How far-right propaganda in Ireland ‘weaponises legitimate social issues’

While far-right movements in Ireland might not escalate to levels seen globally, one expert says it’s time to take it seriously, writes Neil Michael
How far-right propaganda in Ireland ‘weaponises legitimate social issues’

Several hundred people have protested in the East Wall area about the use of empty office buildings in the area as temporary housing for refugees. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Joe Carolan knows what can happen when the hard right is not taken seriously once it starts agitating in a country.

The Irishman had warned New Zealand police, 18 months before the March 2019 shootings at Christchurch mosques, that violent deaths could occur at the hands of someone inspired by hard-right propaganda against migrants and Muslims.

Mr Carolan, an organiser for the Unite trade union in New Zealand, had given the warning to police based on death threats he and others had intercepted against a group of migrant students who had been facing deportation.

The trade union was representing migrants in their fight to stay in the country. At the time, the students were being housed in a church in the centre of Auckland.

Threats were made to the church that if the students weren’t deported, there would be a machine gun attack against the church.

“We reported the threat to the police and, given the relatively small size of New Zealand, thought the fact that such a violent threat had been made would be acted on,” he recalled.

Flowers cover the steps of the Kilbirnie Mosque on March 17, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history, 51 people were killed and 40 more were injured. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Flowers cover the steps of the Kilbirnie Mosque on March 17, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history, 51 people were killed and 40 more were injured. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

He says little or nothing was done about the threats.

It was only after lone gunman Brenton Harrison Tarrant killed 51 and injured 40 by shooting his way into two mosques, with the first attack live streamed on Facebook, that security was massively increased around migrant centres.

“There was an apology by the police and security services after that,” he said.

“But I wouldn’t single out just the security agencies alone.

“I would say that, by and large, in general, most people in New Zealand didn’t take the threat seriously because it [far-right propaganda] isn’t mainstream — it is still on the fringes.” About three months ago, Mr Carolan returned to Ireland to stay with friends.

While there are no current indications of an escalation to anything approaching the Christchurch incident, from what Mr Carolan has seen happening with the recent growth of the hard right in Ireland, he believes everyone needs to start taking it seriously.

As a former resident of East Wall, he knows the community at the heart of the Dublin City area where recent demonstrations against refugees have been centred.

“Ireland is on the cusp of seeing the far-right achieving a breakthrough,” he said.

“I’m not sure if it’ll be an electoral breakthrough, which has been the benchmark for quite a lot of EU countries.

Joe Carolan is an organiser for the Unite trade union in New Zealand. Picture: Twitter @SolidarityJoe
Joe Carolan is an organiser for the Unite trade union in New Zealand. Picture: Twitter @SolidarityJoe

“East Wall is a good solid working-class community and a lot of people there are in multicultural relationships and would be opposed to scapegoating refugees from Ukraine or whatever.

“Most people are decent in Ireland, but I think the far right is not interested in the decent majority.

“They’re interested in latching on to movements and then building profiles for themselves and I think that’s what’s happened with East Wall.” 

Prominent names

The list of names that come together at demonstrations includes Irish Freedom Party president Herman Kelly, whose party believes in controlled immigration “to suit the interests of ordinary Irish people” and closed borders to solve the current housing crisis.

They also include Philip Dwyer, who stood as a candidate in the 2020 general election for the National Party but failed to get elected.

At the time, the father of three was described on the right-wing party’s website as a property manager from Tallaght.

An activist at demonstrations against refugee centres all around the country, he believes “at least” 90% of refugees coming into the country are “economic refugees”, and routinely refers to “fake asylum seekers” and “so-called refugees”.

He said in one video live streamed in Dublin’s East Wall recently that he had spoken to people who had “strategies up their sleeves to escalate” matters if the former ESB office building was not closed as an emergency accommodation centre to refugees.

In another recent video, Mr Dwyer filmed himself at the front office of a Government department, asking to speak to the minister about how their department “supports paedophilia” because it was displaying a number of rainbow flags in its front ground-floor windows.

Mr Dwyer organised a so-called Men of Ireland Trek across the country of a group of men touring towns and cities and holding rallies.

Among those accompanying him was Mike Connell.

The former Defence Forces soldier, who denies being a member of the hard right, was last year — as is detailed on his Satirical Soldier Youtubechannel — the subject of an investigation by the gardaí’s main counter-terrorism unit, the Special Detective Unit (SDU).

It was initiated after Mr Connell, who has also stated he does not advocate violence but is instead a fervent free speech advocate, posted a video online entitled ‘Dear Taoiseach’.

In the video, posted in November 2021, he warned that if the Government made what was described as “tyrannical” Covid regulations any stricter, he would voice his objections to that decision not at the Dáil or on a street but at Micheál Martin’s own home.

He ended the video, as he has done with all his videos, with the sound of a shot being fired, which he describes as a signature sign-off.

 Dozens of people demonstrated earlier this week outside the Presentation Convent in Fermoy. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Dozens of people demonstrated earlier this week outside the Presentation Convent in Fermoy. Picture: Howard Crowdy

In a video subsequently posted in April this year, and viewed more than 7,750 times, he explains he had not in any way intended to threaten the Taoiseach.

Into the same video, he says that, before his recent retirement, he served for 21 years in the Defence Forces and took part in “countless domestic operations” protecting “presidents and monarchs”.

Another former soldier involved in the far-right movement is Dubliner Rowan Croft.

The former British army soldier, who is also known as ‘Grand Torino’, had his Facebook page taken down by the social media company in October last year.

Years earlier, in 2015, there was a video post of him calling for elected officials who backed vaccination for children to be “hung by the neck” and for “traitors”, which include journalists, to be executed.

According to an online interview, he joined the British army at the age of 18 and served for six years as an engineer, an experience he says taught him “to be a man”.

The builder is known for his strong opposition to immigration and vaccination, and he has a history of involvement with demonstrations against accommodation centres for refugees.

‘Everyone will own nothing and you will be happy’

Another with strong views about vaccination is Stephen Kerr, who runs a website with his father Maurice called ‘Irish Inquiry’.

The father and son organise public meetings and are very active at “airing concerns” about the decision to house refugees at Breaffy House Hotel near Castlebar, in Co Mayo.

It is hosting 700 refugees, of which 480 are from Ukraine, and of those, 15% are males, and all with families.

The remaining 220 are from other countries, of which 17% are males, and — like the Ukrainians — all of them are with families.

Issues that have been raised by Mr Kerr and others like him have been that refugees coming into Ireland are not vetted, but the Mayo refugees were — as in other centres — all repeatedly interviewed both before they came to Ireland and when they arrived.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was confronted by Mr Kerr on Market St, in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

One of the things Mr Kerr asked the minister was whether or not he endorsed Klaus Schwab’s plans for “the great reset”.

Schwab, the World Economic Forum founder, has co-authored a book that explores a post-Covid-19 pandemic world, the future of global relations, and the future direction of national economies.

There is a growing online conspiracy that the “reset” is in fact a “globalist” plot to use the pandemic to force everyone to be vaccinated, have digital IDs, and renounce private property rights.

Mr Coveney replied he had no idea what Mr Ker was talking about. Mr Kerr explained the plan meant that “everyone will own nothing and you will be happy”.

It is a quote attributed to the World Economic Forum as being one of the organisation’s goals.

One of the places the claim appeared was a February 2021 social media post which has since been fact-checked by the news agency Reuters. Reuters found the claim was false, the quote invented.

Shared more than 1,200 times, the post stated that the goal was that “by 2030 you’ll own nothing and be happy”.

Danish politician Ida Auken, who wrote the prediction in question, has since explained it was not a “utopia or dream of the future” but “a scenario showing where we could be heading — for better and for worse.” In response to Mr Coveney’s confrontation with Mr Kerr, far-right activist and self-styled party leader and “citizen journalist” Derek Blighe commented on his Facebook page: “Coveney caught lying.

“This is the man that wants the Irish voting block replaced with Africans so nobody is up to fight for the country.” The bricklayer from northwest Co Cork mostly posts online mobile phone videos of himself entering — among other places — accommodation centres for Ukrainian and other refugees.

With the phone camera pointing at his face, he asks unsuspecting staff if there is any room for a man who he says he knows is both Irish and homeless.

Mr Blighe is invariably told the person cannot stay in the accommodation, which could be a hotel that accommodates Ukrainians or other refugees.

Earlier this year, he said he answered a call for volunteers to help the team behind Ireland’s DIY SOS to help restore six terrace houses on the grounds of Kingston College in Mitchelstown in North Cork.

But he pulled out in protest over the fact that the houses being done up were for Ukrainian refugees and he later went onto a Cork radio station to air his views about that.

While this helped him get a few more followers on Youtube, he gained more when he went into a Ukrainian community hub in Cork City’s Merchant’s Quay and helped himself to an item of clothing.

As the hub was set up to provide free clothing and other items for Ukrainian refugees from the Russian invasion, he later said — again in an interview with a Cork radio station — that the hub was “racist”, “discriminatory”, and “morally wrong”.

He recorded the incident, for which he was arrested and charged in relation to the theft of an item of clothing, but the incident led to the hub closing down.

While Mr Blighe admits he has been called racist “thousands of times”, he has said he does not have a racist bone in his body and that what he is is “pro-Irish”.

He sees multiculturalism as “fruity nonsense” and a “dangerous experiment” and claims that “the vast majority” of Ukrainian refugees have come from parts of Ukraine where “there is no war”.

He also claims that the current housing crisis, which dates back to the 1980s when councils started privatising their housing stock, is “caused by mass immigration”.

Mr Blighe also talks about ministers who “roll around in their armoured vehicles, heavily armed with bodyguards” while “the rest of us” have to navigate “the dangerous streets”.

Little is known about Mr Blighe, but he is himself a former immigrant.

As he has mentioned in his videos, he has lived and worked in a variety of countries, including Canada.

A father of two sons and a daughter, he returned from Canada where he appears to have lived and worked for around 10 years, with his wife.

He appears to be employed in the building trade, but he also raises small monthly donations online.

Other key figures

Another figure associated with the East Wall demonstrations is Graham Carey, who came to prominence as an activist when he demonstrated against vaccinations and lockdown outside Leo Varadkar’s Dublin home last year.

He was later questioned at his house by the Sunday World in September 2021, where he said in a Facebook post he was “done with Ireland” and that “the majority of people on this little island want everything that’s coming to them”.

 The protests which recently took place in East Wall, Dublin. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
The protests which recently took place in East Wall, Dublin. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

He was joined in protests outside the homes of politicians by other activists, including Andy Heasman and Darragh O’Flaherty.

Mr O’Flaherty’s Facebook profile was taken down for allegedly “violating” policies and verbally attacking people on the grounds of — among other things — race and nationality.

When he stood for Galway City Council as a councillor, one of his main issues was uncontrolled migration, which he said was akin to inviting the rest of the world to come in and take over the country.

Ross Lahive is another figure associated with issues of the hard right, and in his case, it has predominantly been the wearing of masks.

He has led a string of protests outside schools, against wearing face masks.

During a court case — which he lost — earlier this year for breaching Covid-19 restrictions, he admitted calling gardaí enforcing public health restrictions “Nazi scum”.

Another key figure in hard right circles is Niall McConnell, who runs Síol na hÉireann (‘Seed of Ireland’).

He has described himself as being part of a pro-life Christian nationalist movement and is avowedly “anti-Islam and anti-Zionist”.

McConnell once branded a Mayo priest “a heretic” after he allowed Muslims to pray in his chapel in Ballyhaunis, telling him he had brought “foreign satanic cultists” into the church.

Other figures include Gearóid Murphy, who denies being far or hard right and instead says he is a “moderate centrist”.

He has been, over the years, a key activist on issues around migrant housing, and played roles in demonstrating against housing for refugees and asylum seekers in his native Cork, as well as Oughterard, Lismore, Lisdoonvarna, and Roosky.

‘Necessary to call them out’

University College Cork lecturer in migration studies and geography Piaras Mac Éinrí is conflicted when asked if the mainstream media should be writing about Ireland’s hard right movement.

It is, he admits, a difficult question to answer.

“People involved in researching the far right often ask themselves that question and wonder if they are just feeding the fire by talking about them,” he says.

“I think sometimes it is necessary to write and talk about them.

“This is because there are times when you may need to point out that someone who claims to be, for example, a housing activist on social media is instead a hardcore individual with a record in activism of a very different kind.

“The far right in Ireland constantly weaponises legitimate social issues and discontent for other purposes and it is sometimes very necessary to call them out.”

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