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‘Ireland is No Longer Immune to the Far-Right’

The Irish Government must tackle growing inequality if extremist politics is not to take root, writes Emma DeSouza

An anti-migrant protest in Dublin, North Inner City, Five Lamps, on 22 February 2023. Photo: frank33/Alamy

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The far-right movement has been gaining political ground electorally across Europe for decades. There are few events in recent history which better exemplify the disastrous risks posed by such ideologies than the fall-out from Brexit, following years of slow corrosion in UK regional politics.

Amid increasing occurrences of political self-sabotage, a notable outlier has been Ireland: a nation of emigrants, and a country that appeared by many metrics almost immune to anti-immigrant sentiment. Until now.

Burning buses, riots, threats to political representatives, arson – all betray a worrying trend of violence and intimidation fuelled by far-right anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Over the course of five years, more than 26 buildings suspected of housing asylum seekers have been subjected to arson attacks, most of which have occurred within the past 18 months. In November last year, some 500 rioters rampaged through Dublin, looting and setting fire to vehicles as well as attacking police officers – nothing short of thuggery. 

Typical of far-right movements across history, self-appointed representatives of the so-called real, ‘native’ population weaponise socioeconomic deprivation and political alienation by circulating disinformation and mistruth. As if read from the pages of the 20th Century populist handbook, these figures claim vehemently that every societal ill is caused or inflamed by immigration. No job opportunities? No housing? Long waiting lists for healthcare? Migrants are the eternal bogeymen.

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Last year 13,227 people sought international protection in Ireland, down 400 from the previous year – Ireland accounted for just 1.3% of the EU total of asylum applicants in 2022. It is estimated that migrants contribute 3.7 billion to the Irish economy every year through taxes, immigration fees, and work permits. 

The potential for far-right agitators to influence national politics has been largely dismissed by Ireland’s major political parties.

Fringe far-right parties have emerged including the Irish Freedom Party and the National Party, neither of which have managed to achieve a single elected representative. However, with both local and European elections set to take place in June, fringe politicians will be hoping for a breakthrough – and both the media and major political parties are doing little to counter the potential threat.

Placating anti-immigrant protests by adopting their language or making ad hoc ill-considered statements about changing Ireland’s immigration system, leading political parties appear complacent and rudderless about the potential far-right breakthrough.

To date, the far-right in Ireland has not coalesced around one personality or party – Ireland doesn’t have a Nigel Farage, Giorgia Meloni or Marine Le Pen. Yet. Plenty are auditioning for the role. 

While serving as a growing vector for public disorder, the far-right in Ireland is splintered into intersecting groups with varying priorities. Anti-immigration is often the central pillar but a cursory interrogation of the ‘Ireland is Full’ hashtag on social media will reveal a mismatch of anti-choice, racist, anti-trans, and COVID-denying accounts. 

As with other countries experiencing a growth in far-right support, Ireland is also subject to outside interference, with US and UK far-right social media figures and personalities parroting anti-immigrant content about Ireland across the internet.

Put simply, Ireland is no longer immune to the far-right. It has been infected by the same anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been corroding democracy on a global scale.


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How do you stop the spread of the far-right? Tackling issues of inequality would be a good start as these leads to political marginalisation, providing fertile ground for the far-right to take root.

The 2022 survey on income and living conditions demonstrated an increase in the number of those living in consistent poverty, those at risk of poverty, and those in enforced deprivation in Ireland. Homelessness is at a record high despite more than 166,000 properties languishing vacant in the state. 

Evidence demonstrates that those impacted by poverty during childhood are more likely to experience income poverty and deprivation in adulthood; 89,000 children were living in poverty in 2022 – a more than 40% rise since 2021.

The Irish Government must tackle the growing inequality in Ireland through a multi-pronged approach, flooding areas of deprivation with increased resources for educational attainment, counselling, infrastructure, services, and opportunities. This approach should be coupled with national plans to address the housing crisis, labour market, and poverty. Ireland needs a social safety net capable of protecting those who are most vulnerable.

When it comes to disinformation and misinformation, it is essential that the Irish Government provides readily available and accessible information on immigration – an information campaign launch is well overdue.

In the long-term, digital literacy has to become a key focus in education in order to equip the next generation with the skills necessary to identify fake news and deepfakes. We are in the era of AI, the wider effects of which can be neither fully understand nor predicted yet.

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With elections in a little over six weeks, the Irish Government and political parties are on the back foot with dwindling time to gain ground. An Ireland Thinks poll in February revealed that 35% of those surveyed would consider voting for a party or candidate with anti-immigrant views – and it appears they will have plenty of candidates to choose from.

In the past week, Ireland has experienced more protests, a minister’s personal home was covered in threatening anti-immigrant signs, six people were arrested in violent scenes on Thursday night, and a debate centred on immigration carried out on national radio opined “Is our Government ‘at war’ with its own people?” – a grotesque appropriation of language of war when the world is witnessing the daily slaughter of innocent people and children in Gaza.

Ireland is a nation of emigrants with generations of citizens forced to flee due to war, famine, and more recently the recession. To be anti-immigrant in Ireland is to be ignorant of one’s own history.

If the far-right succeeds in its aims in June – whether that’s gaining elected representatives or fundamentally destabilising the political agenda in Ireland – it will be a blight on Ireland’s history and a catalyst for further division. Those of us directly impacted by the sociopolitical failings of the UK, and the ongoing damage caused by Brexit, know only too well where this path may lead.

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