Ireland

Varadkar says best way to counter far right is with ‘facts and positive feeling’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (PA/Niall Carson)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (PA/Niall Carson)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said a “number of actions” are being taken to combat far-right groups travelling around the country, following recent protests around refugee accommodation.

In Dublin, makeshift camps for homeless migrants were targeted in two protests last Friday and Saturday.

Tents used by some of the migrants were later dismantled and set alight on Friday night.

Gardai have responded to 125 anti-migration protests in Dublin so far this year, according to Minister for Justice Simon Harris.

Elsewhere, locals organised a blockade outside Magowna House Hotel in Inch, Co Clare since Monday evening, when more than 30 asylum seekers arrived by bus.

Mr Varadkar said it was a “difficult” as Ireland is a democracy where people have the right to free speech and peaceful protest.

He said: “While sometimes we may not like protests, or not like what people have to say, it is better to be in a country where people have the right to protest and the right to free speech.”

He added: “Probably the best thing we can do is for those of us in positions of responsibility to speak up and to explain what’s happening here, to talk to communities to give them reassurance, because the best way to counter disinformation is information.

“The best way to counter hate is with facts and positive feeling and reassurance.”

Sandwith Street migrant camp
The remains of a camp in Sandwith Street, Dublin, following a protest on Friday night where it was dismantled and later set alight (PA/Niall Carson)

Elsewhere, he said the Garda Commissioner has given an assurance that gardai have operational integrity around policing or managing protests.

Mr Varadkar added: “We have the legislation that’s going through now on regulating social media, which I discussed earlier with the new online Safety Commissioner and the broadcasting regulator Coimisiun na Mean.

“On top of that, we’re updating our laws around incitement of hatred and hate speech. ”

Mr Harris said the recent protests “went further” than past demonstrations.

He added: “We should never allow the far-right to conflate issues.

“There have been things that I would never call protests that I think, well, cross the line of what a protest is.”

He said there are additional vulnerabilities when tented accommodation is involved.

Mr Harris said gardai had made arrests and prosecuted people that have organised events that he claimed go “beyond protests”.

“So the gardai have taken action,” he said.

“I can absolutely say this with certainty from security briefings and others that I receive that we are seeing a relatively small number of bad actors, far-right activists, call them what you wish, who do travel from location to location around the country, who do whip up fear and who do prey on vulnerability.

“And there is a world of difference between that activity and the genuine questions that people can have about their own community which is entirely appropriate.

“But I am extremely satisfied that the Garda Commissioner is taking that situation very, very seriously.”