Irish Examiner view: Provocateurs do not speak for the people

Their numbers are small, but we cannot be complacent about a sinister fringe targeting a place of refuge for asylum seekers
Irish Examiner view: Provocateurs do not speak for the people

It is shocking that any Irish people would travel to another town — in this instance, Fermoy, Co Cork — to frighten small children who have already been through serious trauma. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Events in Fermoy, Co Cork, this week had a sinister edge, with dozens of people gathered to protest against the arrival of asylum seekers in St Joseph’s Convent in the town. For those newcomers, including 25 children, it must have been a harrowing introduction to a place of refuge as they endured a shameful display by performative agitators.

While it is shocking to consider that there are Irish people willing to travel to another town to frighten small children who have already been through serious trauma, it is also necessary to maintain a sense of perspective about the larger context, and in particular the threat to democracy offered by far-right provocateurs.

The number of those protesters visible in footage shot in Fermoy is very low, and it was also heartening to read that there were people in the Cork town willing to show solidarity with those in St Joseph’s — and to do so spontaneously. A further counterprotest is planned this weekend.

The incident in Fermoy thus functions in two ways: It specifically exposes opportunists who are seeking to exploit a situation for their own ends. 

In general, however, it brings into sharp relief the real size of this particular problem; for all the hand-wringing on social media about the rise of fascism, there are still relatively few people willing to expose their noxious doctrines in public and fewer still willing to support them.

That is not a passport to complacency. The old saw about eternal vigilance being the price of freedom still holds true, and the fact that there are enough of these people available to create even a very small crowd is concerning.

Are they reflective of Irish society as a whole, however? The answer must be no.

The beliefs of this rump are akin to the ‘Know-Nothings’ of 19th-century America, a virulently racist group which opposed newcomers to the country — and Irish Catholics in particular. An outdated belief system riddled with contradictions sounds about right.

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