Two protests in Dublin city centre on Monday afternoon were separated by just 500 metres and a matter of minutes but could scarcely have been further apart in terms of attitude and approach to the issue of immigration and asylum seekers.
The first protest, which took place at the foot of the Spire on O’Connell Street, was organised by Le Chéile, an organisation with the stated aim of promoting diversity in Irish society.
Speakers highlighted the need to accommodate people fleeing persecution and criticised the Government for not doing enough to manage the situation which, the gathering was told, had been used by the far-right to push a “hate-filled” agenda.
“We cannot let the actions of a hate-filled minority go unopposed,” Steph Hanlon of Le Chéile told a gathering of close to 500 people.
“We cannot let them spread misinformation, and whip up anger about a crisis, to blame minorities, [for what] the Government is responsible for. We cannot let them use the language of civil rights to push an ideology that aims to extinguish them.”
She criticised vulture funds and highlighted tens of thousands of empty dwellings which could be used to house people, while pointing to Government failings on the issue of housing.
She said the far-right had capitalised on real issues to “sow seeds of division and hatred in our local communities and totally weaponise this. The far-right do not care about women, they’re not concerned about women or children. They’re using this concern as a smokescreen for spreading hate.”
Some 30 minutes after the Le Chéile protest began another protest got under way outside Connolly Station with the crowd swelling to in excess of 1,000 people over the course of a lengthy march which went from the railway station to the offices of Independent News and Media.
From there the protest went to the offices of The Irish Times and then on to the similarly quiet headquarters of Newstalk and Today FM via a busy Grafton Street with the by then dwindling number of protesters moving on to Government Buildings and to the offices of FM104 close to the 3Arena.
At each stop speakers addressed the crowd with the Government, the Opposition, the unions and the media all characterised as liars or traitors with “blood on their hands”.
“We have shifted the political ground,” said Malachy Steenson, a north inner city activist and a leading member of the East Wall residents’ group which launched a series of anti-immigration protests beginning late last year.
“This is the force grassroots movement that is growing from the ground up to have no leaders and no formal structures, and they just can’t understand why after lecturing us for years we don’t just say: ‘Ah, carry on lads.’”
Gavin Pepper from Finglas who addressed the crowd outside the offices of The Irish Times criticised the media for its coverage of the immigration issue and the protests that had taken place in recent times.
He said protesters were “sick of being called racist, we’re sick of being called liars” before going on to say the group was “out for the safety of our kids; that’s all we are here for and they are not safe on the streets of Dublin any more”.