From the fringes to the front

Examining the meteoric rise of the far-right in Irish public discourse

Around the start of this term, I came home one day to find a newspaper on my doorstep that I had never heard of before. The main headline jumped out at me, “DON’T STAY HOME!”, and another saying, “PFIZER CRIMES EXPOSED”. This paper claimed to be giving “the uncensored truth”. I was intrigued. I hadn’t seen these types of headlines outside of fringe conspiracy groups’ videos for at least a year. During Covid, as we all know, you couldn’t avoid some relative, friend, or online personality rattling off far-right conspiracy theories about the lockdowns or other plots by the satanic global elite, but I thought that all the vaccine outrage seemed to be dwindling by now. I continued leafing through. The paper was like an iceberg, with articles on relatively mainstream conspiracy theories and unhinged opinion pieces at the beginning being just the tip. The centrefold was dedicated to low-quality memes and lazy newspaper comics making fun of people believing in climate change. Still pretty standard fare. When I finally came to the end of the issue, there was an article advocating for the validity of a certain publication from the early twentieth century that is considered widely to be the textbook of antisemitic conspiracy theory. In fact, it was literally a textbook in many schools across Nazi Germany.

In all honesty, I initially found this unannounced gift at my doorstep quite funny. Here was a laundry list of all the most unfounded, often contradictory, theories that people have been propagating online, compiled and packaged for an Irish audience. Utterly absurd. I think that part of my amusement came from the sentiment that we in Ireland, broadly speaking, have enough sense to discount and ridicule this sort of thing. As a nation, we have moved very far forward in terms of social development in a comparatively short amount of time, and generally pride ourselves on being very open to the rest of Europe and the wider world. Ireland had seemingly bucked the trend that most other rich democratic countries have encountered in the 2010s; the rise of far-right ideology from fringe groups to politically significant parties. But on second thought, I’m not certain that this will continue to be the case.

The war in Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis have exacerbated the already apparent problems that the Irish state has had in providing adequate accommodation for migrants, as well as putting strain on the hospitality sector and throwing fuel onto the fire of discourse on the housing crisis. Just like UKIP in the UK, Fidesz in Hungary or PiS in Poland, activists of the extreme-right minority in Ireland are seeking to use the refugee crisis as a flashpoint for the spread of their disgusting ideology of hatred against anyone or anything that they consider to be foreign. Minor extremist groups such as Hermann Kelly’s Irish Freedom Party have been instrumental in organising and drumming up support for protests against the housing of refugees in locations all around the country, using fear-mongering slogans like “Keep Ireland safe” to demonise people who have come into the country to escape from war. The hashtag #Irelandisfull is particularly insidious. It plays upon the population’s pre-existing fears around the shortage of housing for residents across the country, particularly in major cities, and is aimed at radicalising those in the country who already feel disenfranchised by government policy.

“The explosion of hateful far-right activity related to migration remains extremely concerning.”

Just like all great liars, the Irish far-right know that the most convincing lies contain grains of truth. It is true that the state has failed to adequately deal with the housing crisis, as well as failed to convince the youth that the country’s market will not price them out and across the water to Europe, Australia or the USA. It is also true that the government is unlikely to find or create the capacity to indefinitely continue taking in more refugees and migrants, as evidenced by the Taoiseach’s recent comments in Brussels. However, the actions of the majority of these protesters are not those of “concerned citizens”. The instances of people threatening to attack or even burning down buildings slated for refugee accommodation shows that capacity is not their real concern. One quick search of #Irelandisfull on Twitter instantly brings up several videos with outright racist captions calling out “non-nationals” and “the undocumented”, without even a shred of proof. Not that that would make it any better. Fortunately, some accounts appear to have begun co-opting the hashtag alongside others like #refugeeswelcome to counter the online tide of hate. Nonetheless, the explosion of hateful far-right activity related to migration remains extremely concerning. Arguments that it is confined to online spaces are clearly mistaken, as we can see it has moved from there to the streets. It is encouraging, however, to see the turnout for counter-protests and in particular the Ireland For All march on the 18th of February. 

In this context, its move to my doorstep as a newspaper has become less funny and more worrying. It is worrying to think that these ideas are being spread to my older next-door neighbour’s porch. I’m confident that they won’t take it on board, but I can’t speak for any of the other houses on my street. As such, I have avoided mentioning the name of this newspaper, or who is the editor. I don’t want to give it any more recognition than it may already have. I’m reasonably hopeful that we as a nation will not allow this extremist movement to grow much further. It is important not to forget that this crisis has been caused by Russia’s heinous invasion of Ukraine, and it is incumbent on Europe to shoulder the burden of the refugee crisis in order to support Ukraine’s resistance and thwart the imperial ambitions of a bullying larger neighbour. I’m sure we in Ireland can relate to this. We must also not forget that most far-right groups in Europe are on Putin’s payroll in some way. In any case, I trust that the actions of these extreme protesters are those of a very loud minority.