Fundamentally, the Republic of Ireland doesn’t have a refugee problem. It has a government problem.
Since the foundation of the 26 county state, Ireland has never served its people first. Business has always been front of the queue: first it was cattle farmers, then it was landlords, and now supermassive tech multinationals have become Ireland’s darling.
During these 100 years, the first sacrifice to accommodate business has been the working classes, who have either relocated to the imperial core or been left to rot by the nation who claims to protect them.
This neglect can’t be seen much better than during the Dublin riots at the end of last year.
On the day of the stabbings outside a school on Parnell Street, social media was plagued with declarations of the suspect’s nationality, and claims of multiple deaths, before a single victim reached a hospital.
The Irish far right were quick on the scene to not only spread bile amongst the onlookers, but encourage the abuse of journalists arriving on the scene, backed up by the now deleted tweets of Conor McGregor. What followed were attacks on police trying to restore order at the top of one of Ireland’s busiest streets. Supremacist anti-migrant chants rang out along O’Connell Street before public transport was firebombed and McDonald’s was looted.
As the Luas charred overnight, right-wing Telegram groups battled to get the story straight. These events were the working classes rising up until shops were broken into. It was then that the night was hijacked by the New World Order.
The opportunism seen that night was not a response to events that day, it was a cocktail of fury at the Irish establishment’s neglect of the working class, and blind opportunism.
On one level the Irish far right got what they wanted. Spectacular images of chaos following a tragic event perpetrated by someone who wasn’t born in Ireland. But why didn’t the chaos continue?
The Irish working class aren’t fools. Being of an island known the world over for exporting its people during times of genocide, poverty and religious crackdown, one can’t be anti-refugee without a heavy dose of hypocrisy.
What may also be difficult for a middle and upper class commentariat to understand is that the working classes don’t exist in an echo chamber. There are undoubtedly those who don’t want mass migration/asylum-seekers. A Red C poll found 75% of people thought Ireland was taking too many refugees. However, intersectionality is lost in reductive surveys like this. The argument after this was published was “we should house our own”. The answer: why not do both?
The Irish state has never held the interests of the working class paramount. Those arriving here after fleeing war or persecution are treated even worse. Refugees have a tent to look forward to upon arrival in Ireland. Ukrainian refugees have been living on the grounds of Electric Picnic in tents. By housing refugees in canvas, the Irish state has made these people sitting ducks for those looking to stoke hatred.
The spectacle created by failing to house refugees is a consequence of the housing crisis. It is not overpopulation. The island could take in another 1 million refugees and would still be less populated than it was before the famine.
Some may fall victim to the racist populism of the far right, with their landlord cheerleaders like Conor McGregor. A far greater number realise the real issue that has been staring us in the face for 15 years: the failure of the state to care for its citizens.
As we approach an election, the ruling Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition will try deflect from their failings by leaning into the far right’s anti-refugee rhetoric. The best that Irish voters can do is to look beyond the vitriol and see the real issue is the mismanagement of the state by FF/FG since its foundation.
Seán Hickey is a London-based journalist from Dublin.