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‘Keep Ireland Irish’: Say hello to the growing Irish far right

origin 1Niall McConnell at an anti-abortion protest. ©Niall McConnell

The far right in Ireland is growing.

It’s a broad church — encompassing religious fundamentalists, nationalists, and many shades in between — but the movement has recently coalesced around one thing: immigration.

There were 307 anti-migrant protests in 2022, while in 2023 there were already 64, according to the Gardai, the Irish police, calling the numbers a “exponential increase”.

“Ireland’s borders are wide open”, Niall McConnell, leader of the Irish Nationalist Catholic Party, told RockedBuzz via Euronews. “There are no restrictions on immigration.”

“Indigenous Irish people are racially discriminated against,” he added.

McConnell, who espouses what many would consider far-right views, contests immigration, arguing that migrants receive preferential treatment in social housing, commit crimes – often of a sexual nature against women – and lie to claim refugee status .

These are all largely baseless allegations.

The self-described “Irish patriot” told RockedBuzz via Euronews that immigration risked another “plantation”, referring to England’s colonization of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries, where land was confiscated and settlers they were brought in to “anglicise” the local population.

“History repeats itself,” he said. “The blood of our holy martyrs seeps from Irish soil. Indigenous Irish will continue in the footsteps of our ancestors. We will oppose this new plantation as we have in the past.”

“God save Ireland”.

Ireland is a major immigrant producing nation. Today, according to the Dublin government, nearly 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry, more than 10 times its own population.

“Extreme-right politics are symptomatic of a country in trouble”

Although rumors of sexual assaults and crimes are usually unfounded, Aoife Gallagheranalyst at Global ISDhe told RockedBuzz via Euronews: “the far right has been able to rally support by tapping into people’s real grievances.”

He highlighted the inability of the Irish asylum system to process applicants quickly, leaving some waiting for a decision for several years. This backlog has led to a “desperate scramble for accommodation”, with local authorities resorting to hotels as other forms of accommodation fill up.

The far-right protested outside asylum cases, sometimes frightening and intimidating people inside, including families.

Brian Killoranmanaging director of Immigrant Councillinks the rise of the far right to several crises gripping Ireland, including a housing crisis and crumbling health services, traceable to the 2008 recession and the austerity period that followed.

“The far right is a lightning rod,” he told RockedBuzz via Euronews. “They are exploiting dissatisfaction in communities and blaming migrants, when in reality there are much bigger structural problems.”

He said the movement was losing sight of the “bigger picture” and proposing “simplistic, short-term solutions”.

Nationalist leader McConnel told RockedBuzz via Euronews: “We want the Irish government to stop immigration completely. Deport all foreign criminals to Ireland.

“Any resources available in Ireland should be given to Indigenous Irish people first,” he continued, suggesting that migrants should be deprived of free housing, welfare, health care and education.

“Big Changes”

Protests against migrants have been more common in “ignored and deprived” areas, says researcher Aoife Gallagher, which are also where asylum seekers are disproportionately housed.

Though organized by a small, well-established group of agitators, many protesters are “ordinary people” protesting for the first time, and a significant proportion of them are “working-class women,” she says.

The history of the Irish far right is a long and convoluted one.

For much of its history, Ireland has been under the “iron grip” of the Catholic Church, Gallagher explains. Then, during the 1990s and 2000s, the country “shed these shackles” and went through rapid social liberalization, legalizing abortion and marriage equality.

“The far right is a mix of the reactionary forces in response to these liberal changes in the country … and the old-school Catholic conservative,” he said.

However, external forces are also at play. Using the Internet, the Irish far right has been able to “borrow the strategies and tactics” of their European and American counterparts, according to Gallagher.

During the pandemic, the analyst explained how far-right agitators created anti-vax groups, which then became vehicles for spreading propaganda, from rants against multiculturalism to conspiracy theories.

Cooperation between the English and Irish far-rights was particularly pronounced, with agitator Tommy Robinson – whose parents were Irish immigrants in London – visiting Ireland in February.

“A small, but noisy, minority”

The Irish far right remains a minority, remaining on the sidelines of politics.

“They suffered humiliation time and time again during the election,” says Killoran of the Immigration Board, though he acknowledges that “they should be taken seriously.”

Meanwhile, there has been significant pushback against the far right, with counter-demonstrations often drawing much larger crowds.

“There’s a huge advocacy movement going on that’s not making the headlines,” he says. “Good news, unfortunately, doesn’t sell as well as bad news.”

“There is a risk that we could take this far-right movement as more representative of some kind of negative public opinion than it is.”

Attitudes towards immigrants in Ireland are among the least positive in Europe.

Among adults born in Ireland, about 58% welcome white foreigners moving to the country, but only 41% welcome Muslims and 25% welcome Roma, according to a study by the Institute of Economic and Social Research.

For most of its history, Ireland was an ethnically homogeneous society. However, over the past 20 years, the country’s population has changed dramatically.

Net migration increased to 61,100 last year, while those rates stood at 11,200 in 2021, representing a 445% increase..

The far-right is ultimately a byproduct of Ireland’s failed political system that has failed to come to grips with the multi-pronged crisis gripping the country, Gallagher says.

The country’s two main political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have ruled for a century.

They are both centrist, with the former appealing to more traditional and working-class voters, while the latter is more secular and pro-business.

“We’ve had the same parties in power in this country forever,” Gallagher told RockedBuzz via Euronews. “In general throughout the country there is a feeling that there is no one in power with the solutions needed to bring the country to its knees.”