Dáil immigration debate: Rural Independents’ racism and Sinn Féin’s weak response

By Jonathan Diebold

Last month’s racist riot in Dublin City centre, fomented by far-right organisers who cynically and opportunistically used a brutal attack on children and their carer to whip up a violent mob, sent ripples through Irish society. Some of these ripples lapped the shores of the Dáil, where the Rural Independent Group took the opportunity to put forward a motion – not condemning the attack, nor the riot, nor the far-right, but on the issue of immigration. 

Indeed, at the very first opportunity, on the morning that the Dáil re-opened after the riot, Mattie McGrath of the Rural Independents called for a debate on “illegal and undocumented people,” without a word mentioned of the riot. Fianna Fáil’s disgraced former minister, Robert Troy TD, also called for a debate on asylum seekers the same morning.

Leo Varadkar welcomed such a debate in both instances but called for “a very strong” chairperson. The debate around the motion was chaired by Verona Murphy TD, a former Fine Gael TD who left the party after being mired in a racism scandal of her own, claiming among other things that ISIS was a “big part” of Ireland’s immigrant population. 

Dangerous cynicism 

The Rural Independent Group, which in the past has opposed marriage equality, repeal, the idea of climate change, and who consistently support government policy from the sidelines, submitted a motion – peppered with racist tropes and mistruths – which was debated on Wednesday. The debate gave the riot’s provocateurs exactly what they would have wanted: a discussion centring immigration – not corporate profiteering – as a key factor in our major social problems like the housing and health crises. 

It also provided a platform for expounding a litany of racist myths, and put not just the government, but Sinn Féin as well on the defence. The government parties and Sinn Féin went out of their way, on three occasions in the case of the latter, to stress that they opposed “open borders”, a dog-whistle argument. Not once did they highlight the factors pushing refugees to flee their homes in the first place, including the imperialist wars EU states are complicit in. 

Of course, the motion was brought forward in the context of the far-right whipping up fear and hatred towards migrants, with heartbreaking testimonies of increased racial harassment and widespread fear of migrants and people of colour of coming into Dublin in the days and weeks after the riot took place. It talked about “‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ asylum seekers” (seeking asylum is a legal process which anyone has the right to, and cannot be done “illegally”); “anxiety and fear in local communities” caused by asylum seekers; and “the grave potential consequences” of accepting asylum seekers. 

Various members of the Rural Independents made derisive comments about Ukrainians, Gaza (saying that people want to “prance around the streets and cause numerous protests” and “it is obnoxious”), and Ireland’s “savage abortion regime”.

Sinn Féin’s terrible response

The government’s counter-motion, meanwhile, called for “robust border controls at our ports and airports”. Sinn Féin’s response wasn’t much better. They refused to criticise the Rural Independents who are despicably stirring up racism, and seeking to make refugees and migrants scapegoats for the social crises for which they are partly responsible – by repeatedly supporting this right-wing government whose policies have been disastrous. 

One of Sinn féin’s six speakers, Matt Carthy TD, went so far as to say that any migrant who breaks the law “should no longer be entitled to remain in Ireland.” Not just a “violent crime”, as the Rurals called for, or even a criminal offence, but rather any law. The fact that this happens to be unenforceable unless Ireland leaves the EU makes it even more obvious that this is nothing but a shameful dog-whistle. This is but the latest in a trend of Sinn Féin trying to outdo the government from the right. In this instance, it could even be seen as attempting to “steal the clothes” of the extreme right, rather than take on this menace. 

Indeed, Sinn Féin’s motion of ‘No Confidence’ in the Justice Minister that same week, while condemning the riot which occurred, made no mention of racism, the role of the far-right, or the xenophobia being whipped up, and seemed to reflect a fear of naming those who are whipping up racist and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment as being far-right. 

All of this illustrates that Sinn Féin is not a force that can seriously grapple with the growing far-right threat. Instead, like the government, its approach is to cave to the pressure from the far right, and give legitimacy to their hateful, xenophobic ideas.

What’s needed is a mass movement to counter the far-right, on the streets and in the workplaces, where they harass library and healthcare workers to name but a few. We need a major working class movement and struggle for public housing. All of this needs to be linked to building a powerful socialist left – uniting anti-racist, feminist, ecological, trade union, and Palestinian solidarity activists etc – as a step to building a major political alternative based on anti-capitalism, solidarity and struggle to fight for a socialist change. 

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