By Conor Payne
Protests have been organised in many different parts of the country outside buildings being used to accommodate refugees; including in East Wall, Ballymun, and Drimnagh in Dublin, Fermoy in Cork and in Killarney in Kerry. In some cases, these protests have attracted crowds of hundreds of people. The refugees in these centres are fleeing the war in Ukraine or other wars, persecution, and devastation. Large crowds gathered outside these facilities, shouting slogans like ‘Get them out’, is obviously intimidation and must cause real fear and distress to those being targeted.
The protests are being driven by an emboldened far right, who want to use the refugee crisis to push their own noxious agenda of racist division, and turning back the clock on women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and church control.
Stirring up racism
At the same time, the protests have drawn in others who are not part of the far right. There are racist attitudes in society and these are being consciously played upon with pernicious arguments about ‘unvetted males’ arriving in the country. However, there is also a real concern in many communities that it isn’t possible to accommodate the number of refugees who are coming to Ireland or about the impact of a sudden increase in populations in areas that are already suffering from a lack of housing and services.
The government bears responsibility for giving the far right opportunity to take advantage of this situation. There is a crippling housing crisis, with record numbers in emergency accommodation, many living in overcrowded and substandard conditions, rents at an all-time high. Many public services are at breaking point, including GP and health services. Meanwhile, they have failed completely to plan properly for the increased numbers of refugees since the war on Ukraine began, resulting in many who arrive here being housed in completely unsuitable and inhumane conditions.
Refugees not to blame
The different crises in our society are not caused by refugees, and have existed long before the current war in Ukraine began. They are caused by the underfunding of public services, the refusal over years to build public housing, a system which places the private vested interests of landlords, developers and the rich above the needs of working-class people. There are more than enough resources in this country to ensure homes, services and decent living standards for all.
There are 166,000 vacant and derelict homes in the state and the wealth of Ireland’s billionaires went up by €16 billion during the pandemic alone. Multinational corporations here are making record profits and the government had a €5 billion surplus last year. But this government’s neglect creates a situation in which ordinary working-class people feel forced to compete with each other for access to housing and other necessities.
Protesting refugees will not improve anything in working-class communities. What’s needed is a united movement of working-class people of all backgrounds to take on the government, landlords, developers, banks, and their system; and to demand public homes for all, a real public health service and major investment in long-neglected communities. The far right forces are completely opposed to this, and by deflecting attention to refugees are in fact protecting the status quo and those in power.
Far right can be pushed back
But they can be pushed back. We shouldn’t believe for a second that there is widespread support for these protests in the communities where they are taking place. In Fermoy, protests against Ukrainian refugees were significantly outnumbered by an anti-racist community protest which was joined by hundreds. We need a fightback against the threat of the far right.
But in order to be effective and to win as many as possible away from the orbit of the right, this fightback has to be clearly opposed to the government and capitalist establishment, and based on organising and mobilising broad layers of the working class, young people, and oppressed people in communities and workplaces. It has to put forward a real alternative, based on uniting all working-class people in a struggle for a decent life for all.
We should demand:
- Build public housing on a massive scale. Cut and freeze rents, make the eviction ban permanent. Seize all land and property that is being hoarded for profit and use it for public housing.
- Invest in a new national public health service, free at the point of use. End the two tier health service.
- End Direct Provision, defend the right to asylum. All refugees should have the equal right to study and work. No to deportations.
- Organise to take on the far right, and divide and rule politics. Get organised in communities to challenge the myths about refugees and migrants and put forward an alternative based on uniting working-class people. With over 500,000 members, the trade unions could play a key role in mobilising working people against racist division.
- Build a struggle to take on the rule of profit. Capitalism today means increasing wealth for a narrow elite, more and more misery, insecurity and crisis for working-class people of all backgrounds across the world, including forcing people to flee their homes. It has always promoted racism and division among the working class. Fight for a democratic socialist society that uses the wealth and resources to fulfil the needs of all, for a world without inequality and oppression.