Another weekend in Dublin, another spate of protest. On Saturday there was an anti-eviction demonstration outside Dublin City Council’s offices on Wood Quay. And north of the Liffey a larger crowd staged another protest. Part of the continuum of anti-refugee protests we are seeing in Dublin and around the country.
At the outset of the gathering on Parnell Square, a female speaker began by saying people were cautious about attending the protest because of who was “running it”. She said no one was and that it was a community spontaneously organising itself. She then ranted about “scumbag lefties”, stood up for Graham Carey, a supporter and organiser of anti-immigration protests who was arrested last week, charged under incitement to hatred legislation and barred from social media.
“They are not our government,” she said of the Government, and claimed people shouting the now infamous “get them out” chant at protests, were referring to Government politicians. If that’s the case, one wonders why protests gravitated towards buildings housing refugees to chant that. Then the quick and inevitable slide into conspiracy. She told the crowd that new proposed hate crime legislation was really about the State “having more control over you”. She spoke conspiratorially about “15-minute cities” (this criticism relates to a conspiracy theory about climate-related initiatives) and said all of this was about “dictatorship”, and wanting to turn Ireland into “communist China”.
There were also instructions to the crowd on how to deal with counter-protests. Counter-protesting was seen as an existential threat because of the media and social media coverage it garners. “The only opposition in Ireland is these counter-protests,” she said. “Don’t turn your cameras on them, turn your backs on them,” she told the crowd.
This sentiment will surely boost and encourage those currently counter-protesting, especially ahead of a large Ireland For All protest calling for “diversity not division”, planned for Dublin on Saturday, February 18th. “Shame on you”, one group of women chanted at the small counter-protest opposite the Garden of Remembrance, a smattering of people with “Refugees Welcome Here” placards and a Forsa trade union banner.
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Leo Varadkar, Mary Lou McDonald, Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy were the politicians who were the target of the most vitriol on Saturday. What’s notable at these protests, in terms of political affiliation, is the level of ire directed towards People Before Profit and Sinn Féin, with Sinn Féin packaged as alternately communist and the political establishment. Now there is a party called Ireland First. One of their banners was an attack on Sinn Féin, declaring that party’s perceived position: “Brits Out! Everybody else in!”
“We don’t want them here,” another speaker roared. A new entity was announced, calling itself Irish Communities Together. The march took a circuitous route down O’Connell Street, then the south quays up to Christchuch, down Dame Street and back up to the GPO.
Some people articulated their fury at being depicted as “far-right” or racist. A great way to not be perceived as this is of course not to make up the numbers at a protest where racist rhetoric is rampant. If that’s what you’re participating in, then you have to take responsibility for that, and also appreciate the dangerous atmosphere the protests are contributing to. This includes racist street attacks.
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For all the talk about nobody being in charge, there was one man who appeared to be co-ordinating things, instructing which direction to march in, how long to block streets for and where to go next. When I approached him, identifying myself as a journalist, and asked him about his role, his calm demeanour changed and he became abusive, repeatedly telling me to “f*** off” and instructed others in the crowd not to speak to me. Others joined in with the abuse.
These protests are complex. How do you point out to people that their insistence they’re not racist is unfortunately coinciding alongside racism? Why is there no frankness about why concerns about communities are being filtered through an anti-immigration, anti-refugee sentiment? No one can deny that’s a large part of the feeling at these protests, so why are some people very comfortable with that whereas other people would run a mile from it?
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As passersby stood stoney-faced watching it unfold, there was only one shout of support I saw and heard from a pedestrian. “Get the foreign c***s out,” a man shouted in agreement. Even if protesters wanted to argue that they themselves aren’t racist, look at the racism it unlocks. The saddest part of Saturday were when young children in the crowd mimicked things they were hearing. “Get them out,” a young boy shouted in between blowing on a whistle. Another young boy at the GPO, was riled up, screaming, “Get the f*** out of our country.” That’s not reasonable. And that’s not parents keeping their children “safe”, it’s teaching them some very ugly lessons.