Ireland: Far-right kicked out of Limerick library- interview with Liam de Buitléar

Liam de Buitléar is a revolutionary Marxist and Socialist Republican in People Before Profit, Ireland’s largest ecosocialist political party, as well as an activist in the Community Action Tenant’s Union (CATU). They are based in Limerick, Ireland.

The far-right in Ireland, though historically was quite weak, has recently achieved to appear on the central political stage. Can you tell us some basic info on the situation?

LB: We have a very proud antifascist tradition in Ireland. Militant antifascism from socialist and republican organisations previously helped curb the growth of the far right in Ireland. My Great-Great Grandfather was part of a local republican cadre that would disrupt Blue Shirt meetings with hammers and hurls in the 1930s. However with the passage of time this has reduced due to a number of factors, including a far right that was largely dormant in the early 2000s in Ireland, those previously mentioned republicans beginning to age out, or being members of parties like Sinn Féin who continue lurching towards the centre and slowly abandon those more militant parts of their roots. Even more shamefuly groups like the IRSP seem to be more and more comfortable with allowing the far right to grow in areas like Eastwall, Dublin, where they even spoke at one of the anti-refugee rallies organised by the far right.

The recent growth of the far right in Ireland was largely enabled by the current government, stemming from a mishandling of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and its repeated failures to address issues on the cost of living and housing. The government’s handling of the pandemic was blatant in how it pandered to the hospitality and retail sector, with numerous ill-advised liftings of restrictions that allowed the veil to be lifted for a lot of ordinary people, and show that the government was more concerned with protecting the interests of the bourgeois class as opposed to the welfare of working people. Unfortunately the far-right were able to capitalise on this with social media posts criticising the lockdown for populist reasons, they also organised in person demonstrations, which the left were unable and unwilling to do as they called for an unpopular but correct zero-covid strategy. The government also made the decision to restrict certain activities like attending concerts or going to bars/restaurants to people who had a certificate of vaccination, which lead them agitating on the grounds of so called “vaccine apartheid”.

The far-right were also able to agitate against the arrival of people from Ukraine seeking refuge following the outbreak of the war at the beginning of 2022. They spread misinformation claiming that refugees were being prioritised on social housing lists above ‘white Irish’ people, scapegoating them for the failures of the Irish government. They also vilely politicised the murder of Ashling Murphy, a young Irish schoolteacher who was killed whilst walking home from work, claiming (incorrectly) that she was killed by a brown refugee, and not a white European man.

Things reached fever pitch in November 2022 when demonstrations began outside a direct provision centre in Eastwall. Following on from this numerous demonstrations began to crop up across other Dublin suburbs like Ballymun, Drimnagh, and Finglas. From this moment on the far-right in Ireland have been able to grow to their current size.

Currently the far-right in Ireland are divided into many different groups and at least three registered political parties. These are 1) The National Party; a more traditional fascist organisation that grew out of Youth Defence, an anti-abortion group with ties to Neo-Nazi groups in Europe. 2) The Irish Freedom Party, a conspiratorial anti-vax “Facebook pipeline” group, founded by Hermann Kelly, a former press officer for UKIP’s Nigel Farage. 3) Ireland First, a party lead by Derek Blighe, whose membership consists largely of far-right social media influencers like Andy Heasman and Phillip Dwyer, many of the founding members are former members of the National Party.

After the anti-refugee protests, they seem to turn now to more ‘social’ issues to spread their propaganda. Can you tell us more about their campaign against books and libraries?

LB: The initial wave of far-right activity, which focused on migrants and asylum seekers was met with a strong response from the left. People Before Profit in particular played a major role in organising and promoting the 30,000 strong “Ireland For All” rally in Dublin last February. This rally was proof that the general public did not support the racist rhetoric. In the wake of this they have begun to pivot towards an anti-LGBT and anti-sex education rhetoric. This approach also seems to be an attempt to court supporters of Aontú, a Social Democratic, Catholic Conservative split from Sinn Féin that has councilors and a TD and more mainstream support. In July, an invite-only meeting of representatives from mainstream right wing opposition parties, anti abortion groups and pro-Church institutions was held to discuss opposition to sexual education, and specifically speak against a proposed new curriculum in schools that would expand sexual education to be more modern. Despite being private this meeting managed to fill the National Boxing Stadium which has a capacity of 2,000.

During the anti-refugee protests, the government buckled under far-right pressure, and made the decision to stop offering accommodation to asylum seekers who presented without children, instead offering them a paltry meal voucher, and leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets. This decision, as well as Aontú’s gear shift towards more blatantly anti-sex education rhetoric, is unfortunate proof that the establishment, and more “traditional” conservative parties are allowing themselves to be pulled further to the right by fascist agitators.

Attacks on libraries have become common in the last few months The first major one I can remember was in Swords, Dublin where the Gardaí escorted activists associated with Ireland First into the local library where they destroyed copies of books like “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson and other books written by LGBTQ+ authors. Fórsa, the union that represents librarians in Ireland called for a solidarity rally in Cork City that was attended by over 500 people, whereas an attempted far-right counter rally only attracted 20. Following this, there was an attempted attack on the library in Cork. 150 far right protestors demonstrated outside the library which was forced to close for the day as a result, a similarly sized counter demonstration was forced over 100 metres away from the library by members of the Gardaí who allowed the fascists to harass passers by.

What happened in Limerick on August 3? What did the far-right try to do and what was the response of the antifascist movement?

LB: In late July, leading figures of the Ireland First political party, Andy Heasman and Ross Lahive, began what they called “The Sovereign Voyage”. A multi-week long boat tour across the River Shannon. During this trip (which at the time of writing is still ongoing) they landed in multiple cities and towns in the Irish Midwest and began harassing librarians and passers by. Their first stop was Limerick City where they were met with resistance largely organised by Limerick Anti-Racist Network (LARN), a united front group consisting of members of People Before Profit, the Socialist Party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and various other left wing activists throughout the city. 

Prior to this action on the streets LARN activists reached out to the library staff and various bookshops throughout Limerick City to warn them about the demonstrations. The warnings were positively received and some of the bookshops hired security for the day and a watch was established outside the library and on the busiest streets of the city. When the far-right arrived in the city centre, the call to action was made and counter protestors had them packing within half an hour. Following this they moved to the library, where they were followed and denied access by counter demonstrators who stood across the entrance to the library with their arms linked together, blocking the doors. The counter protest was met with widespread support from passers by, who took time to mock the “Sovereign Voyagers”. After they were denied access to the library, Heasman and Lahive attempted to retreat to a pub, where they were denied service by staff who were aware of who they were. After more confrontation with counter protestors they sailed away from the city, accidentally forgetting two members of their boat’s crew behind as they fled in a humiliating defeat.

What is the way forward to counter the far-right offensive?

LB: I think it’s important for us as socialist activists to recognise that the socialist left and the far right agitate on many of the same issues, such as the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis, ect. These are crises caused by failures of the government, and the capitalist system at large. They target disenfranchised workers with poisonous rhetoric in an attempt to get them to turn on the rest of the working class. They tell people to blame their Syrian, Nigerian or Ukranian neighbours for conditions caused by the ruling class. People are rightfully angry at the state for its failures to address their needs, and the left needs to tap into this anger and harness it into something positive.

Trotsky said “Fascism comes only when the working class shows complete incapacity to take into its own hands the fate of society”. The socialist left cannot afford to fail to provide a real alternative to these disenfranchised working class people. We need to build up a mass movement of workers that will challenge the cost of living crisis that is being caused by price gouging energy companies and supermarkets. A mass movement that is ready to challenge the housing crisis being caused by property speculators and landlords. A mass movement that is ready to defend our libraries. A mass movement that is ready to defend our siblings in the LGBTQ+ community. A mass movement that will be ready to take on the forces of fascism when it rears its ugly head. A mass movement that will be ready to become a mass revolutionary party.

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