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How the rise of the far right in Ireland provoked the Dublin riots


Ireland saw the worst public disorder in decades play out on the streets of its capital city, Dublin, on Thursday night with looting, arson and assaults on police officers. As Willem Marx reports, it was all sparked by a single incident, but the subsequent riot involving hundreds of people has complex implications for Irish society.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: A knife attack outside a school in central Dublin left three young children injured, one of them seriously. Within hours, online messages spread that the suspect was from overseas, and groups of protesters descended on the crime scene. They surrounded surprised investigators, according to Ireland's most senior police officer, Drew Harris.

DREW HARRIS: We could not have anticipated that in response to a terrible crime, the stabbing of schoolchildren and their teacher, that this would be the response.

MARX: Police still have not released details of the original suspect or his motives.


MARX: The situation escalated rapidly, with fireworks thrown at riot police...


MARX: ...Large crowds of masked or hooded young men setting alight police vehicles and a city tram...


MARX: ...Downtown stores looted and smashed. The following morning, parts of Dublin city center still smoldered as burned-out buses were towed away. Drew Harris, the police chief, laid blame squarely on hard-right activists.

HARRIS: We have a complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology and also then this disruptive tendency here and engaged in serious violence.

MARX: The leader of Sinn Fein, Ireland's main opposition party, Mary Lou McDonald, said the right-wing riot had been preventable.


MARY LOU MCDONALD: This was an unacceptable, unprecedented collapse in policing. The idea that this violence was unforeseeable is, frankly, nonsense. These hate-filled mobs have threatened and brought violence to our streets before.

MARX: Among the bigoted chants the night before, one directed against Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, or prime minister, whose father was from India.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Leo, Leo, Leo, out, out, out.

MARX: Varadkar, in a press conference Friday, described how pregnant mothers in a nearby hospital had been endangered not by patriots but by racists.


LEO VARADKAR: These people claim to be defending Irish citizens, yet they put in danger the newest and most vulnerable and most innocent people. Those involved brought shame on Dublin, brought shame on Ireland and brought shame on their families and themselves.

MARX: But these violent actions did not occur in a vacuum, says social policy professor Matthew Donoghue from University College Dublin.

MATTHEW DONOGHUE: There's lots of kind of interrelated fears and pressures that, on some level, are very complicated economic, social and political pressures that are kind of interlinked. What we see kind of with the trigger of the riot is a small but vocal far-right faction that is able to latch onto these fears and give people what looks to be, you know, a simple, straightforward answer that involves demonizing certain groups.

MARX: Across Europe, the demonization of migrants has helped fuel several far-right populist parties, including that of Geert Wilders...


GEERT WILDERS: (Speaking Dutch).


MARX: ...The Dutch politician who's called some immigrants scum but won the largest share of votes in the Netherlands recent parliamentary elections. According to Owen Worth, global politics professor at the University of Limerick, incidents like this could become more common in Ireland because disenchanted voters have no legitimate political representation, unlike elsewhere in Europe.

OWEN WORTH: So nearly every single country has some sort of far-right party. And on the one hand, you can look at Ireland and say, well, that's a good thing. Ireland has been heralded as this country without a far-right party. Yet, possibly as a result of this, you've got these massive civil disputes and civil unrest which is growing, and it's almost like they're sort of tapped out, cashed out of the political system. They've sort of bubbled over, really, at the street level.

MARX: But the street violence Thursday, says Jane Suiter, a professor of political communications at Dublin City University, should still act as a wake-up call.

JANE SUITER: The authorities really well have to act fairly quickly because we've been very lucky in Ireland without having this kind of far right. There's still an opportunity, I think, to try to put a lid on it, but that's going to require some sort of action and coordination.

MARX: Prime Minister Varadkar announced the government will pass new laws allowing facial recognition software to track rioters captured on surveillance cameras and giving police new powers to prosecute those who promote hate speech online.

For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in Dublin.

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Willem Marx
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