Let’s talk about…Anti-immigration protests

Anti-immigration protests have more to do with thinly-veiled racism than genuine housing concerns 

Last week saw a spate of anti-immigration demonstrations being held across the country, with the larger-scale protests in Dublin and Cork leading to blocked roads and causing significant traffic disruption.

  Among these demonstrations was the one that took place in Dublin’s East Wall on Wednesday of last week, when around a hundred people gathered to protest over the accommodation of asylum seekers in a former ESB office building in the locality.

  East Wall’s anti-immigration protests actually kicked off at the end of last year, when asylum seekers first arrived to the area. Local residents voiced concerns over unvetted people being housed in their neighbourhood without their consent, with demonstrators also citing Ireland’s ongoing housing crisis as reason not to accommodate the asylum seekers – a concern which was echoed by protesters in other areas over the course of last week. 

  Indeed, the issue of the housing crisis undoubtedly has become a crucial aspect of protesters’ arguments, with “House the Irish” being one of the more popular chants heard at last week’s protests. Undeniably, there is validity in shining light on the state of the housing crisis, and in critiquing how exactly we, on a national level, are prioritising the most basic needs of our citizens – but not accommodating asylum seekers wouldn’t fix the problem.

  There are deep-rooted issues within our housing system that have served to instigate and exacerbate the current housing crisis, and it is borderline naïve to suggest that opting not to accommodate asylum seekers would do anything significant to rectify the overall situation. The housing crisis needs to be tackled at its roots in order for real progress to be made.

  The housing crisis however – while one of the biggest arguments brought forward – wasn’t the only issue brought up by protesters; in addition to ‘House the Irish first’, chants of ‘Get them out’ and ‘Go Home’ were also heard at last week’s demonstrations. It is here, in these more aggressive remarks, that the cracks in the pseudo-impartial intentions of many of these protestors reveal themselves, and we see something experience has shown us many times; that ‘anti-immigration’ is more often than not a stance rooted in thinly-veiled racism and xenophobia.

  The blatant othering of asylum seekers by protestors at demonstrations last week, evidenced by such hostile chants, reveals just how little this is about the political or social issues for many, and just how closely linked anti-immigration sentiment often is to plain discrimination. This feels especially undeniable given how universally welcoming the public were to Ukrainian refugees compared to refugees/asylum seekers from other, ‘less-white’ countries. 

  There has been a lot of discourse on the influence of the far-right on this issue, with concerns being raised that political groups are capitalising on real problems, such as the housing crisis, in order to stir up anti-immigration sentiment via these demonstrations.

  A number of far-right groups and political parties played a big role at the recent protests across the country. Not only did they have a hand in organising and promoting many of these protests, their influence is also felt in the platform they are provided with at the demonstrations, with activists addressing crowds in Dublin through loudspeakers…using inflammatory language, unsupported claims, and blatant misinformation.

  Far-right ideology and misinformation has been growing in Ireland over the past couple of years, and the fallout it has already caused is worrying. And now, these protests have become an opportunity for far-right groups to spread more harmful ideology. As a result, the net effect of the protests will be to intimidate and ostracise the asylum seekers we invited into our country, and nothing tangible will actually be done for housing or any of the issues these protesters claim to care about. 

  Unfortunately, anti-immigration sentiment is, of course, nothing new; we have seen this discourse play out time and time again whenever the prospect of taking in refugees arises. However, though this issue has been exacerbated to more dire degrees in other countries, up until now, Ireland historically has been a (fairly) welcoming country – no doubt something our long history of emigration plays no small part in. And according to a local East Wall TD, despite recent events in the area, anti-immigration sentiment remains a fringe mentality among members of the community, with the politician in question stating earlier this week that he believes those protesting represent the minority opinion of local residents.

  Nevertheless, the considerable spate of protests last week serves to indicate that while many Irish people are indeed still willing to welcome incoming asylum seekers with open arms, this new wave of anti-immigration sentiment, and the inevitable harmful consequences such sentiment brings about, are challenges we cannot opt to ignore for much longer.