Racist nationalism is growing louder in Ireland, with extremists turning a housing shortage into a wedge issue
Far-right anti-immigrant activists have claimed responsibility for setting fire to a makeshift camp housing asylum seekers in Dublin.
Posting on social media, the group Real Message Eire says they were angry at the presence of what they call a "shanty town" with "illegal migrants and communists", in a predominantly working-class neighbourhood of the Irish capital.
Real Message Eire originally encouraged protesters to come to the site earlier this week, where they were faced with counter-protesters. The two sides were separated by police.
On Friday evening, a large group gathered again in the area of Sandwith Street and Pearse Street, near Trinity College Dublin, with the apparent intention of driving out the residents of the camp – many of whom have fled conflict zones and political persecution.
After the group spent several hours chanting slogans at the camp’s residents and demanding they leave the neighbourhood, items from the area were set alight in the street.
Ireland's police service, the Gardaí, told Euronews that their officers "attended following reports of a protest/demonstration involving groups of people in the Sandwith Street area of Dublin 2 on the evening of Friday 12th May, 2023."
“Gardaí engaged with those present and one male in his thirties was later arrested under the Public Order Act. He has since been charged to appear before Dublin District Court later this month.
“As the groups involved dispersed, some furniture and wooden pallets were set alight in a nearby lane way. No one was injured.”
The spokesperson declined to confirm the identity of the arrested man, but several far-right users who encouraged and celebrated the attack on social media named him as Stephen Bedford, an anti-racist activist who was charged earlier this year with intentionally driving his car into anti-immigration demonstrators at another protest in north Dublin.
He denied the charges and was granted bail, but was told by a judge to avoid such protests in the future.
Racist nationalism seizes an opportunity
Ireland has seen an uptick in demonstrations targeting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the last year, spurred by both a rise in the number of people arriving in the country and a serious housing shortage.
The government recently ended a winter moratorium on evictions, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the country is 250,000 homes shy of the number it needs to house its residents.
The government said in March that the state is already housing around 58,000 Ukrainian refugees and 20,000 people under international protection, and is struggling to find accommodation for more.
However, much of the online rhetoric circulated online by those involved in Friday night's protest and others like it is explicitly racist and nationalist in tone.
Images and footage of the Pearse Street incident were shared online by transnational far-right activists – including supporters of the notorious British racist Tommy Robinson – and one Irish group celebrated the event by declaring that 2023 is becoming “the year of Irish youngfellah Nationalism”. Another trumpeted the event as a "total Gaelic victory".