Riding the wave of demonstrations across Europe following the Charlie Hebdo killings, a group calling themselves anti-Islam Ireland held a protest rally outside the Islamic Cultural centre and Mosque in Clonskeagh. how strong are such far right groups here? David Fleming asks some anti-fascist activists.
According to the group’s spokesperson Sandra Archer, they were there “to highlight wrong doings by the Islamic faith across the world”. The group consisted of only eight people from Anti-Islam Ireland, who also call themselves Irish Voice. The group were met by members of the Mosque who offered them tea, coffee and dates. It is traditional in Islam to offer dates as a welcoming gift.
They were also met by a counter demonstration of about 100 Anti Fascist Action and Anti-Racism protesters. There were some minor scuffles and the opposing groups exchanged verbal insults. The AFA supporters confiscated their leaflets and ripped up their banner. Anti-Islam Ireland left 35 minutes later with their collective tail between their legs. After requesting Garda protection they were escorted away, presumably to crawl back under whatever rock they emerged from. This was an unmitigated disaster for them. Having previously claimed they had more than 100 supporters due to show up on the day, a grand total of 8 did. They also claimed that more people had shown up on the day but were scared off by republicans, and that their freedom of expression had been impeded by the counter demonstrators.
I reached out to Irish Voice for an interview two days after their protest. This was their reply: “No chance . we have read your leftist bullshit before . no one takes any notice of you”. The grammatical errors are their own.
This group is not the first of its kind in Ireland by any means. This country has a long history of far right groups that precedes WW2, with the blueshirts, now Fine Gael. Ireland was also home to a number of prominent Nazis after the war. Anyone who went to primary school in Ireland will be familiar with Folens publications. Nearly all of our schoolbooks were published by them and many will recall the distinctive bumblebee logo. What they may not know is that founder Albert Folens, a Belgian national, was a volunteer in the Flemish Waffen SS and later worked for the Gestapo.
Another famous Nazi, Otto ‘Scarface’ Skorzeny, also settled here in late fifties and became a farmer in County Kildare. Skorzeny was known as Hitlers’ favourite commando after he led an assault on a hilltop fortress in Italy, freeing imprisoned fellow fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Skorzeny was depicted in the Irish media at the time as a glamorous cloak and dagger figure. He received a warm, welcoming reception upon his arrival in Dublin, which was attended by many in the Irish elite and establishment, including a young Charles Haughey.
So, like most European countries, Ireland has had, and still has, some far right groups. However, unlike our European counterparts, their influence and numbers have been minimal, almost to the point of non-existence. But why? To find out more I caught up with ‘John’ from Anti Fascist Action Ireland. We met in a random pub in Dublin’s city centre and chatted at length about the history of AFA and the far right in Ireland.
“The critical difference between us and other European countries where there is a sizeable electoral party that promotes anti-immigration politics as a backbone, or whether its football hooligans or fascist boneheads with a street presence, is in Ireland you have neither, and one of the key reasons we would argue is because of groups like AFA who have always been on top of things and do not sit back and wait for something to happen”.
We discussed the possibility of an English Defence League type group springing up in Ireland; “The difference in Ireland is that the football scene is much smaller and you don’t have those kinds of numbers, but probably more importantly, is that in terms of football, in all the major teams in Ireland there is a very strong left or left of centre ethos that goes back decades”.
He continued; “Even specifically the two main football hooligan groups in Dublin, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers, individual members of those crews would have friendships with people in AFA or friendships with people in the republican movement who have friendships with AFA, and as a result the worry that disaffected young working class men that would turn to racist politics is fortunately quite small”.
The link between anti-fascist or anti-racist politics and the republican movement is an important one. Whereas, in the UK or mainland Europe, the allegiances of the working class vote are split between far left and far right parties like the BNP, France’s National Front or Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti (Danish Peoples Party), the Irish working class vote has traditionally gone to Sinn Fein, who, according to ‘John’, “Have been very good from the top down, and vice versa, in promoting internationalist, anti-racist and generally pro-immigrant politics. That in many ways has been a life saver for anti-fascist politics in Ireland.”
The far right in Ireland is as fragmented and marginalised as it has ever been and long may it continue. In part due to groups like AFA, who have been very successful in stamping out fledgling organised racist movements before they have a chance to grow.
We all have a shared responsibility though, to ensure nothing like the National Front or Pegida ever flourish here.
Photo by Al O’Neill of NOA photography.