Ireland must beware of the far-right virus of intolerance and xenophobia

Let us face our problems head on, without blaming on minorities or imagined boogeymen

Spring is in the air, the temperatures are beginning to rise, the birds are singing, pretty soon the leaves and flowers will begin to bloom.

It is hard for Insider not to feel a little optimistic at this time of year, and with the announcement that the vaccine rollout is finally starting to shift up a gear, perhaps we could be forgiven for thinking that there is finally some light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

We are all sick to the back teeth of lockdown and the whole Covid-19 disaster, and the sooner this ends and things return to normal, the better. However, despite the optimism the vaccine instills, it is still going to be sometime before we can put all of this behind us, and even though restrictions might be lifted to some extent over the coming months, certain control measures are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, such as masks and social distancing, etc.

Restrictions will remain

According to Dr Kim Roberts, a virologist at Trinity College Dublin, the reason control measures will need to remain in place even after the vaccine has been administered is because the vaccine alone is unlikely to be sufficient to achieve full herd immunity. When we consider that young children are currently not in line to be given the jab, and that the virus is transmissible by certain animal species, as well as the threat of new variants - not to mention some adults who would likely refuse the vaccine because they have read too many conspiracy theories on social media - all of this points to the likelihood of some forms of restrictions being necessary for at least the rest of this year and quite possibly beyond.

Insider is not going to go on and on about the mess the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Green Government made in lifting of restrictions over Christmas that resulted in the State being plunged into our current level of crisis. We all know the coalition made a mess of it. Just as the Government received praise for its initial handling of the virus outbreak, it must now face up to its mismanagement of the situation over recent months.

Dublin protests

We are all understandably fed up with lockdown and we are eager to see things return to normal, where we can once again shift our focus away from Covid related issues and back to the problems of how the capitalist private market orthodoxy is unable to solve the housing and homelessness crisis, the environmental crisis and the underlying economic problems that decades of right wing political ideology have created.

However, in our desire to return to some level of normality we cannot let the scenes that unfolded in Dublin last Saturday become ingrained within the situation. Insider is of course referring to the anti-lockdown rally organised by far-right groups in conjunction with conspiracy theorists, and certain members of the public who are understandably frustrated by the current situation.

'Sinclair Lewis said, “if fascism ever came to Ireland it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross". This certainly rings true of how these far-right groups like to present themselves'

This demonstration descended into chaos after fireworks were used to attack members of An Garda Síochána, which resulted in the Guards batton charging the unruly protesters. Unfortunately, never missing an opportunity to try and tar the Left with the same brush as the far-right, Garda commissioner Drew Harris issued a statement where he declared this demonstration was organized by "both the far-right and far-Left groups", he has since retracted this accusation that Left groups were involved but unfortunately many people may still be under the mistaken impression that this was the case.

Leaving aside the fact that the far-right and the Left are on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, and the notion of them coordinating on anything being extremely implausible, one would have to overlook the radically different attitudes to the Covid crisis that have been adopted by these very different groups.

The Left take the threat presented by Covid-19 very seriously, whereas the far-right have tended to look at it as some form of State conspiracy. Another feature of last Saturday’s rally was the number of Tricolors and Irish Free State flags on display. These groups like to present themselves as patriots and to try and tap into nationalism as a means to attract people to their banner.

To paraphrase a quote that is attributed to Sinclair Lewis, “if fascism ever came to Ireland it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross“, and this certainly rings true of how these far-Right groups like to present themselves.

Let us be optimistic

We should not overstate the size or influence of the far-right in Ireland, they are still relatively small and unorganised, but we should be cautious not to replace the virus that is Covid-19 with the virus of intolerance, xenophobia, and ethno-nationalism represented by these far-right groups and individuals.

'Let us build a future that is tolerant of diversity and shared cultural experience and that strives for equality'

Obviously the problems we face as a society run much deeper than the current Covid catastrophe, but the only way we are ever going to overcome them is to change the political and economic policies which underpin them, and not by attributing these problems to invented causes aimed at distracting people away from the reality of the situation.

Say what you will about groups on the Left such as the Socialist Party/Solidarity, but at least they analyse the situation based on the economic, social, and political reality and in that context there is no need to resort to the conspiracy or racism or xenophobia of the far-right.

So let us be optimistic about the future, let us face the problems that will inevitably arise head on, but let us do it in a way that is inclusive, that does not place the blame on minorities or imagined boogeymen, let us build a future that is tolerant of diversity and shared cultural experience and that strives for equality.


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