Refugees and the far-right in Ireland: Interview with Diarmuid Flood

ISp interviewed Diarmuid Flood about the escalating situation with far-right anti-refugee protests in Ireland. Diarmuid Flood is a member of Ireland’s largest ecosocialist party People Before Profit and RISE – a revolutionary Marxist network which operates within it. He is a regular contributor to RISE’s publication Rupture and its podcast Rupture Radio.

ISp: What is the current situation around the refugee crisis in Ireland? What do the events on Sandwith Street symbolise?

DF: In late 2022 the Irish government agreed to take in 70,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion. This was on top of existing obligations to take refugees from Syria, Georgia, and elsewhere.

However, in line with their disastrous housing policies and the ongoing crisis, the government chose not to accommodate these refugees with adequate housing and instead bundled them into ‘accommodation centres’ which were in reality repurposed office blocks and warehouses in mainly working-class communities.

In the context of general frustration with the housing crisis and rising cost of living, the far-right grasped onto this and made these centres the focus of attention and outrage. They have had some success in spreading misinformation about migrants and refugees in these communities. This has been achieved through the circulation of fake videos and messages claiming that ‘violent’ ‘unvetted’ ‘military-aged’ males were being bussed into communities. They further make it seem that these refugees present a threat to women and children and back this up with fake stories and reports. Often real stories of crimes by Irish people are reframed to make it seem as if they were carried out by migrants or refugees. Protests have been organised along these lines.

These protests have taken place in working class communities across the country – in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Down, and Kilkenny since late 2022. Often playing a central role in these protests is the established network of far-right groups who seek to harden the racist ideas present and spread misinformation. These groups, which experienced a boost in support during the Covid-19 pandemic, have had some success in targeting refugees and migrants and scapegoating them for the failures of the Irish government.

This culminated in a clash in Dublin’s inner city on Sandwith Street where the far-right targeted a camp of refugees and whipped up fear and suspicion in the local area. A number of antiracist and left groups showed up to defend the camp but in the end the camp was evacuated, and far-right activists burned the refugee’s tents and remaining belongings.

ISp: What do you think are the prospects of the Anti-Immigrant movement in Ireland? By the look of things is it possible that the Irish government will stop taking more refugees and immigrants? 

DF: The far-right have successfully built a network of activists across the country and at this moment they are energised and have been travelling across the country targeting these refuge centres often dishonestly posing themselves as ‘concerned parents’ from the local community.

While at this stage their movement remains marginal in Irish society there is a real danger that they could continue growing in the context of widespread frustration.

On the second question, the Irish government has already buckled to this pressure and, while echoing many of the lines peddled by the far right around ‘genuine concerns’, have established separate asylum processes for Ukrainian refugees and refugees from everywhere else. This has led to many refugees from the latter group sleeping rough on the streets where they are easily targeted by the far right. It is likely the government will make further concessions.

ISp: We learned that the far-right has targeted the Left and antiracists. The house of People Before Profit representative Paul Murphy was targeted by far-right elements and his wife received death threats. What do you think should be the answer to these provocations?

DF: Activists in People Before Profit, including those in the RISE network, have been working to build united fronts against the far right in local communities and have been part of organising counter-demonstrations and solidarity rallies. In February a mass demonstration was held under the banner of ‘Ireland for All’. This saw a turnout of nearly 30,000 people in Dublin and had a real effect in removing the momentum from the far right.

Unfortunately, with events like Sandwith Street they have regained this momentum and so our activists are again involved in organising another demonstration for World Refugee Day on June 20th. This is along with consistent work in communities and focus on building effective united fronts.

Part of our work has also been to produce material which tackles the propaganda of the far-right for distribution online and in communities. This has included taking up the notion that these refugees present some threat or that they are the source of the issues in housing rather than the Irish government and the system they stand behind.

When it comes to strategy, we have advocated that the left take up a number of initiatives which were outlined by Paul Murphy in a Rupture article from January. It was stated this strategy should include:

1.    Major national mobilisations against the far-right and racist ideas. As well as a major national protest as soon as possible, we should try to bring together cultural and musical figures to participate in a ‘Rock Against Racism’ type event mobilising tens of thousands of people.

2.    Building community groups right across the country. These should involve progressive forces, but explicitly exclude government parties and criticise the government. Importantly, they should root themselves in working class communities, pre-empting protests of the far-right where possible and cutting across them.

3.    Working within the trade unions to win them to active participation in the fight against racist and far-right ideas. They should be seeking to mobilise their members against the attempts to divide working class people.

4.    Producing material which tackles the propaganda of the far-right for distribution online and in communities. While we should not imply that whole communities are racist, we should not hesitate in tackling the racist lies which are being spread. 

5.    Confronting the far-right where they seek to openly organise. We cannot cede the streets to the far-right.

ISp: Do you think the far-right is getting more organised and might turn into fascist group of substantial size if not confronted? 

DF: It has become abundantly clear that the far-right in Ireland presents a real threat. They have successfully built on the toehold they established during the pandemic and have created a network of activists across the country. Their ideas are finding a minor echo across society and they are targeting socialist activists in order to drive a wedge between them and the working class communities they represent. It is undeniable that the far right have become more organised and have an opportunity to develop further. While this is only minor at this stage, the left have to treat this as a serious threat and respond accordingly. There has been some success in deploying the strategy I have outlined but it is clear the struggle is far from over. 

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