The Republic of Ireland enjoys a positive international image as a welcoming country that is open to foreign immigrants. The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union in 2016 has, by force of contrast, reinforced this image of Ireland. So it might come as a surprise to learn that a series of protests led by far-right forces against political asylum seekers and refugees (many of them from Ukraine, as Ireland has welcomed some 63,000 Ukrainians to date) are currently taking place in the country, intensified since the start of 2023.
The protests, which have been organized in various areas of Dublin (Eastwall, Drimnagh, Ballymun), its suburbs (Clondalkin) and other towns on the island (Fermoy, north of Cork, Drogheda, Killarney), have grown to as many as 400-500 participants, at least partly recruited via messaging platforms such as WhatsApp or Telegram. These are by no means negligible numbers, looking at the size of the country.
The recurring pattern of these demonstrations is to target an emergency shelter facility, such as a hostel, hotel or public school, and encourage locals to show up with signs and banners to protest against the people housed inside. On a number of occasions, protesters have blocked traffic, on Dublin’s central streets as well as on the highway bypass that runs along the city. The most serious incident occurred in the Ashtown area on January 28, when a group of men in balaclavas, armed with baseball bats and with a German shepherd in tow, attacked a migrant camp where some eight homeless foreigners were staying, inflicting quite serious injuries on them.
Two political forces appear to be behind these demonstrations. One is the Irish Freedom Party, an anti-immigration party created in the image of Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit party in the UK and, according to rumors, funded by its British counterpart to advocate for Ireland’s exit from the EU.
The other political force, more active and more dangerous, is the National Party, an openly xenophobic and backward far-right party with international ties to various neo-Nazi groups on the European continent. The National Party used similar strategies to mobilize discontent during the pandemic by organizing a series of anti-vaccine demonstrations.
It was long believed that Ireland might be immune to such racist movements, but it is worth remembering that there was already an early warning sign in 2004, following the “first” wave of migration, when the Irish voted in a referendum in favor of abolishing unconditional birthright citizenship. The right wing was very active at the time in spreading the idea that immigrants were taking the island by storm, and in a country where there is a severe housing crisis, the racist and xenophobic bile managed to take root in places.
Nevertheless, large parts of Ireland seem determined to reclaim their tradition of being welcoming and inclusive. Since early January, the right-wing rallies have been accompanied by counterprotests by local people and various forces on the Irish left. The culmination of these containment initiatives is expected on Saturday, with a march in support of the refugees called by local community organizers together with a number of radical left-wing political parties, with the involvement of labor unions, various anti-racism associations and other civil society groups. Thousands of participants are expected.