IN writing about the Irish far right and the anti-mask, anti-lockdown crew, I’ve often thought I was getting too distracted by social media.
After all, spend an hour on Twitter and you can become convinced an almighty row about an almighty topic is raging.
Spend the next minute back in the real world and you become aware that what goes on in the made up social media world usually bears little resemblance to what is actually occurring.
Then in Dublin this month someone, using some kind of rocket, aimed a firework at Gardaí.
The far right and the anti-mask, anti-lockdown crew had come out from behind their keyboards.
And it wasn’t a pretty sight. Conspiracy theories, far right bigotry, RiseUpEireann, the National Party, the Irish Freedom Party, and the tricolour.
They haven’t just got the internet, they’ve got bottles and fireworks too.
Talking of the weird world of social media, even here in the green hills of Ireland, is not too far off the mark anyway, for also amongst that crowd were those influenced by Trumpian derangements.
I don’t mean just the far right sympathy with Trump’s ugly bigotry and nationalism, all of that cringing hugging of the flag.
I mean beliefs so bizarre we once thought it was only the vastness of America that gave birth to them.
So where America had QAnon, pizza parlours as fronts for child trafficking, and blood sacrifices to preserve Clinton and Hollywood, we now have our own Irish version.
In that rioting crowd on Grafton Street on that Saturday were those who believe RTÉ is killing babies in order to harvest a chemical which keeps its presenters looking young.
They believe the bodies of those babies are buried beneath the new Children’s Hospital.
Some also believe the Irish government is an organised paedophile ring and the coronavirus is faked in order to depopulate the world, usher in a one world government, or put microchips in our brains. Take your pick.
But out there, beneath the tricolours and the fireworks, were Irish people who believed this or some of this to be true.
Now it would be incorrect to overplay the threat presented by these groups or various individuals.
For instance, Justin Barrett, the leader of the National Party, has been hanging around the edges of Irish politics for decades, impressing just the disordered few.
The advent of social media enhances their appearance but they remain electorally insignificant.
Yet, we have to acknowledge a changed world, the world of the internet, whether in Dubai or Dublin.
The Grafton Street riot was organised and created online and it wasn’t virtual, it was real.
It would be ridiculously arrogant to watch what went on in our capital city and simply dismiss these people as cranks and crackpots.
If there is a cohort of Irish people so wedded to far right or conspiracy shaped beliefs they are willing to cause mayhem in the middle of a health crisis we have to ask a question. Have we got a problem?
Do we have the roots of an Irish version of the attack on the Capitol?
Or someone shouting Ireland first killing a TD?
In all honesty? Probably not.
But we do, in the midst of this pandemic, have a very active far right and the beginnings, at least, of a conspiracy culture.
The fracturing of our media, by virtue of the internet, means not only is information coming from all manner of unverified sources but that the far right sees gains in undermining traditional media outlets.
Hence RTÉ has become a hated object for all manner of far right activists and conspiracy theorists.
Hence RTÉ is helping to enforce the fake Covid pandemic if you are a far right extremist, or harvesting babies if conspiracies is your thing.
How you respond to people who believe such things I have no idea.
The far right purveyors of Irish hate have certainly found an engine they didn’t have in the form of social media, whilst the whole world of the conspiracists is online.
I don’t know what Ireland can do about that.
Confront the far right whenever they appear? Hope better education might help?
Offer help to those lost in such bizarre delusions?
Or simply trust that the coming Ireland, a far more multicultural, young, hopeful, truly Irish place, will relegate the bitter, the bigoted, and the plain wrong to ever smaller and smaller numbers.