By Steph Lacey
The modus operandi of the far right is to jump on any kind of problem or issue in society and exploit it to push its nefarious agenda. The far right in Ireland is no exception. Far-right groups tried to utilise the fear and confusion of the Covid-19 pandemic to influence people while they were vulnerable. They held anti-lockdown protests, and while most people who attended these protests weren’t far right and attended them to express, in a misguided way, their frustration at the Government’s failure to get a grip on the pandemic or to protect the living standards of working class people, the speeches given by far-right figures at these protests exposed their real agenda. These speeches started off talking about lockdowns and vaccines, but quickly developed into vile racism and homophobia.
Unfortunately, this tactic had an effect in increasing their influence. But as the country started to open up again, this issue was no longer available to them and they moved onto the next big issue in society, the housing crisis.
Cynically exploiting the housing crisis
The far right in Ireland has never done anything to actually fight for affordable housing for ordinary people. And while they are trying to pretend that they now care about housing homeless Irish people, their actions, and the deliberate spreading of misinformation and lies directed at refugees and immigrants tell a different story and expose their real agenda.
The housing crisis is devastating the lives across the country , particularly the younger generation. To fight back against it, it is vital to know the reality around the cause of it, and who is to blame. There are huge resources in this society and no justifiable reason why anybody, whether Irish or migrant, should be left without a home. The culprits are the landlords, property developers and the government which backs them up at every turn. They and their system of profiteering have created the crisis in housing, which gives rise to the false idea that working-class people must compete against each other for scarce resources.
Blaming migrants or refugees seeking asylum for the housing crisis deflects blame from the real culprits and so only acts to further prolong the crisis. What is needed is a united struggle of all working-class people, and everyone affected, to fight for homes for all. So it is important to know what lies are being spread and the reason they’re being spread.
Far-right lies vs. the truth:
- “House the Irish, not the world.”
This slogan, which the National Party has plastered around some areas with stickers and posters, is one example of its racist nonsense. The implication of the slogan is that the government is currently housing non-Irish people, but not Irish people. If this was true it would mean that the government has a policy that’s working to house some people. There’s no truth to this. The government’s housing policy is a disaster for everyone. It’s caused by its reliance on profiteers to solve it, and non-Irish people are generally worse affected. The census showed that 25% of the homeless in Ireland are migrants, much higher than their number in the general population.
- “Women aren’t safe in multicultural Ireland.”
This is another lie that the far right spread, including the National Party putting it on its leaflets. There is no evidence whatsoever of higher rates of violence against women from migrants or those seeking refuge here. Gender-based violence is a real problem globally, and in Ireland, but rather than the far right’s fear mongering of violent foreign strangers, the majority of violence towards women comes from someone they know, usually a partner or ex-partner. Of the 249 women who have died violently in Ireland since 1996, 87% of them knew their killer. The far right only cares about gender-based violence if the perpetrator isn’t Irish. In fact, members of far-right parties and groups have a long history of violence towards women, not to mention their inherently anti-women ideology and policies like abortion bans. Michael Quinn of the National Party is currently serving three years in prison for hospitalising a woman during an anti-lockdown protest.
- “It’s only men coming over.”
This bizarre rumour has been spread widely in recent weeks. In fact, 81% of the Ukrainian refugees seeking asylum in Ireland are women and children. 35% of asylum seekers who come to Ireland are women and 25% are children. Refugee centres are communal living spaces, with some being segregated for gender privacy or to accommodate families with children. So, seeing a “bus full of men” going into one is to be expected, for this reason.
- “They’re taking houses from people on the housing list for years.”
Migrants receive no preferential treatment from the state in housing allocation, if anything it’s the opposite. Refugees are provided with emergency accommodation, which may be in a Direct Provision centre, a hostel, a hotel, or a converted warehouse or office building, or – as highlighted recently – tents! In 2022, three of Dublin’s four councils failed to build any social homes – with a similar picture across the country. This is the real reason people are left waiting years and years on the housing lists.
- “They’re getting everything for free.”
Refugees come here fleeing persecution or poverty, usually with nothing, or barely anything. They are brought to Direct Provision centres to wait while their asylum application is processed – which can take months or years. They are provided with the very basics of food and clothing, which is often substandard, as are their living spaces – as anyone who has ever been to a Direct Provision centre will know. Many asylum seekers are legally not allowed to work and are denied that right. Those that are able to work do, contributing to our society like any other workers.
- “They aren’t being vetted.”
What this is supposed to mean exactly is anyone’s guess – nearly all of us are ‘’unvetted’’. When people seek refuge in Ireland, they have to notify the International Protection Office. Their fingerprints and photos are taken and compared with an EU database. Only after this process are they finally offered temporary accommodation. The far right is spreading the ridiculous lie that refugees are “burning their passports.” This is more hogwash, used for shock value.
- “They should stay in their own country.”
People seek refuge because their country is unsafe for them and their families to live in. They flee because they have no choice. This is perhaps most obvious in the case of Ukrainian refugees, but many other people are fleeing wars in other countries that receive far less attention in the mainstream media. Others are fleeing because they fear for their lives because of gender oppression and other human rights abuses. For most of them if they return to their country they risk prosecution, serious harm or death. Talk to refugees and you’ll find most would return to their homes if they could.
- “We don’t have enough houses.”
It’s true that tens of thousands of social and affordable homes must be built by the state to end the housing crisis, which the government refuses to do. Just as it refuses to implement real rent controls or ban evictions. It’s also true that there are currently 166,000 vacant houses in Ireland. With 11,397 people in emergency accommodation, for every one of them there are 15 vacant homes. The housing crisis is a failure of the housing policies or successive governments, all based on the private market. There is enough money and resources to build public housing. The problem isn’t immigrants, the problem is the government’s policy of putting profit for vulture funds and construction companies over the needs of people.
- “Why don’t other countries take them?”
Other countries are taking in far more refugees than Ireland, including much poorer countries than Ireland. 62% of all International Protection applications were made to just three countries: France, Spain, and Germany. 84% of the world’s refugees are in poorer countries in the Global South.
Fight for housing, against the far right
By blaming refugees and migrants, the far right is diverting from the real problem, which is government policy, and the capitalist market system it is based on. By knowing the facts, it is clear that immigration isn’t to blame. The far right know this as well but are trying to fool people to support their racism.
Another clear indication of this is that the politicians that the far right target are not the landlords in government and their parties who are responsible for this crisis, but left-wing representatives who are informing people that immigration isn’t the problem. In that sense the far right is acting to protect those in power while attacking those most vulnerable — who have nothing to do with the problem.
Protesting outside emergency accommodation centres will not help anybody to be housed, or change the government’s policy on housing, it will only make the people inside live in fear.
The scapegoating of migrants is a distraction from and cuts across the only thing which can force real change on housing: a united movement on the streets, in communities and workplaces by working-class people of all backgrounds to take on the government, the developers and the landlord class. Such a movement could put on the agenda the need to end the domination and the rule of our society by a wealthy capitalist elite and to use the resources they now own and control to provide public homes and a quality standard of living for all who live or may arrive here.