The intolerant in Irish society remain a minority ... for now

The intolerant in Irish society remain a minority ... for now
Gemma O’Doherty, who says she is not anti-immigrant, is the only figure on the nativist right with any kind of public profile, says Michael Clifford. Picture: David Keane

Is Ireland tolerant? The week just past, and a few preceding it, provide mixed results.

On Wednesday, UCC lecturer Amanullah De Sondy revealed he received a voice message telling him: “I hope you are executed.” Mr De Sondy, who lectures on contemporary Islam and is a native of Glasgow, was told to go back to Pakistan.

“It was a horrible message, calling me a terrorist, a scumbag, and a racist,” he told the Irish Examiner. “I think this person associates these atrocities with Islam and Muslims. I am an academic. I want to teach people to think.”

This was the second time he had received that kind of message, the first in 2017.

On Monday, Fine Gael councillor Danny Byrne made a formal complaint of hate speech to An Garda Síochána against Gemma O’Doherty, a former journalist. “I have heard complaints from many people about her possible incitement to not only hatred, but violence,” Mr Byrne said. “It’s now in the hands of the gardaí.”

On what might be referred to as the nativist right — those who espouse anti-immigrant politics — Ms O’Doherty is the only figure in Ireland with any kind of a public profile. She claims she is not anti-immigrant, but is standing up against the globalist movement (or something like that), of which the “Irish establishment” is some form of lackey.

For the last six weeks, she has been protesting outside Google HQ, in Councillor Byrne’s Dublin inner city constituency, over the removal of her YouTube account. Google says Ms O’Doherty’s channel breached its hate-speech policy. She is on record as saying she is not involved in hate speech.

The protest has consisted of up to a dozen supporters waving tricolours and shouting slogans. Initially, they also created a racket with musical instruments, but the gardaí put paid to that.

A fortnight ago, an anti-racism protest marched to Google’s HQ and there was a confrontation between the two protests. A line of gardaí separated them.

One of the speakers for the anti-racism group was Hazel Chu, a Green Party councillor who has a Chinese background and has spoken of how she has been racially abused. Another nugget to emerge from the confrontation was a photograph, the provenance of which has been questioned by Ms O’Doherty’s supporters, of a man giving the Nazi salute.

Immigrant groups are not surprised when reports of hate speech arise. It is also true that whatever small — possibly miniscule — constituency subscribes to this stuff, there has been absolutely no political purchase for it.

In that context, Ms O’Doherty is the only figure with a public profile around which the nativist right can rally and can claim, with Trumpian aggravation, that they are in danger of being oppressed. Without Ms O’Doherty, these people would be confined to an angry echo chamber, where they could spit and fume in a dark corner of cyberspace.

In that context, Ms O’Doherty’s public profile is interesting, because it is attributable not to the hate-speech headbangers, but to those who abhor her current political positioning.

Over the last five years or so, she presented herself as “an award-winning investigative journalist” with a passion for exposing corruption. Her big story was the disappearance, in 1977, of six-year-old Mary Boyle in Donegal.

Ms O’Doherty’s “investigation” concluded that the child’s disappearance, and presumed murder, resulted in a major cover-up, implicating dozens of gardaí and the Fianna Fáil party.

This was all attributed to an alleged phone call from a Fianna Fáil politician to a senior garda, instructing that the chief suspect be left alone. A garda source she used to propagate this theory ultimately classified this alleged call as a “rumour”.

Ms O’Doherty gained a considerable following on social media and produced a documentary based on her investigative work. Mary Boyle — The Untold Story was screened in community halls across the country and at film festivals abroad.

Few scratched beneath the surface of what was little more than a baseless conspiracy theory that played into widespread disillusion with “the establishment”.

Plenty of those who consider themselves left wing bought into a narrative in which a number of gardaí, both senior and junior, and leading politicians in Fianna Fáil, were willing to cover up the murder of a child. In 2016, Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan cited Ms O’Doherty’s work in the European Parliament.

“Allegedly, a still sitting politician intervened and that intervention led to one of the worst cases of police cover-up we have seen in Ireland,” she told the parliament. Ms O’Doherty visited Leinster House and was welcomed by many. Sinn Féin politicians, among others, lauded her, had their photos taken with her, and disseminated the photos as political literature.

The investigation into the alleged cover-up was the subject of a positive article in the Irish Times, penned by journalist Kitty Holland, who has a commendable record in exposing social injustice. (The pair subsequently had a major falling-out).

Respected British journalist Roy Greenslade wrote approvingly about Ms O’Doherty in The Guardian, under the headline, “Why has Ireland’s mainstream media turned its back on Mary Boyle? — Investigative journalist faces apathy, as she seeks to reveal the truth about the disappearance of ‘Ireland’s Madeleine McCann’.

So it went a few short years ago. An awful lot of people were prepared to reel in shock at the lengths to which the establishment would go to protect their own. All based on a rumour, dressed up as a theory, and packaged as fearless reporting.

The size of Ms O’Doherty’s following prompted her to seek a nomination for the presidential election. In that quest, she received support from outlets such as the self-styled anti-establishment website Broadsheet.ie. Following her failure to get the nomination, she then changed tack and began appealing to the nativists.

One big story from the election was the 23% vote received by Peter Casey, after he drew a few verbal kicks at minorities, including Travellers. Perhaps Gemma saw in the vote a market for a different line in conspiracies.

Today, those who championed her and raised her profile are apparently horrified at the politics she is now espousing. There is a lesson in there for all of us about how truth and accuracy are so easily trampled on these days in pursuit of a favoured narrative.

In such a milieu, facts tend to be regarded as an optional dessert with the main course. As for the nativists, the smart money says that despite having a standard around which to rally, these people are still without any real purchase in society.

That is not to dismiss them completely. Vigilance is required, but, as of yet, they do not present the same level of danger as their kindred spirits in some other notable western countries.

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