News & Media

Comprehensive response needed to far right violence

1 March 2021

Statement by Brendan Howlin TD
Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brexit, Northern Ireland and Justice

Labour Justice spokesperson Brendan Howlin TD added his voice to the calls for social media companies to act if their platforms are being used to organise far right violence, but said that a comprehensive response was required from the government to the rise of conspiracy theories, anti-immigrant sentiment, and anti-Covid protests that exploit fears and uncertainty.

Deputy Howlin said:

“The worrying rise of the far right in Ireland that thrives on toxic nationalism, and seeks to exploit the public health measures we’ve had to implement to protect against Covid-19 requires a comprehensive response from the government. There will be more of these protests in the weeks to come, and we need to ensure that there is a policing plan put in place to tackle those who will try to resort to violence for political purposes.

“The attacks on Gardaí are completely unacceptable, and mass gatherings like this are an insult to the many frontline staff who’ve worked to protect and serve us during this pandemic.

“If gatherings like these are being organised on social media then there is a responsibility on these companies to act to ensure that they comply with the law. Recent events also highlight again the need for a Digital Safety Commissioner.

“The scenes of violence in Dublin on Saturday is but one expression of the organising that has been taking place across Ireland in recent months. Various tactics are being used, and we need to recognise that this is a growing phenomenon that cannot be simply ignored. This is happening not just online, but through leaflet drops and localised campaigns on specific issues. We’ve seen attacks on proposed direct provision centres, increased anti-immigrant rhetoric, racist graffiti and attempts to build up racial tensions.

“While it is welcome that the Tánaiste is to write to social media companies to raise concerns about their platforms being used to organise illegal events this issue goes much further. We’ve seen across the EU and in the United States how conspiracy theories have become political gospel, and far right groups exploit our more diverse societies to recruit new activists.

“Social media platforms have a responsibility to ensure their sites are not being used to foment such violence, but we also must preserve the values that make us a democracy including the right to free speech and assembly. That is why we seriously need to consider what efforts we as legislators and as public representatives must take to tackle what is an insidious trend. People are frustrated about the lockdown for example, but we must address those concerns rather than allow their fears and anxieties to be exploited by those implementing the tactics they’ve seen benefit other far-right parties and groups elsewhere.”