Yves here. The old Brexit Brain Trust continues to have e-mail discussions from time to time. PlutoniumKun, who as you will see knows Dublin intimately, sent a long missive on the way the recent riots, triggered by stabbings outside a school, were being misleadingly shoehorned into prevailing narratives.
One element of PlutoniumKun’sconfirmed a stereotype: that the UK has a cohort of young men who like to break heads with little provocation, witness soccer hooligans.
But the big, arguably overarching, issue is the way questioning/discussing immigration frictions and violence has been excluded from politics and minimized in media coverage. I noticed that even at my considerable remove, that the press insisted on depicted the riots as the result of right-wingers on social media spreading rumors…when in fact the rioters had the underlying facts correct, that it was an immigrant that was the perp. The stories I read were artfully written to the impression that rumors = fabrication (the right wing in the US calls this spin “the crime of noticing”. It’s really frustrating when actual and self-censorship results in the right wing having a valid point about press bias).
PlutoniumKun also describes how the right wingers, who were an identifiable group, were protesting in a separate area and either not part of the riots or not much part of them, and the rioters did not take up the chants of the right-wingers. Moreover the rioters did not target immigrants, but went after the police and journalists. Note also that PlutoniumKun describes how the resentment is not directed at immigrants generally but at ones perceived as being freeloaders…which includes Ukrainians.
Another surprising issue is multiple examples of American and even some UK meddling.
Since there is so much nonsense been commented and written about the riots here, I thought I’d take the opportunity to put down some thoughts. My apologies if this email gets way too long and rambling but… I think a lot of things are going on simultaneously, and unless you want to shove what happened into some pre-existing narrative (which is what 95% of the commentary is doing), then there has to be a lot of context.
First off, the riot itself:
It was very short, sharp and nasty, but contrary to what was often portrayed in the media, it occurred in a very small and narrowly defined area – about 200 yards of main street (with some other outbreaks). It took less than 2 hours from flaring up to burning out. It started when a man (thought to be Algerian) attacked children leaving a small junior school – called a Gaelschoil here (a voluntary Irish speaking school, more on this below). He was stopped by brave action by a number of passersby including an American female tourist and a Brazilian delivery man.
I was in my office around 400 yards away at the time. I saw on the news what happened and decided that the last thing anyone needed was sightseers, so stayed in put in the office. But it was quickly obvious a riot was taking place around the corner, so around 6.30pm I left my office and did a walk around. It was apparent something nasty was building, with lots of youths arriving – some attacking police cars. Unfortunately, it was recycling day for shops, so there were convenient bundles of cardboard stacked on the streets. The overwhelming number of rioters I saw were local teens and youths – none chanting – obviously out for a fight without needing a cause. There was no overt political presence, but there was a ‘far right’ protest at the place where the original attack took place. Many of those there were obviously prepared – they had fireworks and some inflammatory materials, but no obvious weapons. Within an hour or two, 2 buses, a light railway and some cars were burned out, and sportswear shops were looted. By 8pm it was all blown over. As riots go, I’ve seen much worse in my time, but it was very intense in that small area. The police were caught completely unprepared.
The area is the upper end of O’Connell Street in Dublin with the junction of Frederick Street and Parnell Street. This is the commercial fringe of the roughest, most deprived area of Dublin. O’Connell Street is shiny and modern, with new hotels, but also has a lot of street drug use, crime, with some very rough residential areas nearby – these extend north for maybe half a mile before the inner suburbs, and east into the traditionally poorest residential part of the city into the docklands, where the highest density of the traditional working class community lives. It’s an area I know very well – my mother came from there (not so poor, more down and out petite bourgeoisie) and I was brought up with stories of the horrors of the slums by my mother and my father, who was a policeman in the 1950’s and 60’s. I can remember as a child in the 1970’s watching the last of the most horrifying slums get demolished, along with the home my mother grew up with. I’ve lived in the area for more than 20 years, I know it very well.
The immediate area of the riots, apart from commercial buildings, is the closest there is to a Chinatown in Dublin – full of Asian restaurants and an increasing number of Arab/North African owned businesses. It’s ‘rough’ as we say here, but generally vibrant and fun.
The immediate and wider area, while leaving a lot to be desired, is probably in better shape than at any time in the last century. The old slums are gone – replaced with public housing and some low grade private accommodation including numerous Georgian buildings subdivided into flats – mostly used by immigrants – the ethnicity over time – currently I’d say mostly Brazilian. It’s not great, but anyone who claims that the area is in decline doesn’t know what they are talking about – it was much worse in the not so recent and recent past.
A lot of commentators are talking about the area being ‘abandoned’, etc., but in reality it’s better than it has been in the past. There have been some very good public housing/park developments, and there is plenty of work at the moment for anyone capable of it.
The Irish working class community are mostly in public housing which is kept firmly within families – so the housing crisis hasn’t really touched them, despite what many would claim. There is a particular issue that (as always in Dublin), the local government is very weak, most real decisions are made at national level – Irish politicians have always ensured Dublin would never be an independent powerbase, it’s just too big compared to the rest of the country. But politically, it’s lost most of its community activists over the years – the last election was the last one that genuine local independents representing the local community won – now all local elected reps belong to the main parties – including the leader of Sinn Fein.
The big issue of contention is quite simple – the government has been shoving in refugees in all available property – mostly short lets or older hotels. What has most upset locals is that many of the most ‘problematic’ refugees – young men from North Africa, the Middle East, etc., are being crammed into these communities. There is deep resentment that they are getting the ‘worst’ dumped on them, and when they complain, they are accused of being racist. To an extent, this is entirely true – there is a crisis in accommodating refugees (not to mention other homeless), and the authorities are pushing for the easiest solution, which is putting them in either old deprived communities or small towns with lots of empty hotels.
What was very noticeable during the riot and the aftermath is that despite the very large immigrant community in the area there was no attempt whatever to attack any Asian/Arab owned property, or attack individuals. Indeed, I saw some Chinese people actually walk right into the riot on their way home, and none came to harm. They didn’t seem to have any idea what was going on, perhaps simply assuming that fights and rioting is quite normal in Ireland.
Anyway, political context:
One of the peculiarities of Irish politics is that it has no significant far right/anti immigrant political party. There have been attempts to create one, but none have succeeded. I think the reasons for this are (in no specific order):
1. Sinn Fein has essentially scooped up the ‘angry working class man’ vote and turned it into an anti-establishment leftist vote. Sinn Fein is very active in essentially moulding its own electorate, which is significantly more right wing than the party itself. Irish republicanism has always focused on social issues and rejected outright racism, going back to its 18th Century origins. And European style fascism has always been attached to Northern Ireland loyalism, making it particularly toxic to Irish radicals, even of the right.
2. The traditional Irish far right has been mostly focused on catholic fundamentalism – their driving issues are abortion, gay marriage, etc. As many African and East Europeans agree with them, they’ve never been particularly keen or interested in racism. Many actually welcomed immigration as it brought in lots of traditionalist Poles and even more traditionalist African priests.
3. Irish people travel and work a lot – i think this matters. Stop in any rural pub and chat to the locals and at least half of them will have spent some time abroad, often in unexpected places. This can make even small Irish towns surprisingly cosmopolitan. i’m not suggesting Irish people are less racist than anyone else, but it sort of goes against the grain for people here in a way it may not in, say, rural France or the US.
Needless to say, the Irish woke left simply assume that Irish working class are racists, because they are white and yadda yadda, etc.
Now, it should be seen as a good thing that Ireland does not have a far right political party. But this has a downside – nobody is representing people who have ‘concerns’. There is a virtual omerta in Irish political talk on issues of immigration and race and so on. Politicians refuse to engage and the media here are relentless in their view (actually overtly expressed by some journalists on twitter), that it their job ‘not to inflame things’. This extends from the mainstream press to the far corners of the tabloids. So there is an absolute refusal to in any way engage with what people are talking about.
It is very noticeable that apart from the police, only one other group was attacked during the riot. Journalists. Several were targeted specifically. Needless to say, none were interested in asking why they were so hated by those youths. i suspect they genuinely have no idea.
I want to give one specific example of the way the Irish system works to simply pretend certain things aren’t happening:
In 2018, a young Japanese man, Yosuke Sasake on a study/work programme, was stabbed to death in a town by an Egyptian asylum seeker. The Egyptian was undergoing a deep psychotic episode and just attacked the first person he saw. The town was shocked, and thousands came out in a vigil for him and his family. Several Japanese people here I know were very touched by the reaction. But not by what happened after.
Essentially, the entire incident was memory holed. The trial took all of 20 minutes. Three psychiatrists briefly stated their opinion that the killer was suffering deep psychosis. He was sent to a secure mental hospital indefinitely (he’ll probably never get out). The Japanese embassy was as furious as it’s possible for a Japanese embassy to be. They had no opportunity to make submissions for extradition, the family were not allowed any say. The small Japanese community here were extremely upset. The trial barely got a mention in the news. The Irish establishment simply decided that it was better not to ask any questions, least of all why a mentally ill Egyptian who had been refused asylum in the UK had washed up in a small Irish town without his medication.
This attitude, of simply pretending things aren’t happening, has become endemic. Some very difficult situations in small towns with refugees are simply not reported (of course, people talk about them, and you see them on social media), but it’s never actively discussed in the media.
Now to more recent events – the trial ended recently of a Slovakian accused of a particularly horrible murder. He randomly attacked a young woman out jogging and stabbed her to death – with seemingly no motive whatever. In the month that it happened, there had been two other nasty attacks on young women by East European men.
In the trial, the victims brother talked about how ‘Ireland gave a home, job, social welfare’, to the killer, and how he betrayed this. The media of course did not report this, but it was all over social media.
This view, incidentally, is not just shared by Irish people – my Asian friends in particular regularly complain to me vociferously over why refugees get free accommodation and don’t to pay for visa applications, while they have to go through the long, onerous and expensive process of applying for naturalizations. They really, truly resent this. Culturally they find it baffling that the Irish will give money to refugees while making life so difficult for hard working immigrants who go through the system the official way.
So, there is this brewing deep-lying resentment towards …. not immigrants, but a particular type of immigrant. It’s very noticeable that there has been very little overt racism expressed (even in the darker corners of X). It’s mostly a very strong resentment aimed at poor incomers, mostly North Africans, central Asians and Ukrainians.
Now, another feature of the Irish ‘turn a blind eye’. In the north inner city I’ve heard many times complaints about how a type of ‘sorting’ is going on in local schools. Some ethnic groups are becoming dominant, others are suffering racism, Irish people are retreating to specific schools. A Japanese friend withdrew her daughter from one school saying the east European kids were bullying her. A friend in a rural village said three Russian kids had been transferred to protect them from being bullied by Ukrainian kids in the main town school. In typical Irish style, the authorities are just ignoring this and allowing the ‘sorting’ to take place, but insisting that teachers don’t talk about it.
This may be significant because the stabbing was outside a Gaelscoil – this are Irish language schools favoured by a mix of hipster parents and working class nationalists, with a smattering of others (my American friends who moved here from Arizona 8 years ago put their mixed race daughter in one and loved the mix within the school). But it has also been claimed – with some justification – that some Irish parents put their kids in these schools specifically to avoid immigrant kids. So… people immediately started wondering if this is why this particular school was attacked. Needless to say, this thought is only in people’s heads, not in the media. The police are still being very tightlipped over the name of the attacker and any motive. I don’t doubt for a moment that they’ll try to have him declared insane so there won’t have to be a trial. That’s just how it works here.
Now, to politics:
I’ve heard allegations recently that Irish politicians are ‘out of touch’. This is one of those statements that immediately disqualifies the person saying it from ever being listened to again on the subject of Irish politics. Nobody is in ‘more touch’ than an Irish politician, whether a local Council Rep, or a government minister. You simply don’t get elected if you don’t know every whisper of what is going on in your area. Every single one has a crew of volunteers whose sole job is to tell the politician what people are saying in pubs, hairdressers, supermarket queues, etc. They know.
This time last year I heard an interesting interview with a senior politician which made me sit up and take notice. He was quite open about the fact that he was hearing that ‘bad things’ are brewing and that the next 2 years would see a lot of unrest. Since then, I’ve been trying to get the sense of how they perceive things. It’s been progressively very obvious that all are doing all they can to avoid certain topics, and even left wing politicians have been slowly inching away from any overt support for things like welcoming more Ukrainians, etc.
But it’s not just immigrants. There have been at least three major ‘right wing’ movements getting traction in Ireland in the past year or more. I don’t think any of them are ‘organic’.
I always avoid the dark depths of social media, but I do try to keep up with what is happening in my area. One thing that has been very noticeable is a concentrated effort to focus on the refugee issue. An anecdote:
Early last year there were claims that a young woman was raped by a refugee and the police were ‘covering it up’. Now I know the place where it allegedly happened – I know it well, I walk past it every day, twice a day. It most certainly did not happen, the story was a compete invention. The initial claims were from what seemed to be locals (no doubt the same people who started the riot), but then I noticed something very interesting. A wave of people came online to back up the claim, all claiming to be local residents. It was perfectly clear that these people were not. In fact, it’s perfectly clear that they were all Americans – you could tell from the word choice and writing pattern.
Now there are three explanations for this – one is that this was just typical right wing incels piling on to any issue with lots of potential for trolling. The second is that there are local links to US based right wing groups. There are known Irish American fascist groups in Boston. The third is that this was deliberate astroturfing, that it all originated from the US. I don’t know the answer as to who could be behind this. But it may be related to the second issue:
The second issue is a wave of anti-Green rural activity, based around clampdowns on nitrates and reductions in cattle counts in order to.. well, stop the destruction of Irish rivers and to meet long standing EU Directive obligations (the Nitrate directive dates back to 1991 and has been ignored since then). But what is very obvious to me is that these movements are entirely driven and financed from the US by astroturf organisations, they follow the standard playbook. One rural politician was widely mocked for making a speech denying climate change while changing from his rich Tipperary accent into American prosody while reading out his speech. His press release even used US spellings.
Apart from showing how stupid some of these people are, it is quite clear that there is a funded US effort (in the Netherlands too, I don’t believe for a moment that the farming anti-nitrates directive there arose naturally). I think some well-funded groups see an overlap of climate change and agriculture as a leverage issue for the Anglosphere far right in Europe.
Who is behind it, I don’t know, although you probably don’t have to look too far from various Koch Brothers projects. But, I have to say, it’s having a real impact. The farming media here has gone full on conspiracy right wing, without the rest of the media noticing (and the farming newspapers matter in Ireland, they are read by nearly all rural people).
Finally…. wokism. Over the summer there were a number of protests at libraries stocking pro-trans books for children. I’d more or less ignored this until one very strange event.
Late Spring I was driving West with a colleague and we stopped at the small pretty town of Carrick-on-Shannon for lunch. It was a nice day, so we went to the Shannon riverside park (beside the town carpark) to have a sandwich and coffee. To our astonishment, a fight broke out.
The main protagonists were several obvious trans and some blue haired supporters, (all locals), and a group of anti-woke protestors. There was a lot of shouting, with the latter retreating to the nearby carpark. One of them, a woman in her late thirties, sat next to us – she was visibly rattled. She had a strong English Midlands accent. This isn’t unusual in rural Ireland – lots of returned emigrants, etc, but she was clearly English as, it became apparent, were all the others. They were all early middle aged and entirely unremarkable looking people, apart from their placards and what they were doing. I did want to ask what on earth brought them over to Ireland to protest outside a small local rural library, but I thought better of it. All the accents I heard were English Midlands and they all climbed into UK registered cars and vans.
I noticed that all the vehicles were very old and rusty. At the time I thought they maybe were not very well off or semi-professional activists, but it later occurred to me that these old cars were maybe ‘burners’, bought cheap to be abandoned later so they couldn’t be tracked. All very peculiar and I’ve no explanation whatever for why a group of what looked like a group of Lib Dem activists wound up so concerned about the contents of Irish libraries (so far as I could tell, nobody local cared a jot, apart from the blue haired ones).
So… to summarise. All I know is that what is happening is not really what is being claimed.
There is no question that Irish people are completely fed up with refugees being housed in communities all over (it’s not just the city – many small towns are crammed as it’s cheap for the government to just rent half empty hotels). The resentment is not particularly racist – I’ve not heard one single story of a physical attack on black or Asian people – but obviously they are worried. It’s primarily aimed at what are perceived as freeloaders, fake refugees, and also the drifting population of east Europeans who just wind up in small Irish towns and often end up isolated with the result that some turn violent.
Of course, it will be easier for politicians and the media to call out racism rather than deal with these issues (even though the politicians know full well what is happening). The journalists are probably genuinely as clueless as they appear.
It is absolutely clear that the one thing that really, genuinely makes people angry is that they know they are being ignored and/or patronised. This is making things much worse, especially the absolute refusal of the authorities/media to discuss possible motives for the attacks on the school, or for that matter the number of rapes/attacks on women by immigrants (yes yes, of course, as the left will say, most domestic murders and rapes are by Irishmen – this is both true and completely irrelevant).
I have no idea how this will play out. No doubt external activists along with some locals will try to stir things up. The political class – including Sinn Fein – will try to pretend nothing is happening and most likely have two scripts prepared – one for the public at large, the second for saying privately on the doorstep. I do suspect things will calm down, as I think many people were quite freaked by what happened. It’s like a glimpse into the void, and even within the deprived working class communities there, they didn’t like what they saw.
So… things may change… or may not. I really don’t know.