IN June last year, 20 Roma families, including many small children, were forced to move out of the Village area of Belfast following an organised campaign of harassment against them.
Although those charged in connection with the string of attacks and the distribution of racist leaflets – which allegedly originated with the British Combat 18 far right group – have been teenagers, the campaign is believed to have been supported by former Loyalist paramilitaries.
Racist incidents in Europe and Britain are often connected to far right groups and their more respectable political organisations have undoubtedly in recent years been making electoral gains.
No openly racist or fascistic organisation has garnered serious electoral support in either part of Ireland, however.
The only exception is Ailtiri na hAiseirghe, which won nine seats in the June 1945 elections in the Republic.
But in recent years, the country’s changing social make-up has seen right-wing anti-immigrant elements attempting to take political advantage.
Former Northern Irish IRA prisoner, Gerry McGeough, attempted to politically organise around anti-immigrant sentiment in conjunction with former Youth Defence leader, Justin Barrett.
Following adverse media exposure both have returned to relative political obscurity. Mr Barrett secured just over 10,000 votes in the 2004 European elections. Mr McGeough’s Hibernian magazine ceased publication in 2007.
Other disgruntled individuals have also seen an opportunity in attempting to foster anti-immigrant sentiment.
These included a group styled the Irish Peoples Party. This amounted to little more than the activities of a then Fianna Fáil member and fundraiser in Bertie Ahern’s constituency organisation. He postered and leafleted the Dublin 7 area, which has the highest concentration of foreign nationals in the state, claiming the influx of immigrants was resulting in disease and crime. Nothing has been heard from this group after a small campaign supporting the 2004 citizenship referendum.
The Immigration Control Platform (ICP), founded by Co Cork schoolteacher Áine Ní Chonaill, has vehemently denied accusations it is a racist organisation, rather claiming it is focused solely on opposing “mass immigration.”
ICP election candidates have never received more than a few hundred votes. In last year’s Dublin Central by-election, the ICP’s Patrick Talbot received 614 votes.
The activities of small race hate groups, with fanciful names such as the Celtic Wolves or National Socialists are Us, has been confined to the internet with attempts by such individuals to meet up in person also being the subject of physical attacks by the militant Anti-Fascist Action group.
The inability for racist groups to move from the net to the street is welcomed by Sergeant David McInerney of the Garda Racial and Intercultural Office.
“These groups have largely been kept in cyberspace and hopefully that will continue to be the case. They set up web addresses through America and it proves difficult to get them taken off the air as such. But we do have a internet investigation section that has been successful over the years and stopped some.”
Fingal councillor Patrick Nulty believes one way of countering racist politics is encouraging ethnic minority community members to become involved in the mainstream parties.
“In the Labour party, there are a number of people from minority backgrounds involved.
“It is an aspect of developing a unified community both for those involved and for those we seek to represent.”
Sinn Féin TD Aengus O’Snodaigh said his party has played a role in countering racism. “The party has taken a very strong stance on this issue. We have consistently opposed discrimination against immigrants and demanded better rights and protection for minorities.”
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