The Government needs to respond “rapidly” to the right-wing style violence outside the Dáil last weekend or risk seeing this type of behaviour becoming “normalised”, an expert of terrorism has said.
Natasha Dromey, attached to University College Cork, said that if this aggression is allowed to become commonplace it could provide an opening for a “more extremist movement” to grow in the country.
Ms Dromey, who has written several books on terrorism, said there is a “dangerous rise” in openly intimidating and violent behaviour by certain groups in Ireland and said social media is promoting these acts and aiding the groups’ popularity and recruitment.
She said there is a “very fine line” between these groups being on the fringe of society and “becoming a significant threat”.
The lecturer was commenting on the back of last Saturday’s violent scenes outside the Dáil when a group of, mainly, men descended on a small bunch of counter-protestors.
Many of the men were brandishing Irish tricolours, including one hooded individual carrying a makeshift flag which appeared from footage widely circulated on social media to be a large plank of wood wrapped in a tricolour.
Members of the group pushed the counter-protestors (who say they were observers), shouted verbal abuse at them and chanted repeatedly: “Paedophile scum off our street”.
One of the four women in the counter-protest group was knocked to the ground and suffered a significant head injury.
Gardaí are conducting an investigation into what they said was “an assault” and are examining CCTV footage in the area to identify the attacker.
Ms Dromey said the “use of de-humanising language coupled with the promotion of narratives based on fear are central to far-right extremism”.
She said there is a general upsurge globally and that “a right-wing style extremist approach surrounding political protest” is becoming an almost daily occurrence.
She added: “The growing trend is worrying however and the Government needs to be rapid in its response to acts like these.
"The biggest fear is that we enter into a situation whereby this kind of behaviour becomes normalised or commonplace thus providing an opening for a more extremist movement to grow within the country.”
She said the violence outside the Dáil and a recent assault near the Customs House is “indicative of extreme far right and plays into their narrative of fear promotion”.
Ms Dromey added: “I think that we are definitely seeing a dangerous rise in the numbers of these incidents. The use of social media to promote these acts is actually aiding in the group's popularity and recruitment. There is a very fine line between these groups being on the fringe of society and becoming a significant threat and the government needs to be aware of this and act on it accordingly."
Ms Dromey expects more ugly scenes like those seen last Saturday: “Undoubtedly so, we are going to see these kinds of incidents increase especially in more cosmopolitan areas such as Dublin where there are so many different cultural elements all living in the same location.
"We are also sadly being led by the US example and the normalisation of racism, sexism and homophobia that has become commonplace.”
Asked if the right wing groups latch on to wider causes, such as the anti-mask or anti-vaccine movements, she said: “These groups are masters at playing into the fears of the people, so any issue that seems to be controversial or a possible threat to the norm is capitalised by groups like this.
“The danger is that once they are able to successfully capture the audience through a more normalised issue such as wearing masks, we then see more extreme rhetoric emerge. It is not a rapid process so it does not shock and turn away those who agree with the baseline arguments presented by the group.
She said the online environment is “a hotbed of activity”, especially the 'dark web', which she said is extremely difficult to monitor.
“Platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat are prime examples of social media sites that can target specific groups within society and flood them with propaganda materials.”
Responding to comments from garda sources to the Irish Examiner that the groups in question are a "pick and mix" and a "witch's brew" of groups, she said: “Interestingly a lot of these groups do not like to engage with each other and tend to stay separate.
"Even though they may share a baseline ideology their narratives and lust for power keeps them apart, as is the case with the majority of extremist and terrorist organisations.”
She doesn’t expect to see in the near future a political party emerging to represent these groups
“I do not think that, as it stands, there is space or enough vulnerability within the Irish political system for groups like this to infiltrate or be represented as a viable political alternative."
But she added: “That is not to say, however, that there is not an element within society that does not strongly support and agree with these groups. The danger would be that all it would take would be a trigger even to provide the catalyst for them to expand their support bases and bring those who are underlying supporters to light.”