By Conor Payne
At the re-opening of the Dáil on 20 September, a far-right protest gathered outside, erecting a gallows with pictures of a number of both left and establishment political figures attached to it, and physically intimidating a number of TDs and staff members as they tried to enter or leave the building. This thuggish protest drew the attention and universal condemnation of the media and political establishment, as well as calls for crackdowns against the right to protest outside Leinster House.
However, the only thing that was new about this intimidatory protest was that its targets were TDs and Senators – the far right have been waging a widespread campaign of harassment and menace against refugees, library workers and many others at least since the beginning of the year and this has received nothing like the same attention.
Jobstown was a legitimate community protest
Much of the media coverage and political response to the incident refused to clearly say that it was far-right groups responsible for what had happened. When the far-right character of the protest was admitted, this was often accompanied by an equal condemnation of the ‘’far left’’. A chorus arose among columnists, politicians and others that these were two twin threats, both closer to each other than to the ‘sensible centre ground’. Never mind that socialists and the left have been organising to push back against the far-right threat, while the media and political establishments have been largely indifferent.
A key example used to justify the equation of the left and the far right has been the Jobstown protest in 2014 – but it only exposes the hollowness of the argument. A peaceful, sit-down protest against the Tanaiste almost a decade ago is the best that they can come up with to compare with the actions of the far right which have included the burning out of a refugee camp and a systematic campaign to intimidate library workers.
Another contrast – while the Jobstown protest provoked an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute protestors for ‘false imprisonment’, the Garda commissioner Drew Harris has boasted of the Guardaí’s kid gloves approach to the far-right mobilisations.
Opposites not equals
This attempt to draw an equal sign between the left and the far right is very telling. It exposes the reality that what the establishment objects to about the far right is not mainly their actual views and agenda; it’s only their methods they have an issue with, and the fact that their actions can also target them. The far right are anti-migrant, they want to turn back the clock on abortion rights and LGBTQ+ rights, they oppose the attempts to put the right to housing in the constitution as a threat to the ‘private property’ rights of landlords and developers. This is all clearly the diametric opposite of what the left stands for.
But the establishment does not consider these views beyond the pale. In fact, they themselves are happy to stir them up when it suits them; look at the attempts of much of our media to start a ‘debate’ on their ‘concerns’ about trans rights, or how the government responded to the protests at refugee centres across the country by promising to speed up deportations. All of this legitimises and emboldens the far right.
The housing emergency and social crisis presided over by our ‘reasonable and sensible’ political establishment also creates the conditions in which the far right are able to get a hearing from some sections of society. It is really only socialists who not only consistently fight the far right, but represent an alternative to the society which has given birth to them.