Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
01 December 2023
A bus and car on fire on O'Connell Street in Dublin city centre.
On Thursday 23rd of November three school kids and a care worker were stabbed only yards from the city’s main thoroughfare. The assailant turned out to be originally from Algeria and gave an excuse to the far right to organise and descend upon the city in an organised fashion to wreak havoc and threaten migrants.
They had planned the event prior to the stabbing. There had been other murders and serious assaults perpetrated by migrants, so statistically it was only a matter of time before another incident would happen and they could take advantage of it. They didn’t do so out of concern for young children or women. Some of the far-right groups in Ireland are influenced by a Catholic ethos, they are no friends of women. But is easy to see that it is not violence against women that concerns them, as they were largely silent when it came to the murder-suicides, some of which involved children, took place as it was white Irish Catholics who carried them out. According to Women’s Aid between 1996 and November 2023 264 women were murdered. Of them only 13% were murdered by a stranger with 170 of them being murdered in their own homes. In 23 of the 24 murder -suicide cases the victimiser was the women’s current or former partner.(1) Irish far right organisations care not about this, and some of them unsurprisingly frown upon divorce and would condemn women to live with violent males.
But facts are not an issue for them. The fact that the assailant was Algerian is an excuse, that two of the three people who intervened were foreign nationals and that one of the girls stabbed is also from a migrant background, are facts to be ignored. The discussion of the issue is not to be won on the grounds of facts alone, but politics. Though in the immediate wake of the riots and the destruction caused some of the far-right groups have gone silent in the face of the unpopularity of the destruction caused and also the uncomfortable facts surrounding the incident.
There are a number of things
that are important to bear in mind about the riots. One of them is
that they were able to freely advertise a riot and publicly call for the
murder of foreign nationals without the police stepping in to do anything.
The other is that once they arrived in the city centre, they were treated
with kid gloves, a softly softly approach was taken, as has been taken
with every other violent incident involving far right groups. This
is not surprising. The head of the Gardaí, Drew Harris, spent
much of his career in the north of Ireland doing the exact same thing with
the largest far right groups on the island: the Orange Order and Loyalist
paramilitary groups. A man whose force saw Orange marches and sectarian
attacks on Catholics in the north as culture, can only be expected to take
a lenient attitude with people who make similar claims about culture in
relation to migrants.
The other point of course is that the southern government has no strategy for dealing with the issue and are content to let fascists divide the working class whilst they pummel the working class with high rents, poor access to housing, a collapsing public health system and favour multinationals with low taxes and continue to bow the knee to national and international banks. Fascists serve two purposes, they divide the working class along racial lines and they keep migrants in check, fearing to speak out lest they be attacked.
The reaction to the riots was not unexpected. Many people were furious at the destruction caused, businesses were equally furious at the loss of earnings to city centre businesses and this was apparent in the following days by the low numbers of shoppers. Beyond that it was a very disappointing reaction.
Some in the NGOs and the Arts world came out to say that the rioters didn’t represent Ireland or Dublin city etc. Their spiel was a mixture of anger at what had happened and folksy paddywhackery of the Land of a Thousand Welcomes. It is quite clear that there are problems in Ireland and that significant numbers, even though they may be a minority, have turned to racists for answers in the absence of answers from the Left.
Sinn Féin came out as the main vehicle for questioning what had happened and quickly asserted itself, without a sense of irony, as the Party of Law and Order. Given that Fine Gael once set up a Heavy Gang within the Gardaí to torture suspects in police custody, outdoing Fine Gael is no small effort, but they did manage to do it. The discussion has mainly focused on the number of Gardaí, police stations, equipment etc. And the government’s headlong rush to introduce new repressive legislation, issue the Gardaí with tasers and of course resurrect the moribund Hate Speech Bill is unlikely to meet with much opposition in the Dáil. What discussion there will be, will mostly centre on technical aspects of equipment and not on political aspects.
There was some mention made of socio-economic issues, but these have taken a back seat to law-and-order issues and yet for the Left they should be key issues. One thing the Right have taken advantage of is the housing crisis. They blame migrants rather than all of the parties, including Sinn Féin, who voted for the bank bailout. They don’t blame successive governments’ economic policies going back to the 1970s when the last big public housing schemes were complete and governments began to sell off housing stock. Their solution is to reduce demand by expelling migrants. The Left’s answer has been almost exclusively parliamentary, at least that of the main groups and they propose to resolve the crisis through an increase in the supply of what are termed “affordable” houses. Like the far Right they are incapable of breaking with the market and calling for universal public housing.
The Trade Union movement did what it does best, it struts like a Peacock on show, showing off its fancy banners and does no more. Earlier in the year it was one of the organisers of a very apolitical anti-racist march in Dublin, which was successful at least in terms of numbers, though not in demands. The march made no calls for real working-class unity with migrants as the unions implement government policy on housing, health and other matters through the Social Partnership Agreements. This time a march would have had an added edge to it, in the wake of the riots, but they opted for not calling for any march nor any initiatives around migrant workers’ rights. Instead, they called for a rally at 1 PM on the following Monday at the GPO and cap in hand and on bended knee petitioned the companies in the city centre to allow their workers to attend. In the end, a couple of hundred mainly trade union bureaucrats and the like turned up. A predictably weak response to a major attack on migrants in Ireland. No surprise, their record on migrant workers’ rights was exposed long ago when they unionised Turkish workers on the GAMA building site, without their knowledge, collected union dues from the company, without the workers knowing all the while they were being paid a pittance, around 2-3 euros an hour, in violation of the law and eventually sued the company for the underpayment of 40 million euros.(2) They took the Turkish workers union dues without them even knowing they were in a union. They won’t stand up to the government now to defend migrants or fight racism. They could have called a major march, but they are as just afraid of workers, migrant or Irish, as the state is.
We are likely now to see an increase in Gardaí powers, the implementation of weapons such as tasers, pepper sprays and hate speech legislation that will criminalise thoughts, including support for Palestine and also possible restrictions on the right of assembly. The Left should not be backing these measures at all, they should not just emphasise the social and political issues, these should be its only focus. Law and Order measures will always be used more against those fighting racism than against racists, that is the history of such measures around the world. Posturing for votes in elections solves nothing, especially when they pander to reactionary elements.
(1) Women’s Aid (11/11/2023) Women included in the Women’s Aid Femicide Watch 1996-2023. https://www.womensaid.ie/app/uploads/2023/11/Womens-Aid-Femicide-Watch-1996-2023.pdf
(2) Irish Times (04/10/2018) Gama Construction workers’ case back before the High Court. Mary Carolan https://www.irishtimes.com/business/construction/gama-construction-workers-case-back-before-high-court-1.3651882