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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

It’s Not Your Grandparents’ Ireland

While Ireland’s political class is happy to sell this vision of the country to American tourists—including the occasional president—in practice, it has methodically disassembled that Ireland.

Dublin,,Ireland,-,October,9th,2021,A,Coffin,Is,Carried
Credit: LiamMurphyPics

When President Biden visited Ireland in April, he enjoyed the Emerald Isle’s timeless delights. His itinerary featured outings to a castle and a pub, along with traditional Irish music and Catholic landmarks like the Our Lady of Knock shrine and County Mayo’s St. Muredach’s Cathedral. The visit served a heavy dose of the idyllic and traditional, the Ireland of Biden’s grandparents and great-grandparents.  

While Ireland’s political class is happy to sell this vision of the country to American tourists—including the occasional president—in practice, it has methodically disassembled that Ireland.   

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This was exemplified by the Irish people combusting in Dublin on the night of November 23 in response to an Algerian migrant stabbing several schoolchildren as they left school earlier that day. Hundreds gathered; the famed O’Connell Street suffered fires and extensive damage. Due to its perceived political bent, the unrest this time met establishment-media criteria for “rioting,” not “mostly peaceful protests.” 

International observers should understand this not as an isolated flashpoint, but the culmination of social decline, government obfuscation, and civic powerlessness. Just earlier this month, a Slovakian man with a criminal record in his home country was convicted of murdering a young woman whom he stabbed 11 times after he found her jogging. The saga was fresh in Irish minds when Thursday’s stabbing occurred, so the latter was, for many, the last straw.  

The response from government and media exemplified the sources of frustration. Most domestic and foreign news articles initially omitted the attacker’s nationality and immigration status. When these details could no longer be suppressed, journalists summoned the predictable banalities.  

One Irish Independent column asserted the country “became a hellscape for immigrants overnight.” RTÉ noted the government media regulator “remains concerned about the spread of violent imagery, hate speech and disinformation on social media platforms,” and cited an analyst from a leftist British think tank who claimed that “these are people associated with anti-immigration protests and far-right ideologies.”  

Police Commissioner Drew Harris blamed a “complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology.” Deputy Head of Government Micheál Martin criticized “many comments online,” presumably including those of mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor, who has become something of a resistance figure this week. “Isolated voices like that, and voices that are essentially inciting hate and a degree, to some extent, incitement, are unacceptable,” said Martin.

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McGregor called the politician “worthless and spineless.” He added, “We are not stopping here until real change is implemented. We need safety. We need security. We need leadership.”  

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar utilized the spotlight to tout his government’s proposed draconian “hate speech” law. “I’m not going to get into any individual, but incitement to hatred and incitement to violence is a reality within our society and we need to have the strongest laws possible so we can hold those who incite hatred to violence to account,” said Varadkar.  

This stance represents a doubling-down. The proposed bill stipulates that communicating material “that is likely to incite violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of their protected characteristics” be punishable by five years in prison. Additionally, “preparing or possessing material likely to incite violence or hatred against persons on account of their protected characteristics” is punishable by two years in prison. The accused shoulders the burden of proving the materials in question are not intended for distribution. After understandable backlash, the bill has temporarily stalled in the Irish Senate.

The proposed law is part of the political class’s effort to deflect criticism from its manifest policy failures to an imagined “far-right” fringe.  

According to the 2022 census, 20 percent of the country’s population was born outside Ireland. In the year preceding April 2023, over 141,000 immigrants entered the country of 5 million. Desperate townspeople have resorted to blocking roads to impromptu government immigration centers. The influx has worsened a housing crisis, forcing some to choose between unsuitable accommodations and leaving the country altogether.

Unprecedented crime, much of it migration-driven, has frustrated society. Last week’s school stabbing was only the latest example. Criminal gangs originating in Albania, China, and especially Nigeria have become established in Ireland’s underworld. During an international crackdown against the Nigerian Black Axe Gang this year, more than one third of arrests occurred in Ireland. The U.S. Embassy in Dublin even advised Americans to keep a low profile and avoid walking alone after an American tourist was beaten in July.  

In April 2022, an Iraqi-born man killed and mutilated the bodies of two men, decapitating one. Earlier this year, a Nigerian-born male model was convicted of raping a fellow college student; the Irish Examiner had previously profiled him in its soft news piece “Leading the way for a new generation: the ones to watch in 2022.” It was a particularly telling contrast between ruling-class newspeak and the reality of life in modern Ireland.

Additionally, Irish society’s thorough divorce from the Catholic Church is well-documented. “Perhaps it is Ireland that offers the most startling example of secularization in Europe because it was a late starter,” wrote English critic Theodore Dalrymple in 2010. “Late starters, however, are often very apt pupils; they catch up fast, and even surpass their mentors.”

Filling Catholicism’s void is what American historian Walter McDougall has called a “global civil religion,” which, he says, aims to “federalize the governments and citizens, now reduced to consumers, of what used to be sovereign nationals. The federation will likely mandate collective coercion of all dissenters…who remain defiantly on the wrong side of history.”  

Ireland also features a particularly pronounced landscape of NGO power. In 2021, the government spent €6.2 billion (a full 1.5% of GDP) to fund these organizations, which have a consistent, predictable political positioning. According to Dr. Matt Treacy, an Irish author and commentator, this bloated “NGO monster” has generated “significant shifts in social, political and—dare one say it—class structures and relations.”

Furthermore, the Irish political scene is remarkably unipolar. In an archaic arrangement dating from the fallout from the Irish Civil War in the 1920s and ’30s, the country’s dominant political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, stem from that era’s anti-treaty and pro-treaty forces. Their establishment-liberal policies are often indistinguishable. The other meaningful players, the Labour Party, Green Party, and leftist-nationalist Sinn Féin, all lie formally on the left.  

Thus, an Irish voter opposed to the country’s policies on transformational issues—like immigration, devolution of powers to Brussels, or even Ireland’s militantly pro-Palestine foreign policy—has no civic recourse. Ironically, in a country in which “far-right” elements take the blame for most of society’s ills, there is no meaningful right wing.

Some fed-up Irish are slowly moving to address this. News site Gript offers quality reporting that challenges the establishment narrative, no small feat for a recent independent startup. The fledgling Irish Freedom Party was founded in 2018, but it has yet to win a seat in the Dáil (parliament) and faces the accusations of extremism often levied against such anti-establishment parties. Similar European parties have needed a decade or longer to achieve meaningful political influence.

If diaspora Irish are serious about preserving the Ireland they hold in their hearts—call it the Biden Family’s Ireland—they might need to ensure the process happens quickly.