Interview: Leitrim organisers violently attacked by far-right forces

Last week, a number of anti-fascist and queer activists across Leitrim successfully blocked far-right scoundrels travelling up the Shannon on their ‘Sovereign Voyage to protect Childhood’, from entering local libraries and intimidating library workers. In the context of increasing attacks against LGBTQ+ people in Ireland and internationally, Socialist Party member Haritha speaks to Meryl McGowan, Secretary of Leitrim Pride (speaking in a personal capacity), on the violence she and fellow local activists suffered whilst combatting far-right protesters in Carrick-on-Shannon. 

Content warning for mentions of hate-crime, violence, and intimate-partner violence.

For people who don’t know, what were the far right forces doing in Leitrim? What was the nature of the action that was being organized against them?

[The Sovereign Voyage to protect Childhood] were actually in Carrick-on-Shannon on Tuesday and Wednesday, because they were protesting, I guess, the inclusion of any LGBT representation in libraries, and also any sex education material in libraries.

At a couple of their protests, they recorded themselves not being able to pronounce quite a lot of words that were like sex acts – they very clearly are not very familiar with them – which is, you know, kind of funny, but also fairly indicative of the position they’re coming from, which is one of ignorance, and they want to perpetuate ignorance. A lot of far right groups are like that; they prefer teenagers to be completely ignorant of sex acts because ignorance of them means you won’t be able to identify them if you’re being abused. That’s something the Church did – they were very anti-Sex Ed. And these people are, in my opinion, exactly the same.

They claim to be protecting children, but their actions are doing nothing but endangering them.

The [far-right] protests themselves are generally met with a lot of hostility from locals. They often talked about how they were very well received, very popular and whatnot. … They arrived up to Carrick-on-Shannon trying to do that on Tuesday, and we were trying to keep an eye on their progress, so we would be able to prevent them, if possible, from entering the library and harassing workers in their workplace.”

There were a couple of older head activists who’d been at this for a much longer time … I don’t think any of them were queer that I’m aware of, whereas all of our group was queer (we mostly met through Leitrim Pride), and we just kind of bumped into [each other], cause we were also sort of keeping tabs on them as well. I mean, it wasn’t too hard; to be fair they were live streaming where they were all the time.”

One of our comrades on the Tuesday went out scouting to see if he could find them, and unfortunately he was jumped by them and assaulted fairly brutally. He said he was terrified for his life at the time. Especially because a few of the people who [attacked him] were known to him, known to other activists in the area … to be violent, and to harass, and harm people … [The potential repercussions of this attack], I presume, is why they skipped Carrick-on-Shannon on the Tuesday and … continued up the canal instead.

[Having] bumped into those activists at our counter protest on Tuesday, when the Sovereign Voyage gang never showed up, we just exchanged details and agreed to meet up in my hometown the next day to counter protest there, but they never did arrive. We heard from a Lock Keeper that they hadn’t been through a lock they’d need to get through to get up to us; nobody had been.”

“We noticed that they were live-streaming in Carrick-on-Shannon, so we all took off straightaway. Someone suggested to call the Gardaí on them, and I did that. The Gardaí said that there was no one that could respond. So the suspects of the previous day’s assault were to be let go, to do what they want. Nobody was going to go and turn up and do anything about it … So we decided to go in and counter protest. When we got there it fairly quickly devolved into a physical confrontation.

“We didn’t do anything physical to them. A couple of us were holding flags and signs in their faces, and pretty much immediately they wrangled them out of our hands and threw them into the river. We’ve not recovered most of what they shoved into the river, nothing until today a diver retrieved one of our comrade’s phones that was kicked into the river intentionally.

“Myself and my girlfriend went up to them. She was recording straightaway. I immediately started pressuring them to own up to their assaults the previous day. As far as I can tell, one of them admitted that he did assault our comrade. But think that footage is on the the phone that’s possibly destroyed.”

“One of our comrades got pulled into a railing really, viciously. Multiple times. She’s got bruised ribs from it now – off work for a week because of the pain. At one point when they got extremely violent with her I tried to jump across that rail to get that person off her and I got punched right in the face … Later on, one of them who was live streaming the whole thing (rather foolishly, I might say) had recorded himself punching me in the face very clearly.

It was a good, strong, strong hit to my face, but it goes to show that these people are fairly volatile, you know. A lot of them have a history of violence. One of them, allegedly is a domestic abuser who has no custody of his kids because of that domestic violence. 

One of our comrades was assaulted in his place of work by more than one of them, who went around looking for him by name … They assaulted him fairly brutally too. And when he reported that to the guards they did nothing, they they screwed him around for months and then told them, tit for tat. “That’s what you get for being an anti-fascist.

Like there’s no support there. The police were not going to arrive. People were calling the Gardaí, telling them that there was assaults in progress, and they didn’t send anyone, even though the station was a literal two minute walk away.”

But it was something it was something to be to be a part of, you know, to look the people who want you dead in the eyes, and tell them that you don’t want them there; that their opinions are are trash and unwanted!”

We weren’t there in an official capacity [but] we held our [Leitrim Pride] banner up over their boat as well. A nice sign that ‘We’re here, we’re queer, and that they had to leave.’”

Have you or your community like noticed a rise in far-right forces around your area in the past year?

Yeah, kind of. There are a few notorious people around who make it their business to harass Pride, and like they wouldn’t really do it any other time in the year, you know. There’s not enough of them to organize or anything. There has been a lot of racists around who have held like meetings and camps and events where they protest refugee centers. There’s been refugee centers that have been like set on fire multiple times. There was even a [Sinn Féin] politician who was, you know, pro-refugee, coming to the community who had his car firebombed right like right outside his house.

So there’s a lot more far-right agitators around than people think, I believe, but at the same time a lot of it seems to be imported. I guess they like import a lot of loud loud agitators who rile up communities and start spreading their propaganda and whatnot for a while before they leave.”

They’re taking advantage [of vulnerable people]. A lot of the people who fall for it are in, you know, bad positions, and they end up getting indoctrinated into a really bad place.

It was in your view that a lot of the counter protesters there would not have been queer. Did you find solidarity in having these wider forces being there? And do you think it’s important for, you know, ordinary working class people regardless of their identities, to be prepared to fight the far right in their communities? And if people are interested, how do you think they could do so?

Yeah, I definitely think people need to be more more in involved in it. Like those anti-fascist comrades are, were fantastic. They were very supportive. And despite not being queer they were there explicitly to support queer rights, our liberation. And on top of that, we were there to support workers’ rights, because it’s like frankly despicable and embarrassing that the State would allow workers to be harassed in their places of work. Like that’s completely, completely unreasonable. It’s unacceptable.

And one thing that’s come about since, I’ve had a few people say to me, you know, “it must have been terrifying. If you knew they’re violent like, why did you go there? Why, why would you put yourself in that situation?” It’s like nobody else will do it. It has to be community action because the police won’t do it. The police are allowing people to go around like infringing on workers rights, spreading hate speech, and if they’re left to go on they’ll be emboldened they’ll be back. They’ll cause more trouble. They’ll do something worse the next time. And that just can’t be allowed to happen.

There has to be solidarity between queer people and working people. Anyone, everyone, because, the far right will target anyone who’s marginalized. The people involved in that ‘Voyage’ have already shown themselves to be anti-queer. They’re anti-worker. Evidently they’ve always been racist. They only think you’re only Irish if you’re native-born and white, and even then that’s conditional because I am native born and white. So it’s important to have a united front against them, because if we don’t and we get divided, then they will conquer us, they’ll tear us apart.

Absolutely, I think the the Malcolm X quote, “We’re not outnumbered, we’re out-organized” really comes to mind. Why do you think the far-right gain traction by, you know, whipping up racism, misogyny, transphobia, and other divisive ideas? And who do you think these ideas really benefit?

I think generally they’re scapegoating to protect profiteering from societal issues that are caused by like government inaction, government negligence. Fundamentally it’s a capitalist system, and it prioritizes its own wealth, its own growth at any cost, and it’s like clockwork. There will be housing crisis or a financial crisis, or any other kind of crisis that will destroy the quality of life of working-class people. 

It happens all the time. It’s literally happening more often than it used to, and the people who benefit from that are the government, the elites, they’re, you know, siphoning money from the working class, putting it in their pockets. Eventually when a crisis comes prices increase, inflation happens, and they profit even more during those times!

Like profits right now, for the elites are absolutely skyrocketing, whereas nobody can afford to have a house – or even the mere idea that I would own a car is a fairy tale. It’s terrifying, the financial burden would be unbelievable. It would cripple me, you know.

And far-right activists take these societal issues and then point at someone who is also suffering from those societal issues, often more so than, you know, native white Irish people. Like immigrants or trans people, they’ll point at them and say that they’re the reason that your rents are rising. They’re the reasons you can’t afford petrol etc … It takes attention away from the government. There’s no government action against far-right activism. The only time they ever step in is when a politician’s car gets firebombed outside his house. Only at that point action will be taken.

They’re let do what they want until they go past the point where it’s acceptable, I guess, for whatever the powers that be deem acceptable. I don’t know; they’re not officially, perhaps, agents of the state, if you want to put it like that, but they certainly act in the interest of the state.”

Absolutely. Thank you so much, Meryl. 

It’s really inspiring speaking to you and fair play to you and your comrades. I hope anyone who suffered any form of injury, or, you know, personal loss of items during the attacks from the far-right, recovers fully, and you stay safe as well. But thank you so much for speaking to us.

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