the murder to immigration. He declared it was “perfectly reasonable to suggest” that such a connection exists and that Irish people have been victims of assault “through Government Immigration Policy [sic]. Another anonymous account referred to ministers O’Gorman and McEntee as “murderers”, writing that “THEIR MIGRATION POLICIES KILLED A WOMAN IN TULLAMORE”.
A regular pattern of racism
Such commentary, as shocking as it is, has become commonplace on the Irish Internet. Whenever there is something in the media involving a person whose skin is anything other than bleached white, or they dared to be born outside of Ireland, you can be guaranteed an assortment of xenophobes will rush into the comments section. It’s a tactical decision on their part and such behaviour isn’t a random occurrence. It’s as predictable as their comments are racist. And every time you think they can’t sink lower, they inevitably do.
We saw the exact same in the aftermath of the gardaí shooting and killing George Nkencho in December 2020. Then, as now, Telegram was a hive of xenophobic activity and organising. Admins of the same channels discussed here whipped up hysteria about Nkencho, telling lies about his past and what happened before gardaí killed him. In one case an admin encouraged members of their channel to “Be as callous as possible” to members of the Black community and anti-racism activists in order to provoke a reaction from them. It was hoped that this would then result in a confrontation with gardaí and further inflame racial tensions.
What they really want is a complete end to immigration. It doesn’t matter how this is achieved; whether it’s through legislation or a race war is irrelevant. All that matters is that their ethnonationalist dream comes to fruition.
So, when the media reported on the nationality of who was then the main suspect in Murphy’s murder, Ireland’s white supremacists pounced. They had found their evil migrant to hold up as an example to the rest of the country of the dangers of immigration to Ireland. In some cases they couched their words in terms of women’s safety. But this was a purely cynical attempt to use what had happened to spread their lies and recruit followers. No better example could be found when in both Cork and Limerick on Saturday, 15 January, groups linked to the far right refused to alter their own planned rallies in order to give space for vigils in remembrance of Murphy. In Limerick the group seemingly changed their usual rally location in order to intentionally clash with those at the vigil, with men praying through a loud PA system one of them brought with him.
Further damaging the far right’s preferred narrative was the gardaí releasing the Romanian man who was their main suspect. After close to two days in custody, Radu Floricel is now a free man, with gardaí saying he had “been eliminated from Garda enquiries and is no longer a suspect”. Authorities have now set their sights on a new suspect whom the media have revealed is originally from Slovakia. Considering far-right extremists see this as proof that they’re correct, and have celebrated as much, it shows that their only concern is ideology and not women’s safety.
A cynical reframing
In the aftermath of the murder of Murphy president Michael D. Higgins released a statement expressing his “profound sympathy and sorrow and sense of loss that her tragic death has meant to so many”. He described her murder as “a loss to all of us” and that she “She represented the best of her generation”. Going on, he highlighted the need to end violence against women:
It is of crucial importance that we take this opportunity, as so many people have already done in the short time since Ashling’s death, to reflect on what needs to be done to eliminate violence against women in all its aspects from our society, and how that work can neither be postponed nor begin too early.
Now, he argued, we must “reflect on all of our actions and attitudes” and “seek to eliminate all threats of violence against any of our citizens, and commit in particular to bringing an end, at home and abroad, to violence against women in any of its forms”.
But, for some, president Higgins’ words will never have any import. Living in their nativist bubble, the safety of everyone on the island is of no concern to them. What drives them is anti-immigrant sentiment. And with the murder of the young school teacher they saw an opportunity to try to cynically manipulate people’s anguish and turn it into a xenophobic debate on migration.
The same groups and individuals were happy to celebrate a National Party member assaulting LGBTQIA+ activist Izzy Kamikaze in September 2020. Some of them even went so far as to claim that Kamikaze had faked the injury. Luckily the gardaí and the courts knew otherwise. Having pleaded guilty, in October Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Michael Quinn to three years in prison but with the final year suspended. Yet, we are to believe that amongst Ireland’s far right women’s safety is paramount despite the above as well as their antediluvian views on a woman’s right to choose?
“It is sickening to see people hijack the death and mourning of Ashling Murphy to spread racist and xenophobic rhetoric”, said Evie Nevin. Speaking with The Beacon, the disability rights activists and former local election candidate for the Social Democrats declared that men taking the time to “centre themselves in this tragedy is beyond inappropriate”. Nevin also observed it’s important to highlight that “It’s not a race or nationality issue though we do know POC experience violence at an alarming rate”.
For extremists violence against women is a tactic to be used or something to be manipulated as a propaganda tool. It’s never abhorred for the evil that it is. This was something that Piaras Mac Éinrí, a University College Cork (UCC) lecturer specialising in migration, also underscored when speaking with The Beacon about recent events. Extremists, quite simply, hate. This hatred is “based on a core belief that the world is and should be unequal”. Part of this worldview, he argued, is centred around the idea that,
Women are inferior to men and have to know their place, which is primarily to breed children and look after their men. This extreme misogyny showed in the instant denigration of anyone who sought to say that there had to be a radical debate about the safety of women in society and the necessity for men — all men — to examine their role.
Mac Éinrí went on to describe what he sees as an almost “mass psychosis” amongst those on the far right given that they’re so “apoplectically angry”. Such behaviour is “new and disturbing” to him. And he believes it’s simply because they’re “literally unable to accept a society in which a variety of different beliefs, attitudes, people and ways of life can co-exist”.
With Floricel now a free man the far right has begun to move on, no doubt waiting for their next opportunity. But, as Nevin insisted, “The only narrative that should be out there is that the violence against women needs to be addressed in a real and meaningful way”.
Featured image via Pexels