Picture credit: by PETER MURPHY/AFP via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Tensions in Ireland were bound to boil over

The Irish have had enough of being lectured

Perhaps the best way to describe Irish politics in the present moment is as follows: The Irish ruling class — a term I use to include politicians, most journalists, the majority of academia, our NGO sector, and senior executives in the techy Irish business sector — simply does not much like the electorate, or the population, that they govern.

This dislike is expressed in various ways. It is no exaggeration to say that one cannot turn on the radio in Ireland without hearing an advert, paid for by a Government agency, warning the public about their behaviour. Amongst other things, these adverts warn us, we eat too much meat. We also drink too much. Those of us who are young men, the adverts warn us, are insufficiently respectful of women. We drive too fast. We consume too much misinformation, and disinformation, especially on social media. We cause climate change. We use too much plastic. On, and on, it goes. 

The sheer sums of money expended annually on “nudging” the population to behave in certain ways is mind-boggling: To put it in context, the annual defence budget is under a billion euros. The annual sum allocated to “support” the work of NGOs in Ireland is almost nine billion euros. 

These NGOs range from the usuals — the national women’s council, the immigrant council, and so on — to the issue specific. There is an NGO whose purpose is to lobby the Government and the public for restrictions on alcohol. It is funded by the very department it is supposed to lobby. There are NGOs who exist to promote diversity in the media, though this diversity is certainly not of thought. On and on, it goes, this national effort at improving the behaviour and conduct of the people, in order to make them a little bit less embarrassing to our leaders.

I mention all of this because last Thursday, the worst fears of our ruling class were confirmed when widespread rioting broke out in Dublin.

To say that tensions in Ireland over immigration are simmering would be an understatement

The proximate cause of that rioting was, depending on your point of view, either the stabbing of three young children in broad daylight outside of a school, or the irresponsible behaviour of this reporter in revealing that the primary suspect for that attack is an Algerian person who was once subject to a deportation order but remains in the country 20 years later, never having held a job in that time. More on that in a second. First, some background:

To say that tensions in Ireland over immigration are simmering would be an understatement. Consider the facts: Over the past decade, the average population increase in the EU is 1.6 per cent. In Ireland, that figure is 12.7 per cent.

One of our leading housing economists estimates that we need 70,000 new homes annually just to stand still: We are building just 30,000 — itself a record effort.

In recent months, the Government, out of desperation, resorted to accommodating migrants in a tent camp erected for the “Electric Picnic” festival — a sort of Irish Glastonbury. Dilapidated hotels, church halls, and even private residences have been pressed into service, with homeowners offered €800 per month to accommodate a Ukrainian refugee in their spare rooms.

Despite the insistence of politicians that this influx is Ireland’s “international obligation”, and overwhelmingly pro-immigration media coverage, opinion polling shows that the public have had enough. 75 per cent say that we have taken too many migrants in general, per the last poll to ask the question. This weekend, 66 per cent said that we had taken too many of the relatively popular — and sympathetically viewed — Ukrainians.

Against this background of overcrowding, crime has become an issue, both at a low level and in high profile ways. Communities across the country have reported issues with migrant men — usually unemployed and living in cramped conditions in all-male spaces — creating anti-social behaviour problems in the areas in which they have been accommodated. And then there have been the murders: Yousef Palani, an Iraqi born man, was convicted of decapitating two gay men in the northwestern town of Sligo, and blinding another. Jozef Puska, a Slovakian man, was convicted of murdering Ashling Murphy, a 22 year old schoolteacher, in a crime that shocked the country.

In his victim impact statement, Ashling Murphy’s boyfriend, Ryan Casey, asked a pertinent question about her murderer: How was it, he asked, that such a person could come to Ireland, live here for ten years, never work or hold down a job, and be given a five-bedroom house (the council house in which Puska lived, with his family)?

The statement was widely omitted from press coverage of the trial, but circulated widely online.

Less than two weeks later, an Algerian assailant stabbed three young children, and all hell broke loose.

At this juncture, psychologically, it is important to understand the mindset of the Irish ruling class: It is one of almost unlimited smugness.

In their eyes, Ireland is a progressive and tolerant country, largely immune to the buffeting winds of populism which have broken across the rest of the western world. While the UK Brexited, we became ever more euro-enthusiast. While the USA Trumped, we legalised abortion. While Europe warmongers, we stand with the oppressed Palestinians. And while every other western country suffers a backlash over immigration, Ireland alone is welcoming. Ceád Mile Fáilte: The land of 100,000 welcomes.

To see that Ireland may not, after all, be immune to the winds of populism should be understood firstly and foremostly as a grave psychological shock. Ireland’s population has long had its opinions carefully managed by a political establishment which is supported by a media that is uniformly aligned with them on all the big questions: Yes, there may be queries over various elements of a particular policy, or a media scandal around corruption — but there is no disagreement between the various estates on the big, important questions: Social liberalism. Climate Change. Immigration. Transgender rights.

To see a part of the population in open rebellion is therefore a moment of genuine shock, for it has not happened in living memory. The impetus of the moment is to find somebody to blame.

For some, the thing to blame is that my media outlet reported on the attacker’s nationality this week, thus sparking a riot. On television on Monday night, I received a dressing down on that point, with a former Lady Mayoress of Dublin telling me that the media’s job is not to report the news straight, but to “focus on unity”. If only the public had not known, in other words, they might not have reacted. This was not an uncommon sentiment.

For the Government, the solution is to crack down on the so-called “far right” with a new, draconian hate speech law that will simply outlaw any criticism that might conceivably lead to rioting. One wonders though — if reporting the news also leads to rioting, might that, too, not need regulation?

Indeed it might. The Government has recently launched a new “Comisiun na Mean” — a commission for the media, whose job it will be to “combat online misinformation” and to “stimulate the provision of high quality, diverse and innovative news and comment on current affairs”. 

In a country where the public are already lectured, every week, about their shortcomings, it is not hard to see the general direction of travel. More money is to be provided, too, to bring the media alongside the NGOs in the category of “sectors of society mostly funded by the state”.

The rioting, in the context of all of this, should be seen for what it is: A growing section of the Irish population is in open revolt against an establishment that seems neither to like them, or trust them. Their demand is clear: A reduction in immigration.

The problem is, the political establishment is entirely unwilling — Government, Opposition, and media alike — to give an inch on this point. Something has to break. Perhaps it already is breaking.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover