Anne McShane wrote this response to the racist riots in Dublin in November 23rd , which was first posted by Weekly Worker. She argues that People Before Profit says the state is soft on far-right groups, but failure to deal with the housing crisis is the main problem.
MEDIA, MIGRANTS AND MOBS
Dublin hit the headlines on November 23, when dramatic images of anti-migrant protestors on the riot in the city centre were beamed around the world.
The scenes were unprecedented in Ireland, although not unexpected, as tensions have been building in Dublin and nationally. The trigger was a knife attack on children and their crèche worker at an inner-city school earlier that day. The attacker, it was claimed, was an illegal migrant. Rightwing social media accounts were quick to call for revenge. Rumours and misinformation spread about an immediate threat to white Irish people. There were calls to take on migrants (and the police, who purportedly protect “foreign bastards”). One post demanded: “Blood needs to be spilt tonight.”
In response hundreds of young men and teenagers stormed through O’Connell Street. Garda patrol cars, buses and trams were torched. Local shops and major department stores had windows smashed in and goods looted. Hundreds of perceived migrants were verbally and physically abused and told to ‘go back where you come from’. Muslim women had their hijabs ripped off. A group of teenagers confronted a bus driver, demanding to know, “What are you doing here?”, before punching and threatening to kill him unless he got off his bus. An Asian shopkeeper and his staff were forced to hide in the basement, while upstairs the store was looted and smashed.
At least two direct provision centres (hostels for asylum-seekers) were attacked that night, and a hotel set on fire, because it was believed migrants were inside. A tiny group, the National Party, demanded that every DP centre be closed down. One post on its social media demanded: “Enough is Enough. Are you happy to sit back and watch Irish children stabbed, or will you man up and fight back?” Derek Blighe, leader of the Ireland First Party, warned: “Your children are in mortal danger and the Irish government are responsible.” He claimed the man who carried out the stabbing was a “fakugee” and that one of the children had died. Conor McGregor, Ireland’s champion cage fighter, tweeted: “We are not losing any more of our women and children to sick and twisted people who should not even be in Ireland in the first place.”
In fact none of those attacked have died, although one child remains in a critical condition. The man alleged to have carried out the attack is actually an Irish citizen, who was born abroad, but has lived here for over 20 years. The school where the attack happened has a large number of children of first-generation migrants, including at least one of the children attacked. The man who managed to stop the attack was also a migrant (a Brazilian Deliveroo driver). He used his bike helmet to batter and stun the attacker. But the irrational and false nature of the claims did not figure in the minds of those gangs driven on by social media.
The Movement of Asylum-Seekers in Ireland reported intense fear among the occupants of DP centres. These are mainly converted hotels, where asylum-seekers awaiting a decision on their claims are housed. Conditions are grim. Rooms are shared with up to 16 strangers and there is a diet of fast food from the centre canteen. But if you refuse to live in a DP centre you are denied any state assistance, including medical treatment. And, because you are not allowed to work for the first six months, it is a case of ‘starve on the streets or live in a centre’. Even those who are granted legal status find it almost impossible to move out of a DP because of the lack of alternative housing. Yet now the government is forcing people to move out, relocating them to live in ‘tented accommodation’, which is often far away from where they are working and have begun to put down roots.
As well as being treated like cattle, those living in DP centres are prime targets for chauvinists. It is not just the deprived and alienated working class of Dublin north-central who seethe with resentment towards migrants. The government isolates asylum-seekers even more by dispatching them to live in rundown hotels in rural areas and small towns, where the arrival of 150 asylum-seekers can significantly alter the make-up of the population. Xenophobic fears are stoked by opportunist local politicians and members of far-right groups. Black and Asian men are depicted as dangerous rapists who will terrorise the female population. Busloads of asylum-seekers are met with barricades when they arrive at centres throughout the country.
But these problems can be solved. Despite the hostility first shown, if efforts are made by government bodies and local residents, time and time again it has been shown that the situation will settle down. Asylum-seekers are keen to work and take part in voluntary activities. Their children go to the local schools, speak English with an Irish accent, and often excel. They become part of the local population despite remaining in DP. Positive stories of integration, despite the many structural barriers, show enormous potential. The DP system was to be closed down this year, and asylum-seekers given their own homes. But that commitment has apparently been ‘forgotten’ by the government.
Up to the 1990s Ireland had always been a place of emigration, but with the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economic boom that changed. Poles began arriving after EU membership was gained in 2004. Now there are approximately 100,000 first-generation Poles here. Other European nationals have followed, but in smaller numbers. In 2022, 67,448 Ukrainians arrived and there are now approximately 100,000 Ukrainian refugees here. They do not need to apply for asylum, as they are entitled to temporary leave to remain, with the right to work and receive all social welfare and medical benefits. There is therefore a two-tier system in operation, which seriously disadvantages refugees from other countries.
Since late last year significant numbers of asylum-seekers have been told that all DP accommodation is full. They are forced to sleep on the streets. Ireland is therefore in breach of the EU Directive on Reception Conditions for failing to provide accommodation. But, like many other EU countries, it has decided that it is better to break the law than continue to house asylum-seekers. Ireland apparently does not want to seem like a ‘soft target’.
One of the biggest problems is housing. During the Celtic Tiger boom, house prices soared and budgets for social housing were slashed. Then in 2008 the economy collapsed. Many families found themselves in negative equity. But house prices were kept artificially high, along with rents, which continue to increase.
At present nearly 12,000 Irish people are living in emergency accommodation – generally hotels and housing hubs. The government states that there is an immediate shortage of 250,000 homes, and for younger people this is a major problem, with 68% of those between 25 and 29 (73.9% in the case of young men) living with their parents. But the emphasis remains on private housing, with a paltry 9,100 social homes planned for 2023. The private landlord lobby is powerful and includes some 80 TDs and senators.
For working class people in Dublin the situation is near impossible. Parents, their children and grandchildren have to live in extraordinarily cramped conditions, that or move to housing hubs. There is enormous anger and even despair – and clearly no intention on the part of the government to resolve the housing crisis. It is little wonder that so many feel they are being ignored.
According to Sinn Féin, “Since the government ended the ban on evictions in April 2021, homelessness has increased by 30%, pensioner homelessness has increased by 27%, and shockingly child homelessness has jumped by 43%.”1 But its solution is entirely inadequate and entirely in keeping with capitalist economic logic. Its 2023 ‘alternative budget’ promised 20,000 social housing units – yes, double the government pledge. But it does not come near the 250,000 homes needed immediately, even according to government figures (the real requirement is undoubtedly much higher).
A Joint Oireachtas (both houses of parliament) report published on November 29 stated that the housing crisis has been a “‘key catalyst’ for anti-immigrant sentiment in Ireland, because it had created the impression that resources are scarce and that people have to compete for services”. It calls for the state to investigate the availability of services in towns and villages before new DP centres are set up. It also suggests accommodation centres be spread more evenly across the country and that “the availability of services such as schools and GPs, among others, can be taken into account”.2
While the far-right groups in Ireland are small, the main parties of government and opposition are committed to running capitalism – a system which has created the conditions for these forces to grow. People Before Profit and other left groups have been organising counter-demonstrations against the far-right groups and they play an important role, particularly when defending migrants coming under attack. But they have a key weakness, in that they focus on the far right as the source of the problem, rather than the system itself.
This makes it easy for the government to blame ‘rotten elements’ and to promise a greater clampdown on social media and protestors. Justice minister, Helen McEntee, has promised tough action against those who took part in the riot, along with increased policing. Mary Lou MacDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, argues that this is not enough. She wants tougher action and more police, and has called for McEntee’s resignation. Fully taking up the ‘law and order agenda’ she is adamant that “These hate-filled mobs have threatened and brought violence to our streets before. This shouldn’t have happened and – let me be very clear – it can never happen again.”3
Sinn Féin is, of course, the party that People before Profit is calling to unite with it and others in forming a ‘left government’ after the next election (likely to be held in early 2025). So does PBP agree with the SF ‘law and order’ agenda, with its call for greater police powers? You would not have thought so, given that the organisation is dominated by the Socialist Workers Network, which professes to be Marxist. However, a post on its website in the aftermath of the riot gives some cause for concern. It includes the following statement:
The truth is that the far right has been treated with kid gloves by the Irish establishment and media. They have been allowed to intimidate library staff and block airports, even while Gardaí stand aside. This has been in the name of ‘intelligent policing’. Behind it lies a political strategy from elements of the Irish establishment who fear the prospect of leftwing growth. They would far prefer to use racist sentiment to thwart any left advance.4
Law and order
A quick glance at government statements will show you that this is not the case. All mainstream parties are united against the far right (while, of course, playing down or dismissing the reasons why it has become a factor in Irish politics). And if the right was treated with “kid gloves” before it most certainly will not be now.
The law and order agenda needs to be resisted. By arguing that the state is soft on the far right without opposing increased policing and surveillance, PBP is evidencing further slippage to the right. History has shown again and again how measures introduced to deal with the right have been used against the left.
We do not want an ever more tooled-up state. We want to win over the alienated youth, not demonise them as fascists, and allow the far right to become their voice.