The Irish will not be silenced
The Dublin riots and their aftermath revealed a nation roiled by mass migration.
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Last November, Dublin was in flames. Cars and a tram were torched, shops were looted and several-hundred rioters fought pitched battles with the police. It amounted to the worst case of civil disorder in recent Irish history.
Those awful scenes, captured on smartphones and shared on social media, reverberated far beyond Ireland. For they touched on issues that are roiling nations across the West. The riots and their aftermath revealed simmering tensions over migration and asylum – and an elite that would rather silence ordinary people than listen to their concerns.
The riots in Dublin on 23 November 2023 were preceded by protests, sparked by a horrific knife attack on a woman and three young children outside a Dublin primary school earlier that day. Rumours swirled that a man of migrant background had been the perpetrator.
The authorities kept schtum, apparently fearful of the public response. Later, it emerged that the alleged perpetrator was an Irish-Algerian national, who was once the subject of a deportation order. He was known to Irish police and had been caught in possession of a knife earlier that year.
This appalling incident brought a deep discontent about mass immigration and Ireland’s dysfunctional asylum system to the surface. Protesters assembled in the centre of Dublin. As the evening wore on, opportunists hijacked proceedings and things turned ugly.
The wanton, inexcusable violence was jumped on by the Irish elites to dismiss all public outcry about immigration as ‘far right’. Pundits and politicians adopted a ‘nothing to see here’ approach to the knife attack, while furiously condemning the riots.
The concerns that brought people peacefully out on to the streets that day were brushed under the carpet. But that’s simply not going to cut it anymore.
The Irish government has presided over unprecedented levels of immigration. In the year to April 2023, new arrivals reached a 16-year high, of 140,000. This included 42,000 Ukrainians. Ireland has taken in more Ukrainian refugees per capita than the UK, Germany and France.
The demographics of Ireland have also changed hugely in the space of a few decades. At the time of the 1991 census, six per cent of the Irish population was born outside Ireland. By the 2002 census, this figure had doubled to 12 per cent. And by the 2022 census, it had reached 20 per cent.
What’s more, the Irish government is currently opening its doors to more and more people at a time of economic hardship, when community resources are sparse and public infrastructure is creaking. The Irish asylum system is also struggling to digest the numbers. Ireland has one of the longest backlogs of asylum claims in Europe.
Such a seismic shift would have raised issues for any society. Not least because Irish people were never really asked their views on any of this. Instead of listening to the issues being raised in town halls and pubs, the Irish elites have decided to close their ears and carry on.
Of course, immigrants and refugees are not responsible for Ireland’s economic struggles. Nor are they responsible for Ireland’s chronic housing shortage. But the influx and the woeful way it has been handled was bound to cause tensions and a strain on already strained resources. Housing was expensive, and increasingly hard to come by, before this new era of migration into Ireland. Hotels, guest houses and leisure centres – community resources that had been long-fought-for – were turned over to house Ukrainian refugees almost overnight. This was a recipe for trouble.
The tensions we saw explode out into the open in November had been building for some time. Over the past few years, there have been regular protests in working-class areas, blockading roads to migrant accommodation centres. In January 2023, hundreds marched through Dublin to oppose immigration, complete with tricolours and the slogan ‘Ireland is full’.
Scepticism about immigration is not some fringe, far-right sentiment in Ireland, either. An opinion poll conducted in May last year showed that 75 per cent of people believed Ireland was accepting too many refugees. Their reasons are clear enough. Irish people don’t hate newcomers. But they can see that resources are being stretched too thin.
The often impoverished communities in which the government has decided to accommodate thousands of refugees simply cannot cope. As one local resident, who was protesting against the housing of asylum seekers in Rosslare Harbour, told the Irish Times in December: ‘There are no services here. There is nothing for them to do or nowhere for them to work. There’s very little in the community.’
Many people are also worried that new arrivals are not being integrated into society. As one Irish barrister, who comes from an immigrant background herself, has put it: ‘Ireland tends to welcome migrants and asylum seekers but does very little after that in relation to integration.’
Rather than listen to people’s legitimate grievances, the Irish elites have resorted to the classic playbook: they have demonised dissenters as racist. Irish president Michael D Higgins even accused those peacefully marching against immigration in January last year of ‘sowing hate’.
Fears that a dysfunctional, overly lax immigration and asylum system may be opening the door to dangerous individuals have been ignored, despite a string of such cases. There is an elite conspiracy of silence following horrific acts of violence committed by migrants.
In 2022, 23-year-old teacher Ashling Murphy was brutally murdered. Initially, pundits blamed Ireland’s supposedly sexist culture for legitimising violence against women. When it emerged that the killer was a Slovakian called Jozef Puska, that particular discussion dried up.
At Puska’s sentencing, Murphy’s boyfriend, Ryan Casey, read out his victim-impact statement. He said he was ‘sickened’ by the fact that Puska – who benefitted from social housing and support for many years, all while failing to hold down a job – could go on to commit ‘such a horrendous, evil act of incomprehensible violence’. ‘This country needs to wake up’, Casey said. ‘This time, things have got to change. We have to, once and for all, start putting the safety of not only Irish people, but everybody in this country who works hard, pays taxes, raises families and overall contributes to society, first.’
Some media outlets deliberately omitted the statement from their coverage. One Irish Times journalist defended this decision by saying Casey’s statement constituted ‘incitement to hatred’. It would not be ‘helpful’ to share it, she said. This is despite the fact that Casey made clear he was worried about the welfare of all Irish citizens, not just those of Irish descent.
This elite silencing was also on full display after the Dublin riots. Garda commissioner Drew Harris dismissed what happened as the work of a ‘complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology’. The violence of opportunistic criminals and far-right activists was seized upon to demonise the concerns of broader society. Meanwhile, Irish people were left wondering why the elites had found more energy to wring their hands over the far right, than they had over a brutal knife attack on small children.
Of course, the Irish public have no sympathy with those who ran riot in November, or with far-right agitators who blame immigrants for all of society’s ills. They are just concerned about the impact of immigration on their communities. And they are refusing to be ignored.
But ignoring the public is precisely what the government is intent on doing. Ministers even exploited the riots to make the case for a new suite of hate-crime laws. If passed, these would criminalise speech that could be perceived by minorities as hateful, regardless of intent or context. Such broad and subjective restrictions have the potential to silence speech that is merely critical of immigration.
This will do nothing to help migrants or refugees or anyone else in Irish society. Censorship won’t address the dysfunctions of the asylum system or the inadequacy of public services or the shortage of accommodation or the poor levels of integration. But it will clamp down on citizens’ ability to discuss all these issues and more.
None of this is to say that there aren’t some dangerous, anti-migrant elements within Irish society. There undoubtedly are – and they need to be rooted out. Gardai in Galway are currently investigating a fire at a hotel, which was earmarked for asylum seekers but empty at the time. They currently believe a local person, opposed to immigration, was the culprit.
Most Irish people are sickened by such violence. Nevertheless, the awful actions of a few cannot – indeed, must not – be used to silence the many.
Irish people, along with people across the West, are not filled with hatred for immigrants. They do not think that everyone who wants to come to their country is a would-be drain on resources or a threat to public safety. They are just furious with an establishment that would rather censor citizens than listen to them. They are furious with an establishment that refuses to admit anything is wrong. And they are not going to be quiet any longer.
Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist.
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