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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Sasko Lazarov

Surrealing in the Years Dublin riot shatters many of our shared delusions about Ireland

We cannot allow this cynical vision of Ireland to consume us.

WE WILL BE waiting a very long time for the smoke to clear after this week’s riot in Dublin city centre.

In the immediate aftermath of a stabbing that left three children and a woman in her 30s hospitalised, there was no time for the people of Dublin to come together. There was no safe space to hold a vigil as the winter wind blew fumes across the city. Where one might have expected to see candles lit and laid out for the victims, the city itself was set ablaze.

As of Saturday morning, a five-year-old girl remains in critical condition while a six-year old-girl is being treated for head injuries. A five-year-old boy was discharged from hospital, while the woman – a childcare worker – is in serious condition in hospital. The suspect is under guard at hospital, also being treated for injuries sustained in the attack.

Images from Thursday night – towers of flame unfurling from burned-out emergency service vehicles, buses and Luas trams – are of a kind that many hoped, naively as it turned out, that they’d never have to see. Now that we have, it’s safe to say that this cloud of smoke, infused as it is with fear, rage, confusion and hatred, will linger for some time.

Ireland has long laboured under the misapprehension that because we do not have a consolidated far-right party in the Dáil, there is no need to worry about their rise here in the same way other European countries do. A night like this, indeed no night more than this, should shatter that illusion forever.

Just because Marine Le Pen isn’t our president doesn’t mean that the hundreds or thousands of aggressors we do have aren’t prepared to make life very unpleasant for the rest of us. Just because many of us can get by with ignoring them most of the time doesn’t mean we should. 

Yes, the crowds responsible for this week’s upheaval are, in the grand scheme of things, small. No, they are not well-organised. Who are they, after all? Are they scholars of far-right doctrine who spend their evenings watching video essays about white ethno-nationalism? Are they cynical opportunists seizing the chance for a dust-up? Discord grifters? Angry and easily seduced young men?

Assigning motive to a mostly faceless mob, often made up of disparate actors and intentions, can be difficult.

But we do know what spark drew them out on Thursday evening. Early and at-the-time-unconfirmed reports about who was responsible for the nightmarish stabbing that left one child in critical condition and injured two others. It was apparently the substance of these reports that gave rise to chants of “Ireland for the Irish” and banners bearing slogans such as “Ireland is full”.

It counted for nought, seemingly, that the hero who stopped the attacker by beating him with a motorcycle helmet was a “foreign national” too.

Whatever else we can say about the spontaneous nature of the riot, we can certainly say that the far-right were present. They are a group that have long been treated with kid gloves as a matter of policy by An Garda Síochána. In May of this year, after a group in Clare blockaded roads in an attempt to prevent the rehousing of people seeking international protection, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said: “We’re taking a long view of these matters. Confrontation, which in effect plays into their hands, is a trap that we’re not falling into”.

Since late 2022, we have watched crowds such as this one prepare, consolidate, and likely grow in numbers. They have blocked roads, harassed librarians, set fire to tents and threatened elected officials. Whatever those at the top end of An Garda Síochána were hoping for – perhaps that these people would simply get bored, that they would eventually pack it all in and take up birdwatching – has not transpired.

Instead, they are emboldened, as we can all see from social media footage of Garda cars and Gardaí themselves attacked with impunity. Any sense of safety has been undermined to the point of absence, the capital city turned over for a matter of hours to rioters whipped up by agitators – students trapped in colleges, concert-goers stuck in the 3Arena, thousands left stranded as a city went up in flames. 

We now have a full panorama of the long view Commissioner Harris was talking about, and it is horrifying. His strategy has failed in a way that is only as horrifying as it was totally predictable. He is now sat at the bottom of whatever trap he believed he was so artfully avoiding.

Of the many illusions shattered this week, this might be the most far-reaching. Anyone who assumed that either the State or that An Garda Síochána knew what they were doing in managing what Harris’ on Thursday night called a “lunatic hooligan faction” now knows that there is no such control in place. The tinderbox precariousness of our situation has been laid frighteningly bare. 

And as the smoke clears over this vista, we will all be presented with various visions of Ireland, various versions of the truth, various interpretations of the causal relationships between things like immigration, addiction, poverty and crime. As these accounts come in, be wary of who you listen to.

Beware, for example, the people who would tell you their divine mission is to protect the women and children of Ireland, all while their actions force a major maternity hospital to tell patients to stay away for their own safety.

Beware the people who, shown a deliberate and supposedly strategic light touch by the Gardaí for over a year, turn violently on law enforcement just the same, shooting fireworks into crowds of police.

Beware people who tell you the core of their mission is to safeguard Irish education from unwanted influences while they force universities to lock their doors to the public in order to keep the students and staff inside safe.

Beware those who tell you that they speak on behalf of a community, when in actual fact they’ve spent the last year travelling from parish to parish to deliver their incoherent gospel, arms out at the selfie angle, streaming all the while, never more than a bus ride away from the latest fight.

Beware those who tell you that they are standing up for Irish sovereignty while leeching off the social media clout provided by the likes of Tommy Robinson, an English nationalist who has expressed support for soldiers accused of involvement in the the Bloody Sunday massacre.

Beware those who focus on the nationality of those who commit crimes (as long as they’re not Irish), while ignoring that Thursday’s attacker was subdued by a 43-year-old Brazilian gig economy worker by the name of Caio Castro Menezes Benicio.

Beware, as a rule, anyone whose version of exultant freedom looks an awful lot like a city on fire, its inhabitants taken hostage. Beware those who are desperate to lower the rest of Ireland to their level.

An illusion of Ireland was shattered on Thursday night. That doesn’t mean we need to replace it with an even more cynical myth.