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Friday 11th October 2019

All faiths, Bahà'í, Buddhism, Christian, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Integration, Mutuality, Pluralism, Respect, United

How the far–right is exploiting immigration concerns in Oughterard

Anti–immigrant activists trying to dominate and exploit local debates on direct provision

Mon, Sep 23, 2019, 05:00
Conor Gallagher, Sorcha Pollak

Oughterard campaign leaders say the help of the far–right is not welcome.  

Last March, the organisers of a meeting in Lismore, called to help a Syrian refugee family as they arrived in the picturesque Waterford town, had an uneasy feeling as they looked on the 160 people gathered in the community centre.

“We had an idea it was possible some far–right people might come along maybe. We knew from online chatter that they had got it into their heads that a direct provision centre was going to open in the town,” says Lynne Glasscoe of the Lismore Welcome Project.

But Glasscoe says she was not prepared for the level of organisation they displayed, or how disruptive they would be: “There were eight or 10 of them spread throughout the room. They were very, very well organised and they were live–streaming the whole meeting.”

Frequently, they interrupted, asking questions about direct provision, despite it having been made clear from the off that just one Syrian family was coming, and that no centre was planned.

One, self–styled citizen journalist Rowan Croft asked Minister of State David Staunton to guarantee that no members of Islamic State are in direct provision. Another claimed the Government “intends” to bring two million Syrians to Ireland.

“It was getting quite tense. They were trying to provoke us and we refused to be provoked,” Glasscoe said. “They weren’t listening. There was lots of yahooing. There was shouting that you’re going to be raped or killed on the street.”

By the end, though, the interruptions had had little effect, she said, with the vast majority present happy to welcome the Syrian family, who have settled in well since.

In recent weeks, some of what happened in Lismore has played out in Oughterard. Unlike Lismore, Oughterard is being considered for a direct provision centre that could hold “less than 250” asylum seekers. In a town of more than 1,300, this has caused alarm.

As a result, the Connemara town has found itself in the crosshairs of a loose, but increasingly–sophisticated network of far–right and anti–immigration activists which sees such controversies as valuable vehicles for their message.

Fears in Oughterard existed before the far–right became involved. Since then, however, anti–immigration campaigners have attempted to steer the debate itself and exploit the resulting publicity. With some success, it must be said.

It has become a familiar pattern in rural towns. Local rumours of a centre spread quickly. A lack of information from the Government creates a vacuum. That vacuum is quickly filled by far–right online traffic.

Videos and other content is quickly created, and shared widely – not just to influence the local debate, but the national one, too. It is difficult to gauge how successful these tactics are.

‘Asylum industry’
Initially, some in Oughterard, including one of the main organisers, Patrick Curran appeared to welcome outside anti–immigration voices. Now they want to exclude them, fearing that they will be tarred by association.

One of the main agitators travelling to towns earmarked for direct provision or asylum housing is Gearóid Murphy, a Cork man, who has visited Oughterard, Lismore, Lisdoonvarna and Roosky.

Murphy frequently promotes far–right talking points on social media, particularly a conspiracy theory claiming the aim of western governments is to replace native populations with immigrants for economic reasons.

In a now–deleted tweet, Murphy describes his political views as “probably somewhere between libertarianism and national socialism with a touch of Christian ethos”.

In 2017 he posted a series of tweets expressing sympathy for white nationalists marching in Charlottesville in the US. Following the march, during which an anti–racism protester was murdered by a neo–Nazi, Murphy posted: “I can’t imagine how surreal and frankly terrifying it felt for WNs in Charlottesville. And while I obviously don’t condone the car attack…”

A two–hour YouTube video from Murphy criticising the Government and the “asylum industry” was widely shared in Oughterard and praised by some as “a one–stop shop” for information about direct provision.

Such towns, he says, should “identify and marginalise” Government–connected moles, subverters and intimidators within their ranks “who are lurking among you.”

Advising locals to engage in Machiavellian thinking, he states: “They can have no part in this discussion about your community. And they certainly should not be representing you and speaking for you.”

Public meetings are useful, too, to drum up support, especially if they are video–taped, and shared online. His advice, he says, was given in Rooskey, and it worked.

Patrick Curran, a businessman who helps lead the “Oughterard says No to inhumane direct provision centres” campaign initially praised the video which he called, in a Facebook post, “extremely factual and well put together”.

Murphy filmed the Oughterard meeting, capturing Independent TD Noel Grealish’s declaration that African asylum seekers are sponging “off the system here”.