NOT since Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirts has Ireland really had to contend with a fascist problem.
We have racists and bigots, for sure, but unlike most other European countries we have not had a strong tradition of far right thinking.
Perhaps all those decades of Catholic domination diverted that train of thought.
Perhaps our complicated colonial nationalism diluted it too.
In the post-Catholic Ireland this has continued. We have no Tommy Robinson or Katie Hopkins.
We have no UKIP or, indeed, any opportunistic establishment party willing to put on their clothes in order to get power.
Our bar stool, dreaming of being a soldier, fascists are there alright but they are out there on the margins, imagining the day they take power. Playing Call of Duty in their bedrooms.
But events in Washington, no less, have shown us just how fragile even the apparently strongest democracy is.
Four years of Donald Trump’s dismantling by Twitter taught us all how easily a seemingly robust, albeit static, democratic society could be undone.
It is too easy to sit in our liberal strongholds and think we are impregnable.
It is too comforting to sit in the green hills of Ireland and think, well, never here.
Which is why we need to condemn, and condemn strongly, not just the far right’s anti-mask response to this current pandemic but those who have gone along with them.
It is easy to say that people have become frustrated with social restrictions. Who hasn’t?
It is easy to say people are worried about mental health. Who isn’t?
It is easy to say people are alarmed by other serious health conditions being neglected. Who’s not?
But going along with the far right, without acknowledging their hard, bigoted, nationalism, just because they give voice to your frustrations doesn’t wash.
Let’s ignore for once the obvious caricatures like Justin Barrett and Gemma O’Doherty and look instead at Professor Dolores Cahill.
She has an extensive career in immunology and was on government and EU advisory boards.
Professor Cahill certainly has the medical stature to be making comments about the pandemic and has positioned herself strongly as a Covid sceptic and a mask and lockdown sceptic.
The fact she has been asked to stand down from the boards she was on, has found an Institute she was associated with strongly distancing itself from her, and found 133 students from the UCD School of Medicine expressing their concerns about being taught by her, could be seen as just the mainstream scientific community opposing a differing opinion.
The fact that the utterly overwhelming body of the world’s medical professionals disagree with her does not remove the fact that she is a very learned professor.
Those who follow her and take comfort in her anti-mask, anti-lockdown message can at least trumpet that.
Dolores Cahill, a lone, singular, medical and academic voice. That’s all she is. Except she isn’t.
For it so happens that Dolores Cahill is also the Chairperson of The Irish Freedom Party.
And what does the Irish Freedom Party believe in? It believes Ireland should leave the European Union.
It believes immigration leads to crime. It believes climate change is ‘climate alarmism’.
Professor Cahill herself believes that those politicians supporting Covid restrictions will be put on trial, that she is acting as a judge on a tribunal taking world leaders to court, that face masks cause brain damage, that further pandemics will be released soon, and that a bomb will go off in Holland to disrupt the food supply, followed by martial law.
Dolores Cahill is not simply a medical academic out of step with majority thought.
She is a far-right activist with a fondness for conspiracy theories.
And that is the kind of person anti-mask activists follow and believe in.
Getting into bed with Ireland’s far-right thinkers can’t be explained away by only having an interest in their face mask policy.
Democracy is a fragile thing. Even here in little old Ireland.
Too fragile to let the far-right play with it. And too fragile to let the fools who follow them either.