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Report on the Ireland for All march and rally

Jon Morris

21 February 2023

Ireland for All march in Dublin.

The march and rally held in Dublin (18/02/23), organised under the banner of Ireland for All as a response to the upsurge in anti-immigrant/anti-refugee protests across the state, was a powerful counter to the narrative of a rising tide of racism that has been making the headlines.  The tens of thousands of people participating, and the wide range of groups represented, contrasted starkly with the relatively small numbers involved in the recent street agitation by racists and outright fascists.

In terms of composition the march had a relatively young age profile and had representation from Ireland’s various migrant and ethnic communities. The most numerous participants were organised workers with most of the contingents of people who made up the march parading behind trade union banners.  There were also a lot of NGOs and community groups but numbers associated with them were small. A range of political parties supported the demonstration with People Before Profit accounting for the largest contingent.  Sinn Féin were also present but the relatively low numbers they turned out suggested this was more of a token gesture than a serious mobilisation on their part.

The march began at Parnell Square and ended outside the Custom House, where it was addressed by a number of speakers. The headline speaker was former MP and veteran civil rights activist Bernadette McAliskey.  She told the crowd it was wrong to say that Ireland has no room for refugees when the island’s population remains lower than pre-famine levels.  “Our crisis is not that we have no room,” said McAliskey. “It’s that we have a crisis of humanity, a crisis of capitalism, a crisis of greed, prejudice and ignorance that needs sorting.” Leon Diop, creator of the Black and Irish organisation, also addressed the crowd, saying “The far-right are playing on people’s fears to shift the blame for these long-standing issues onto refugees, and that is absolutely wrong. It is the government’s fault. We need to replace this culture of fear and frustration with a culture of empathy.” Activist and academic Ailbhe Smyth told the rally that the large turnout was important as it sent out a "huge message" to the Government.  "We are here to stand up against the hatred and disinformation being spewed out by far-right extremists.” she said. "Their vile racism, transphobia and misogyny, deliberately scapegoating minorities, ratcheting up people's fears and anxieties, driving a wedge in working class communities - we will not stand for that."

Criticism of the Government was a common theme among speakers. Dr Salome Mbugua, founder of AkiDwA, a national network of migrant women living in Ireland, said: “The issue of housing has been there for many years. Ask the government to deal with that. They should be going to demonstrate at the Dáil, not at asylum-seeking houses.”  Memet Uluda?, Chair of United Against Racism, referenced societal problems such as the housing crisis and cost of living, saying: “We are not to blame, but the government is. Hate, lies, and racism are not going to build us better hospitals,” Uluda?, said.  Speakers also pleaded for an end to anti-immigration demonstrations that have seen asylum-seekers being intimidated.  “The impact that these protests are having, it’s very huge. It’s scary to the people who are in these centres, it’s scary to the children who are afraid, who ask ‘When they come to us, will they come and shoot us?’ It’s very bad,” said Lucky Khambule, co-founder of Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland.

During the event, folk singer Christy Moore sang a rendition of Viva La Quinta Brigada, a song in tribute to Irish soldiers who fought against fascism in the Spanish civil war. “My primary purpose is to express revulsion for the hatred and violence fomented by a small minority who daily attack those unfortunate people who have come here seeking sanctuary from war, hunger, poverty and oppression,” Moore said.

While the march and rally can be deemed a success, in terms of mobilisation, there are a number of weaknesses that should not be overlooked.  One of these is the very broadness of the Ireland for All coalition.  For example, the demonstration on Saturday was endorsed by 100 organisations.  The problem is that many of these are organisations in name only and bring very little social weight to a movement.  Many of the organisations are also NGO’s that are dependent upon the government for their existence.  Their political independence is limited and any movement that seeks to incorporate them will reflect these limitations.  It should also be pointed out that some of the most prominent NGOs, such Amnesty International and the National Women's Council of Ireland, have dubious political records with the focus of recent campaigns being the censorship of individuals and groups that don’t subscribe to their views on gender identity.  Moreover, the attempts to equate racism with transphobia and brand women’s rights activists as fascists, would seriously hinder the building of an anti-racist movement.

Whilst there is some criticism of the state and government it is kept within strict boundaries.  This is not to say that issues cannot be raised, and there were strong points made by a number of the platform speakers, as reported above, but there was no sense that they were talking on behalf of a campaign.  The actual platform of Ireland for All is actually quite threadbare and is hung around vague slogans such as “Stronger Together” and “Diversity Not Division”.  The banner which led the march included the words “Housing / Healthcare / Services” which, while gesturing towards the material underpinnings of racist sentiment, offers no serious proposals on how these can be addressed.

Ireland for All bears all the hallmarks of the trade union bureaucrats who are clearly the main organising force behind it. One of the features of all these campaigns is that they are made as broad as possible.  In this way the working-class component, which should be the most important, is reduced to just one sectional interest among many others. A second feature, again in the interests of broadness, is that the demands are kept as vague as possible, and certainly don’t include anything that challenges the fundamentals of the government's programme.  A third feature is the strong emphasis on lobbying. These are the key elements of the social partnership model which the trade unions have been locked into for almost forty years and which is applied to every issue from housing and health and now to anti-racism.  What is also notable is that the unions, despite being the key organisers of these campaigners, have nothing to say.  For example, there was no trade union speaker on the platform on Saturday.  It was left to activists, largely from the NGO sector, to make the public statements.  But were they talking on behalf of anyone other than themselves and the small organisations they represented?

While the Dublin demonstration was impressive in terms of numbers and also in terms of some of what was said from the platform it is severely limited by being locked into a conservative political outlook.  For example, if you cannot challenge the government on housing, an issue the racist agitators have latched onto, how can you challenge racism?  If you say you are concerned over conditions for refugees, how can you remain silent on (or even supportive of) the war in Ukraine which is forcing millions to flee their homes?

A serious anti-racist movement will have to take up issues that challenge the status quo and that will inevitably place them in opposition to the government.  This will be even more the case as the Irish government increasingly panders to racism to deflect public attention away from its fallings on housing and health and the consequences of the escalating war in Ukraine.  The thugs in the streets may be getting all the attention at the moment, and it is easy to be against them, but it is the official racism of the state, evidenced by detention centres, deportations and the tightening of citizenship rules, that is stronger and more insidious and will prove to be the greater threat.

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