The recent riots in Dublin may not have been a random act of hooliganism. Whispers of a deeper concern regarding immigration have surfaced surface, but Ireland’s political parties seem hesitant to acknowledge this potential undercurrent
IF THERE is a widespread anxiety about migration into Ireland then it is strange that no political party has taken up the issue.
The other possibility, of course, is that no such upsurge of feeling is underway at all and that the recent rioting in Dublin was, as many commentators said, ‘not us’. By this reasoning it was just an opportunity grabbed hold of by a bunch of low life ne’er-do-wells out to have a high old time wrecking Dublin.
The first instinct of those responding politically was to dismiss the theory that an intelligible political motivation drove the rioting and to moralise about the behaviour of the rioters. That’s understandable. Louts ran amok. There can be no defence of that behaviour.
But they did not run amok the day or week before. They ran amok after a knife attack on children in Parnell Square believing that a migrant was responsible.
You could argue that they had been drawn to the scene of the atrocity simply to see what had happened, clashed with the police and the whole thing escalated from there.
It is more logical to assume that these people, or at least those who led them, believe they have an authentic cause. They believe that migrants into Ireland are a danger to the rest of us, more of a danger than they are themselves, and that the government is not taking due care to keep them out.
But so far no political party seems willing to adopt that cause and go for those votes.
That’s not how it is in other European countries.
In Holland an anti-immigration party, the PVV led by Geert Wilders has just become the largest party.
In France the Front National led by Marine le Pen thrives on a similar racist anti-immigration sentiment in the country.
There has been a sharp shift to the right in Italy.
We have seen the rise of English nationalism drawing on fear of inundation by migrants producing the Brexit vote and support for Nigel Farage and UKIP.
In each country and in others we see a political party rise to prominence by cultivating fears that migrants arriving in the country would over-strain social services, compete with locals for jobs and wreck the economy.
These fears seem also to arise from something more than the pragmatic argument about whether what migration costs amounts to more than what migrants contribute. This would not actually be an easy case to make given what new arrivals contribute to the health service.
In India we have seen the rise of the Hindutva movement, now in power and making the argument that India is a Hindu country.
This argument is endorsed by the ruling party, the BJP of Narendra Modi and expressed at street level by hostility to Muslims.
One expression of this was the destruction of a mosque, the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, that was alleged to have been built on the site of a Hindu temple four hundred years ago.
An equivalent measure in Ireland would be Catholics destroying Down Cathedral because it used to be the site of a Benedictine monastery and harbours the remains of Patrick the national saint.
No one expects that to happen.
So what is the difference between Ireland and these other countries?
We do have a nationalist movement and it has been brutally violent. It has its early roots in an idea that the country should be Catholic and Gaelic. It no longer asserts these ideas yet commemorates republicans who did.
Our Irish nationalism tends towards liberal politics.
Sinn Féin certainly does not want to be viewed as racist so it is not moving to bring the rioting louts under its wing.
Mary Lou McDonald’s pitch for political advantage from the rioting was to attack the Justice Minister, Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and accuse them of not having dealt adequately with the violence.
This was from a political party that has a long history of siding with rioters against the police in the North. The republican tradition now seeks to identify itself as an oppressed colonised people and has sought endorsement of that idea from black South Africans, Palestinians, Cubans and others. That is the message of the international wall murals in Belfast, that they are all fighting the same cause.
Whether its base is actually as liberal is another question.
If there is a strong feeling in the country that immigration is a problem and needs curtailed this is an idea that appears unlikely to find a political party to advance that argument. That may be a good thing. I don’t want to hear rabid bigots on the evening news calling for refugees and ethnic minorities to be thrown out, rousing greater fear among the population than already exists.
But I also wonder if the danger of violence would be lessened if these people were listened to and engaged with.
That was the core principle of the peace process and, right enough, the savagery subsided.
But Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen are the warning. Nigel Farage is now in the jungle munching maggots but he’ll be back.
But for now it appears that all major parties in Ireland are simply hoping that the police will be able to deal with what they call the far right. Good luck to them.