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After weeks of propaganda and whipping up their support, a much-reduced turnout of the Irish far-Right lined up in front of Leinster House on Saturday 1st February and were confronted by an anti-fascist, anti-racist opposition a little smaller in size but which had been convened by word of mouth alone. There were some scuffles and a couple of arrests and the far-Rightists begged for a Garda escort to leave their protest after little more than one hour.
The far-Rightists had called the demonstration allegedly in defence of “free speech”, protesting legislation proposed recently by Fine Gael against “hate speech”. Apart from the fact that the detail of the legislation has not been published yet, most on the non-institutional Left in Ireland and perhaps especially Irish Republicans, would be extremely wary of such widely-framed legislation, known to have been used in other administrations primarily against people denouncing the police, political parties, politicians and even royalty.
However, most Republicans and the non-institutional Left would not agree with the “right to free speech” which the far-Right is seeking, which is the “right” to spout virulent and lying material in the course of their racism, islamophobia, LBGTphobia, attacks on women seeking pregnancy termination or campaigning for the right to choose. In fact, we can trace the public start of the far-Right concern with “free speech” in Ireland to July 2019 when Gemma O’Doherty had her Youtube account suspended and then closed by Google, due to complaints that her racist rants were violating Google’s own standards. A similar case occurred in January in Spain when the relatively new far-Right Spanish party Vox had their Twitter account suspended, after they had accused a municipal education program on equality of “using public funds to promote paedophilia”. (see also FAR RIGHT CHANTS OF “PAEDOS” below for more on this issue).
Even thinking about the issue for a few seconds will make it clear that there is not and never has been an unfettered right to say whatever one wants in public. Long before there were modern laws against defamation of an individual based on lies, it was forbidden by the Brehon laws (the oldest surviving codified legal system in Europe) which laid down punishment for the offence. Judaic and Christian traditions have it forbidden in the Ten Commandments as have those of many other cultures. The issue is not that all speech should be free but what kind of discourse should be permitted and which should not. And it is precisely that racist discourse, LBGTphobia, Islamophobia and attacks on the rights of women that the Republicans and non-institutional Left oppose, partly for its own sake and partly because it is along those lines that fascism seeks to build itself and split the working people in order to come to rule — in a dictatorship that will soon ban any criticism whatsoever of those in power.
FAR-RIGHT CHANTS OF “PAEDOS”
Among the exchange of insults between both sides, at one point the far-Rightists were heard to chant “paedos” at their opposition. The word is an abbreviation of the word “paedophiles”, which describes people who sexually abuse children for their own twisted gratification.
Imagine if some of these far-Rightists were in one’s neighbourhood and began to accuse an anti-fascist of being a paedophile! This is one of the ways in which they abuse any right to free speech.
But in any case, what is the basis for this chant? Do they really believe that their opponents are all paedophiles? No, like the Spanish far-Right party Vox referred to earlier, they count LGBT people as equal to paedophiles, i.e people who sexually abuse children. That is how sick their thinking is. Nor do they believe that all their opponents are LGBT themselves but according to the far-Right, the fact that we uphold the right of people to decide their own sexuality and for consenting adults to choose their relationships, makes us the equivalent of those who sexually abuse children!
SURGE, SCUFFLES AND ARRESTS
At one point, a surge developed among the anti-fascists towards the south of their numbers and the general Gardaí and Public Order unit (the Gardaí are the police force of the Irish state) charged the anti-fascists with batons drawn, with which they struck a number of antifascists. A man reported to be a fascist, on the steps outside a building on the same side of the street as the antifascists, was seen lashing out downwards, presumably at antifascists, with a pair of crutches. At that point the Gardaí restrained him and later it seems arrested him but apparently they had already arrested an anti-fascist. Most of the police dived at the anti-fascists during this brief episode and a few activists were rescued from police hands. However, a fascist who crossed the road from the Leinster House side with a stick, who took a number of swings at anti-fascists, was escorted back across the road by Gardaí, apparently without any attempt to arrest him.
The far-Right rally had been scheduled for 1.00pm and at 2.15 pm they left, having begged the Gardaí for an escort, with which they were provided. Meanwhile, the riot police prevented the anti-fascists from following them.
However, a brief encounter on the quays a little later between small numbers of both groups necessitated the Gardaí once again to protect these “nationalist” warriors.
DIMINISHING AND DESERTED BY LEADERS?
Those who fancy themselves as the public leaders of the motley crew of the far-Rightists left their acolytes deserted, for apart from Yellow Vest leader and islamophobe Glen Miller, they did not attend. Neither Gemma O’Doherty nor Justin Barrett were to be seen there and the ex-British Army soldier Rowan Croft made only a brief appearance before vanishing.
As mentioned earlier, although extensively publicised in advance, the numbers of the far-Right were significantly down on previous events outside Leinster House, which may point to a limited reservoir of activists in the far-Right in Ireland, also to some inability to sustain an extended program of public events (after all, keyboard activism has been their main activity until recently).
On the other hand, their opponents, using personal contact only to mobilise from among Irish Republicans, Socialists, Anarchists and general Anti-Fascists of different organisations and none, were able to put together a counter-demonstration of a size approaching that of the far-Rightists.
However, it would be unwise to relax. The far-Right is on the rise across most of Europe; the capitalist system world-wide is heading for crisis and at such times turns to fascism to force the working people to pay for the crisis through austerity. In addition, in Ireland we are already in part of an austerity program with the bank bailout draining our taxes, our health service in crisis and no public housing program to counter spiraling homelessness and mortgage debt.
The Gombeens and foreign capitalists who feed on our sweat and blood will hesitate before taking on the working people in this country in an open fight. But with fascists and racists splitting the working people and diverting them from the cause of our woes, that would be a different matter. Continuing vigilance is required, along with mobilisation to counter their public events. But also, education of the people and giving genuine leadership in fighting for a decent life for working people of all ethnic backgrounds in Ireland.
USEFUL LINKS & SOURCES:
Dublin Republicans Against Fascism: https://www.facebook.com/Dublin-Republicans-Against-Fascism-104013457786981/
Anti-Fascist Action Ireland (they published a report from which I took some of the information here, the rest being based on my observation): https://www.facebook.com/afaireland/?