In the aftermath of last month’s protests, Grace Donnellan discusses her opinion of the rise of the far right in Ireland
Until recently, many would have argued that the rise of far-right politics, which has been prevalent in both Europe and the US, as well as the conspiracy theories that often accompany this ascent, had not yet reached Ireland. However, the anti-lockdown and anti-mask movements that have gained popularity over the past few months and are intrinsically linked with this form of politics have shown that Ireland has not escaped the proliferation of the far right.
This was clearly evidenced at the anti-lockdown protests in Dublin at the end of February. Two women interviewed at the protests shared their beliefs that babies in Ireland were being killed and harvested for “adrenochrome” to keep RTÉ celebrities “looking young”. While many may laugh off comments like these, they are examples of the importation of far-right QAnon style conspiracy theories to Ireland. This issue with misinformation and conspiracy theories deserves to be taken seriously. The baseless theory surrounding QAnon is centred on an anonymous, allegedly high-ranking government official known as Q who posted information regarding a ‘deep state’ working against Donald Trump when he was president, with ties to satanism and child sex trafficking. It is linked to white supremacy, neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism and violence against minorities. In the US, QAnon has crept into mainstream politics, with people associated with the movement believed to be involved in the Capitol riots and Marjorie Taylor Greene, a believer of Q, being elected to Congress. Much evidence shows that once people fall down rabbit holes related to these conspiracy theories and misinformation, it is very hard to change their mind. Prevention would appear to be the best cure. There is a need for vigilance with regards to their prevalence here in Ireland, and it is important not to dismiss them as ridiculous and without consequence.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created an environment for these conspiracy theories to proliferate. In Ireland, elements of these theories seem to have been adopted by anti-lockdown and anti-5G groups. Individuals mistrustful of the government, those with anti-vaccination sympathies and even simply those exasperated with a year in lockdown, have been targets of right-wing recruiters. Fringe right wing political parties such as the Irish Freedom Party and The National Party have also benefited from this spread of misinformation. At a rally held in August, similar to the recent protests, Dolores Cahill, chair of the Irish Freedom Party and Professor in the UCD School of Medicine, was given an audience.
Some of these Irish anti-lockdown protests have descended into violence. LGBT+ campaigner Izzy Kamikaze was attacked while counter-protesting an anti-face mask rally in September, while protestors launched fireworks at the Gardaí in February.
One major problem regarding the far right in Ireland is the lack of understanding surrounding it. In March, Billy Kelleher, a Fianna Fáil MEP, tweeted that “there is no difference between the far right and extreme left”. This kind of rhetoric displays a profound lack of political understanding. It is also harmful as it downplays the seriousness of the threat the far right pose by comparing it to a non-existent ‘extreme left’. In reality the far right and the far left share very few similarities. This horseshoe theory of politics can be appealing to centrist politicians as it allows them to discredit the left, which would act against their interests if in power, and simultaneously disavow any complicity they have in the far-right movement. In October 2019, Kelleher was absent from a vote on enhancing protections for refugees crossing the Mediterranean. The amendment failed by two votes, a result which was favourable among the far right. Fine Gael has actively worked with far-right politicians, such as Victor Orbán and Janez Janša, as members of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament. Far-right activists are emboldened by these attitudes. As well as by the Irish media, who often bring on right-wing figures in the name of both-sides-ism.
The increase in these far-right protests over the past year, despite a pandemic, demonstrate that we should no longer consider Ireland as a country free from conspiracy theories and misinformation. There is a wealth of discourse surrounding how to prevent this kind of rhetoric from permeating online, however, it is also spreading right in front of our eyes. The most important lesson we can take from other countries is to take this seriously and intervene early to prevent larger amounts of the population from being introduced and subscribing to far-right claims. In order for this to be possible, we need our politicians to reflect on their own actions and take a firm line against these movements once and for all.