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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Emma DeSouza Want to stop the march of the far-right? Tackle inequality

Despite the easy label, the writer and campaigner says Thursday’s violence can’t be dismissed as ‘thuggery’.

THREE BUSES AND a Luas tram set alight, 13 businesses attacked and looted and 11 Garda vehicles damaged or destroyed. The sheer level of destruction witnessed on Dublin’s main thoroughfare on Thursday caught political leaders and the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris off-guard. However, the socioeconomic drivers that sow fertile soil for societal unrest and violent disturbance have been evident for some time.

There has been a rush to colour the riots – which brought public transport to a halt and resulted in a lockdown at Trinity College – as far-right. Commissioner Harris claimed the riots were “driven by far-right ideology’, but this framing affords the hatemongers too much credit and conveniently absolves the State of its own failure to reach the most marginalised and disadvantaged sections of society.

While there is no excuse for what happened in Dublin on Thursday night, Ireland’s far-right, anti-immigrant fascist cohort, bolstered by their US and UK counterparts, could only dream of perpetrating such violence and disruption. The real drivers here – as we know only too well in Northern Ireland – are socioeconomic.

Poverty at crisis levels

Annual rioting in some of Northern Ireland’s most deprived areas is so routine that we have adopted the term “recreational rioting”, and, much like what is happening in Ireland, nefarious actors are quick to take credit. However, what happened in Dublin was more opportunistic than calculated.

Despite economic growth and predictions that Ireland will outperform its European counterparts in 2024, inequality in Ireland is on the rise. The 2022 survey on income and living conditions (SILC) demonstrated an increase in those living in consistent poverty, those at risk of poverty, and those in enforced deprivation. 

The divide between the haves and have-nots has always been a hotbed for dissent and division.

According to the 2022 Pobal HP Deprivation Index, the gap between the affluent and those living in deprivation is widening. Those living in deprived areas are more likely to experience higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of educational attainment. Put simply, they are being failed by the State.

Evidence demonstrates that those impacted by poverty during childhood are more likely to experience income poverty and deprivation in adulthood; 89,000 children were living in poverty in 2022 – an over 40 per cent rise since 2021. These are crisis levels of deprivation which will have long-term societal impacts in Ireland.

Inequality leads to political marginalisation, and this vacuum creates a space for far-right ideology to seep in.

We have witnessed it in the UK, where areas that were furthest from opportunity were conscripted to the falsehood that their ills, and the State’s failure to deliver equality of opportunity, were due to migration. It is a blatant lie, but as Brexit shows us, it is one that can fester and spread if the inequalities stoking the flames are not addressed.

A nation of immigrants

The reverberations from the riots are only starting to ripple; The far right in Ireland will feel emboldened – they have been credited as a significant threat and force and will seek to further capitalise on that momentum. In reality, this minority are merely the death throes of Ireland’s conservative past, backed by external actors flooding our social media feeds with anti-immigrant content.

The people peddling anti-immigrant sentiments distort reality and target the most marginalised and vulnerable in society. In order for this decay to be cut out before it causes further necrosis, the government must urgently intervene to tackle inequality.

The government might claim to be doing that with the creation of a child poverty and well-being programme office in the department of the Taoiseach, but this barely scratched the surface of the problem. In tandem with an urgent and ambitious intervention from the government, a full-scale review of policing in the capital is needed – no, Dublin is not a safe city.

As for the “Irish patriots”, there is nothing patriotic in burning buses, there is no pride to be found in targeting other marginalised groups and there is nothing Irish about being anti-immigrant; Ireland is a nation of emigrants – to be Irish and anti-immigrant is to be ignorant of your own history. You would be hard-pressed to find a family in Ireland that has not seen at least one family member emigrate.

In the aftermath of the riots, the Taoiseach said, “we are better than this”. The scenes on the streets of Dublin stand in stark contrast to Irish values, and the perception that many of us hold of the Irish nation. But, as the saying goes, “the greatness of a nation can be judged by how it treats its weakest members”, if we are to combat the effects of the far-right extremism in Ireland, we must first recognise the cause.

Emma DeSouza is a writer and campaigner.