(Reading time: 10 mins.)
A group of antifascists, broad in composition but not large in numbers, went to counter-protest a rally in Dublin last Saturday and were attacked by a much larger mob, some of them armed, leaving one of the counter-protesters unconscious. The Gardaí then intervened, including members of the Public Order Unit, treating the assailants gently but pushing and shoving the anti-fascists and threatening them with drawn batons. What was all this about?
The event had been called by a rarely–heard-of organisation called Health Freedom Ireland and was advertised as being a “Protest Against Oppressive Government Restrictions and Mandates”, in opposition to Government restrictions around the spread of Covid19, against social distancing and the wearing of masks requirements and against any notion of the implementation of a vaccination program. According to the media, HFI is led by anti-vaccination campaigners Maeve Murran and Kelly Johnston, claiming that vaccination can cause autism.
So one might object to the stated purpose of the rally on health grounds, or intellectually reject the implied conspiracy theories, but why would antifascists specifically want to counter-protest this event? The answer becomes clearer when we examine the organisers of the event, some of the speakers and some of the supporting groups.
The event was to be officially co-hosted by the Irish Yellow Vests, a very small group led by the notorious Islamophobe Glen Miller. He and Ben Gilroy, one of the featured speakers, had tried to bind together such disparate groups as campaigners around the right to housing, water, against the bailouts of the bankers and subsequent austerity measures, evictions, against corruption, State repression — but also those with strange conspiracy theories. As a result the Yellow Vests had briefly enjoyed some support from a cross-section of forces opposed to the Government until Miller’s Islamophobia and the racist agenda of some of his supporters became clear, after which the group faded from the scene (though Miller could occasionally be seen supporting events of the Far-Right, such as in February outside Leinster House, against mooted “anti-hate speech laws”).
One of the speakers to be featured was Dolores Cahill, 2nd in the leadership of the Irish Freedom Party, another small anti-immigration and for a “Catholic Ireland” right-wing party and in attendance was its Chair Jim Corr and PRO Herman Kelly, the latter having in the past been PRO for Farrage’s UKIP and also taken part in a panel with Ulster Loyalist and British fascist Jim Dowson.
Numerous figures of the Far-Right were vociferous in their support for the rally, including activists of the QAnon group who have been taking advantage of the Government restrictions around Covid19 to regularly protest against them outside the GPO, apparently free from any Garda action (while sacked Debenhams workers and their supporters demonstrating around the corner in Henry Street, though masked and observing social distancing, were nevertheless victims of police intimidation and harassment). The QAnon group, including their chief spokesperson Dee Wall and others prominent in the group, also demonstrated recently against the letting of Croke Park to a group of Muslims to celebrate the Eid festival, supporting another Far-Right racist activist, Gemma O’Doherty, who declared her wish to “make Ireland Catholic again” (sic).
Of course, not all the hundreds who attended the rally on Custom House Quay were racists. Just days before, a member of the Irish Government, other politicians and business people, around 80 in total, had attended a parliamentary golf society dinner in Clifden, Galway, in apparent oblivion to all Government restrictions. People who are subjected to those restrictions, unemployed as a result or losing their business, were understandably angry, some even questioning whether the restrictions were really necessary. After all, if prominent people , including a member of the very Government, don’t seem to think them important ….
There are those who are not racists but who believe, contrary to overwhelming scientific evidence, that vaccinations do more harm than good. And there are believers in all kinds of conspiracy theories, other than the rational ones about capitalism and imperialism, who imagine a global conspiracy by dark forces encouraging homosexuality, immigration, etc, etc, allegedly pushed by the Communist Party of China through the UN and the EU! Some of those conspiracy theorists are racist and some are not but all find a welcoming home in the ranks of the Far-Right, whose own official parties and organisations are tiny. Some hard-line fundamentalist Catholics like John Waters, along with strident racist Gemma O’Doherty, seem able to set aside the alleged message of love for humanity in the Christian New Testament and are also embraced by the Far-Right.
Events of the Far-Right are often counter-protested by groups and individuals called together informally, without anyone exercising leadership. This has been the case with counter-protests to Gemma O’Doherty in Dublin, for example and to Niall McConnell, of the tiny fascist party Síol na hÉireann, who was expelled along with his propaganda stall from outside the GPO in an unannounced action some months ago.
Indeed, it has been a remarkable feature of most gatherings of the Far-Right in Dublin at least that no organisation or network has called publicly to oppose them (the one notable exception since 2016 has been the December 2019 counter-rally outside Leinster House). None of the main parties of the Irish Left or Republican movement, although all opposed to racism and fascism, have made a public call for those mobilisations.
But in advance of the Custom House Quay event, this time there were two public calls for a counter-protest, one from the Belfast IWWU (International Workers of the World) trade union and the other from the Dublin Republicans Against Fascism network.
A small group of antifascist activists, gathered from such varied sectors as republicans, socialists, anarchists, anti-racism and animal rights met on Eden Quay with the intention of proceeding to mount a counter-protest to the rally.
A PREPLANNED ARMED ATTACK
At the advertised time of 1.30pm the relatively small group of counter-protesters came on to Custom House Quay, on the far side from where the invited speakers were standing. Further along the river wall, a mass of men was gathered, many wearing masks and gloves. Given that the rally was called specifically against Covid19 restrictions and wearing of masks, one must assume a different reason for their wearing them – such as avoiding identification and gloves for concealing fingerprints (which in turn makes it likely that many have fingerprints on Garda records).
According to statements of some of the counter-protesters, they had hardly stepped out on the Custom House Quay from under the railway bridge when they were attacked by the mob. One of the antifascists in the lead was heard to shout “Stand fast!” and then the wave of fascists struck, howling, punching, many wielding metal bars and wooden clubs. As soon as any antifascist went down many assailants joined in on kicking and stamping on him. The antifascists fought back but had no weapons.
Shortly afterwards, the Gardaí – including members of the Public Order Unit — moved in and opened up a space between both groups. According to participant and video evidence, they concentrated their numbers and ferocity on the smaller, unarmed group, the victims of the attack, shouting at them to leave, threatening them with drawn batons and shoving them hard. One of the counter-protesters lay on the ground, apparently unconscious but the police prevented any of his group going to his aid. The Gardaí ceased their pushing and threats only when they had got the counter-protesters about half way along Butt Bridge, by which time they had knocked a number to the ground, whereas their attackers were permitted to remain more or less where they had been, now taunting their victims.
A bizarre aspect of the whole event was the media reporting, with earlier reports making no reference at all to the conflict. Later reports included vague references that in no way described the situation, with a general projection of the Gardaí as an impartial order-keeping force in minor disturbances. An early photograph on the Irish Times website of the Public Order Unit and other Gardaí confronting antifascists on Butt Bridge quickly disappeared. When the conflict was finally described, in a report on Monday by Conor Lally of the Irish Times, allegedly from Garda sources, it was as though the antifascists had preplanned an attack! A few days later, the item was quietly edited.
Some reports, for example of RTÉ and print media, briefly mentioned a “counter-protest” on Butt Bridge, without any mention of how that counter-protest ended up there.
Given that the counter-protest had been promoted on the pages of the Belfast IWW and Dublin Republicans Against Fascism, had either organisation been approached by the media for comment? No, neither had, according to representatives of each.
Ógra Sinn Féin, one of whose members had been knocked unconscious by the armed fascists, posted a very short statement condemning the attack, along with a mention of the Gardaí making four arrests, one for possession of an offensive weapon. Taken in context, that too was bizarre – as though that Garda response was in any way an appropriate one in the circumstances.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Did the antifascists expect what happened?
Perhaps not entirely on the scale of it but according to various individuals who were there, they had all been made aware of the threats on the day and of reports that the fascists were carrying weapons.
“They were informed that we expected to be attacked and that some at least of the fascists were armed,” said a DRAF participant. “They still chose to go ahead. About half of them were women and some very small in stature. Hardly any seemed to have much experience of street fighting. Neverthelss, they chose to go ahead.”
There were also indications prior to the day, as people claiming to be antifascists had engaged in threats and counter-threats with fascists on social media. “Most of those antifascists made threats they couldn’t back up and then didn’t even turn up themselves,” said a young woman who was there in obvious disgust.
“I can’t even begin to express the contempt I feel for that kind of behaviour,” said a Republican who was also there.
An attack on such a scale and preplanned is something new. If the Left had forgotten history and needed a warning about the potential for violence of fascism, they were certainly given a reminder on the 22nd August in Dublin.
How to explain the action of the Gardaí? To threaten, push and shove the unarmed victims of the fascist attack? And their mild confrontation with the armed attackers?
“They knew exactly what they were doing,” according to one of the counter-protesters. “Even before we were attacked it was clear that was the intention of the fascists. They cops allowed the fascists to attack for a few minutes, then moved in, shooing the fascists away and shoving us, shouting and threatening us with waving batons.”
Viewing the video and hearing other accounts bears out her assertions.
What about the four arrests Gardaí made reported by media, one for “offensive weapon” and “three for public order offences”?
Counter-protesters are adamant none of their number were arrested. “There was one arrest at the east end of the bridge about half an hour after the fascist attack but none of that big armed mob that attacked us at the west end of the Quay were touched,” confirmed several.
Was this something new in the behaviour of the Gardaí?
“In scale, yes,” replied a Republican, “but not in essence. “The Gardaí favoured the Far-Right every Saturday at the GPO while they harassed Debenhams pickets around the corner, using Covid19 legislation. They also harassed our pickets about political prisoners a few hundred metres away, quoting the Offences Against the State Act.”
OK, harassment, but toleration of violence?
“A few weeks ago, an antifascist was assaulted in plain view in front of the GPO, even attempting to push him out into the traffic. Four Gardaí rushed over and took him away, questioning him. His assailants? Nothing. A few weeks before that, the Gardaí permitted people from the same group to cross the road and confront antifascists standing in the middle pedestrian reservation. Then one of the fascists walked in among the antifascists and assaulted a Republican who was sitting down; he retaliated and in a minute they were both rolling around in the southbound traffic lane. The Gardaí separated them, in the course of which one of them punched the Republican several times, then escorted the fascist safely back to his group. They didn’t even take his name, never mind charge him.”
Testimony of some participants in a counter-protest to the 11th July Far-Right protest would have given a strong indication too. The Far-Right had mounted a homophobic protest under the guise of being against pedophilia, using certain statements decades ago of the British-based activist Peter Thatchell and the fact that years ago, Roderic O’Gorman (who is gay), long before he became the current Irish Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, had appeared in a photograph with Thatchell at a Gay Pride parade. The homophobic rally had gained most publicity due to the presence as a speaker of dramatist and TV actor John Connors, who later apologised for his appearance and his words, claiming he had allowed himself to be manipulated by the Far-Right. A very small “March of Innocence” counter-protest had been organised and one of its participants said that even before they got around in view of Leinster House, the Gardaí told them they were not going to protect them. As they neared the rally, they were handled roughly with some blows and shoves by about 40 Far-Right “security”, without interference by the Gardaí, true to their word. The Gardaí only intervened when the Far-Right “security” withdrew and the general mob came forward to attack.
But what could be the reason for such Garda partiality towards the Far Right and hostility towards the antifascists? It is almost as though they see the Far-Right as the legitimate group and the counter-protesters as the problem. Could it be because the police are regularly confronted by some of the same people as are found among the antifascists on issues such as water meter protests, housing, austerity measures, republican prisoners, repression, etc? Or might it be even more sinister? Could it be that the Irish ruling class and State are keeping the fascists handy as a backup, in case they are needed to help cope with resistance to forthcoming austerity measures? Fascists have played that role in a number of countries.
BEIDH LÁ EILE AG AN bPAORACH
The fascists and Far-Right, including a number of the actual participants are crowing about the outcome of this attack on their social media networks.
Was it wise to counter-protest a rally so large with so few? Were the fascists in effect handed a victory?
“It kinda makes me angry when we get criticised for our low numbers,” said one who was there. “Other times, people have complained they didn’t know, hadn’t been informed. This time there was a public call. If we are few it’s because all the other antifascists don’t join in, it’s as simple as that,” she said.
“Are we supposed to just stand by and let them build up and up and do nothing?” asked another. “I don’t want our children and grandchildren to grow up in a fascist or racist country.”
Another expressed the hope that the incident would wake up the wider antifascist, antiracist movement.
“They might be crowing about it now,” said an Irish Republican, referring to the Far-Right, “boasting about how with weapons and twice the numbers they beat a small force of unarmed antifascists, about half of which were women. Although they can’t deny that we didn’t run and it was the cops who pushed us out of there. And they had to work at it too.”
“Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach”, said a member of Dublin Republicans Against Fascism. It’s a saying in the Irish language – its meaning in essence being ‘There will be another day.’
“Lá níos fearr” (‘a better day’), he added.
You have to be on Facebook to view this, sorry https://www.facebook.com/LeinsterHuntSaboteurs/videos/1227170580952147/UzpfSTEwMDAwOTAxMzE0ODYwNjpWSzo5OTU3NjAwNDA4Njg0MDY/?