It’s very appropriate that today we are commemorating James Connolly, an immigrant who contributed so much to our country and to revolutionary socialist theory.
The topic of my contribution today is the upsurge in anti-immigrant sentiment spreading across the country and the events over the weekend make it even more topical.
This issue isn’t a comfortable subject for us on the progressive Left. We’ve come from a situation where the organised racist Right were a joke with little or no traction to a situation were they now have a constituency listening to their message of hate and division.
The irony of the situation is that the platform for the racists was provided by the liberals in Government. The disastrous immigration policies of Government and the arrogance of Rodric O’Gorman, the Green Party Minister for Integration in particular, has given oxygen to the racists. The current wave of protests began in East Wall last year. Despite being advised by respected local community activists in East Wall not to house hundreds of asylum seekers in an unsuitable office block without consultation with local residents, O’Gorman went ahead and dumped the refugees in the area. And I use the word dumped on purpose. A converted office block with no facilities or services is not fit for purpose.
East Wall is a strong working class area with a brilliant community spirit, a long-established local network of resident and community activists and a strong tradition of volunteerism. It is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural community; a large proportion of the population is non-traditional Irish and there has been no evidence of racism or discrimination as the community demographic changed in recent decades. The integration of this mixture of people has been entirely organic and natural. East Wall has even elected a Muslim immigrant as the community Lord Mayor.
However, it is also a hugely disadvantaged area with a deficit of services such as housing, doctors, available school places……all the usual issues seen in working class areas. Despite the promises of Government, no extra services accompanied the refugees being housed in the area. Locals would have to compete with the refugees for the scarce resources available. This created a genuine concern among the local community, something that many on the liberal Left refused to acknowledge. We seen and heard a lot of classist abuse of the community basically saying ‘sure what would you expect…….. all working class people are racist’ and that type of rubbish.
As community activists we fully support the long-standing principle of community development that communities must be consulted about plans for their areas. Proper consultation would have served to defuse a great deal of the opposition that has arisen in communities around the housing of refugees. We demand not only that communities be fully informed and consulted but that adequate resources be allocated to meet additional needs such as education, health, youth services brought about by the housing of refugees and to support their integration.
Having demanded community consultation on all aspects of community life its embarrassing to hear some argue that such consultation shouldn’t apply to an issue of contention such as the housing of large numbers of refugees in an area. We demand consultation on planning, on local services, we even have consultation on the installation of cycle lanes………but sticking 100’s of refugees into a building in the middle of the area with no consultation appears to be acceptable to some on the Left.
Worryingly but not surprisingly, large numbers of local people turned out for the initial protests in East Wall as rumours filled the vacuum created by a lack of information from the Department of Integration. Huge work done in the background managed to divert the protests away from the office block housing the refugees after the initial protests and then managed to persuade people to stop attending the protests altogether. Eventually it was just the racist rump and a bunch of misguided individuals left protesting and even this petered out after a while.
One of the lessons learnt from the whole experience of the anti-immigration protests was that the Left sadly lack a base in most working class communities and weren’t in a position to counter the racist protests. Some areas such as East Wall and Ballymun managed to organise locally to challenge the racist narrative and offer support to the refugees but most areas didn’t have that capability. It was mainly the growing realisation that the racist protests were been organised by drug dealers, criminals and other anti-social elements that the majority of decent people stopped attending and the protests died off.
Unfortunately, the genie is out of the bottle and it ain’t going back. Like most other European countries, anti immigration sentiment is now a fact of life in Ireland.
This is the challenge for us on the Left. To stop the spread of racist poison in our own communities and that’s a labour intensive job. I don’t know if the Left have either the ambition or stamina for such a battle but it can only be done community by community and by people with local credibility.
Lets be clear……. The state and its forces will not assist us. Irish immigration policy already legitimises racism by differentiating between the white Ukrainian refugees and the International Protection refugees. The Ukrainians are given PPS numbers and housed while the International Protection refugees are given tents and a few bob for food. The Ukrainians, fleeing an invasion of their country are welcome here but so should others, of a different colour, fleeing violence.
The events in the city centre over the weekend have forced this issue into the news again. The disgraceful scenes of masked thugs, led by the racist Right, threatening homeless refugees sleeping in tents and burning their camp is a reminder of the threat the fascists pose. While the racists are the boot boys on the front line, the Government have direct responsibility for the situation. In a first world country like Ireland its unacceptable that newly arriving International Protection refugees are given a tent and told to fend for themselves. We now have almost 500 individuals scattered around the city sleeping rough. This is a cynical ploy by the Government to discourage others from attempting to travel to Ireland. And remember, the humanitarian crisis of refugee migration has been created by imperialist adventures and exploitation across the world.
While most of what I’ve said so far has been negative there are a few positives to cling onto. It’s important to remember that the racists and fascists are anti working class as can be seen by their opposition to public housing, trade unions and any sort of class analysis. They’re supportive of a socio-economic system under which the rich get richer while the rest of us struggle. They were never involved in marching on drug dealers during the community campaigns against heroin, they weren’t involved in fighting the bin charges or defeating the water tax or any other campaigns for community resources. They don’t have organic roots in our communities and we can’t allow them to gain ground in those communities.
It’s notable that the Far Right are targeting opposition politicians and activists but never the Government. The Government are responsible for the disastrous housing crisis, the dysfunctional health service, the growing climate crisis yet the fascists and racists target Sinn Fein and the political Left. We see the propaganda of the far right claiming there is no housing crisis in Ireland, no health crisis, and no cost-of-living crisis but simply an immigration crisis. This lie only serves to whitewash the failures of the establishment and is designed to do so. We know the traditional role of fascists is to help maintain the status quo and there can be no doubt the Irish Far Right is being funded to do this.
The racist Right have defended landlords, private property rights and supported evictions. It should come as no surprise that some of the leaders of the Irish Far Right are former Fine Gael members and some were gofers for the Far Right British Nationalist Nigel Farage. Their links with British fascists like Tommy Robinson and Ulster loyalists are well documented. The racist Right offer nothing to the Irish working class.
Good intentions and well meaning actions are not enough and may even be counterproductive. And including members of the Government parties in our actions is definitely counterproductive. We need a sharp political analysis and well thought out tactics. Our response must be community led and based on our experience as working class activists. The Governments policies and in particular, their determination to commodify housing has resulted in working class communities being further impoverished. Allowing price gouging by retailers and giving free reign to bandit capitalism has put more pressure on our communities with a ‘cost of greed’ crisis. We need to direct that anger at Government and highlight the fact that the racist Right are defending the Government by trying to divert blame onto those fleeing war, violence and torture.
In an attempt to counter the racist narrative in our communities a coalition of long-standing community and political activists have come together to form Dublin Communities Against Racism (DCAR). Our primary concern was that the understandable anger in our communities over issues such as housing, health care and the cost of living was being diverted from those responsible for the problems and refugees were being scapegoated. Blaming powerless people for these failures only serves to let the government off the hook and will change nothing for the better in our communities.
DCAR are attempting to build community resistance to the racist Right in our neighbourhoods. We are willing to work with any organisations, groups or communities who share a class based analysis and who recognise that working class communities are the key to defeating the racist Right. Historically, Republicans, socialists and progressives have been the backbone of resistance to fascism in Ireland. The same forces are again at the forefront of the battle but we need anyone disgusted by the actions of this Government and their Far Right apologists to get involved in the anti-fascist struggle. To those here today, if you aren’t involved in the anti-fascist struggle please get involved today. We have a world to win!