Engagement with communities needed to stop 'far-right influence on local representatives'

Engagement With Communities Needed To Stop 'Far-Right Influence On Local Representatives'
Migrant accommodation, © PA Wire/PA Images
Share this article
James Cox

Political leaders must engage more with communities to prevent the migration debate shifting politics in a far-right direction, according to the coordinator of the Hope and Courage Collective.

The Hope and Courage Collective, previously the Far Right Observatory, is a national civil society organisation "that works with community groups, advocacy groups, trade unions, activists and academics to stop hate organising in our communities and workplaces".


The group works to "support communities and civil society to stay grounded, caring and resilient in the face of far-right hate, bigotry and extremism".

A recent fire at Ross Hill House in Rosscahill, Co Galway, ruined a building that was earmarked for international protection applicants, and this type of incident has been far from isolated in the last few months.

Fianna Fáil opened disciplinary proceedings against two local councillors who made controversial comments about immigration in the wake of the arson attack.

Other local representatives have been speaking out against immigration and Government policy in areas such as Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where there were protests over plans to house asylum seekers in a former hotel.


Niamh McDonald, coordinator of the Hope and Courage Collective, told BreakingNews.ie that there is a danger in local representatives, many of whom are just looking to support their constituents, being influenced by a small but organised group of far-right agitators.

"The far-right don't come in with solutions, they come in with division and hatred, and that's a road we don't want to go down, because nobody in our communities will see any improvements if that's where they keep looking.

"The messaging has gone to the mainstream. Messages from the far-right, like Ireland is full etc. It's not about the hotel as such, it's broadened out into the normalisation of far-right messaging. We can also see it has been facilitated by local elected representatives on the ground supporting the messaging of the far-right.

"Local elected representatives on the ground have a responsibility as community leaders not to delve into the hatred, extremism, lies and disinformation of the far-right.


"It goes back to the far-right playbook. A key tactic of the far-right is to pull mainstream politics towards them if they can't get elected, to distract people from the real issues: resources, and what they need in their communities, towards othering people who are coming into our communities and need support and help."

Overton Window

She said we can see worrying signs of the Overton Window shifting to the far-right.

In political science, the Overton Window is an approach to identifying the ideas that define the spectrum of acceptability of governmental policies. It says politicians can act only within the acceptable range. Shifting the Overton Window involves proponents of policies outside the window persuading the public to expand the window.

Far-right parties in Ireland have had no success to date, and that is likely to continue, but Ms McDonald explained that the far-right is looking to influence local representatives and opposition TDs to move this window, with immigration the issue they have seized upon.


An example of this is how legitimate protests about a lack of facilities in local areas have shifted to protests over male asylum seekers being accommodated.

In a number of these situations, the Government has looked to defuse tensions by switching accommodation centres to women and children only.

However, Ms McDonald warned this "othering" of refugees is dangerous, and playing into the far-right agenda.

"We've seen it internationally, when you try to acquiesce, or kind of subdue the far-right, the more you follow them... the further they go.


"It really needs progressive political leadership and bravery to stand up and say no.

"In other countries we've seen, when people focus on what the far-right are saying instead of the problems people are facing, the problems don't get solved but the politics and Overton Window keep shifting further to the right.

"We're seeing radical parties getting into power in countries around the world. It's a very dangerous tactic and I think the Irish Government should learn the lesson from governments across the world and say no, and stick to progressive policies and speak to what is happening on the ground."

Local and European elections

She said the far-right will continue to ramp up attempts to fan fears and infiltrate protests in small areas, particularly with the local and European elections set to take place in June 2024.

Ms McDonald said the Hope and Courage Collective has also recorded a change in tactics at protests over the past year.

"The numbers turning up to the protests... if we compare 2023 to 2024, the numbers are lower, but the tactics are different. They're using more militant tactics like blocking off the entrances to buildings, to create that friction and the 'us against them' narrative in a really violent type of way.

"We are calling on all political parties not to fall for their tactics.

"A lot of members of the community when they see their local representatives up there will be afraid to put their heads above the parapet and say 'this is not us or what we stand for, we want to welcome people'.

"There's no space for people to do that at the moment. We've seen intimidation and threats of violence towards people who are standing up, and it's up to local representatives to represent all people in their communities, but also to abide by the standards, laws and legislation of this country.

"It's a small minority jumping up and down and creating 'others', and creating issues and areas of conflict. All eyes are going to the areas of conflict instead of the rest of the community, and the people coming here seeking refuge and needing support."

'Far-right playbook'

She added: "That brings it back to the playbook of the far-right. The more they create fear and chaos, and this imaginary feeling of fear, politics of emotion, reinforcing a feeling of fear, it means everyone is looking towards that instead of what is going on on the ground."

While parties in government and opposition may be tempted to appease far-right groups, Ms McDonald said they will only see long-term success by standing firm.

"It's almost like if they don't, it's eating their own tail because the far-right will eat up mainstream political organisations where they can.

"It is a long-term view, but they need to come down strong with it. We need elections focusing on what are really the issues facing people in communities. It has to be about that, not chaos, fear and division.

"It's about seeing community stakeholders, and looking to solve the issues for communities on the ground."

Covid messaging

On how messaging on immigration policy can be improved, Ms McDonald said Government should look back to the regular Covid-19 updates.

"Compare this to Covid... we had updates, we were aware, the Government were saying 'we don't know what's next, but we're doing our best to inform you as we go'.

"That information is not out there for people, so when there is that gap of information it's going to be filled by fear, chaos, disinformation and lies.

"What we need is a proper communication strategy that meets the needs of people and communities, seeing communities as stakeholders in this, so they're confident and understand what is happening.

"That plan is not in place, it needs a full governmental approach, it shouldn't just be in one department.

"It's a very clear message needed for communities, 'this is the plan, what we're trying to achieve, this is what we're doing to get there'.

"This would reduce a lot of the chaos, fear and violence in our communities."

She added: "Some of the language the far-right are currently using goes back to the time of the US and UK military campaign in the war in Iraq to dehumanise people.

"The lack of information from the government is allowing this hatred and dehumanising language to take control and become mainstream. There needs to be a concerted effort to push back on that and to get in the positive narrative, and for people to understand what is happening. The people seeking refuge here are probably the most documented people in the country.

"If the government had a clear plan and strategy, this disinformation wouldn't spread as easily.

"I think it's about having brave political leadership. It's normal for people to move and seek refuge in a world where there's famine and conflict.

"People have been moving since the dawn of time. It's nothing new, but it's being weaponised because there is no strategy or plan from government that fills that information vacuum."

Niamh McDonald, coordinator of the Hope and Courage Collective

Ms McDonald said her group has documented over 20 arson attacks on buildings that had been earmarked for refugee accommodation in the past year alone.

Sinn Féin had argued that all refugees should be entitled to full supports that Ukrainian refugees received before recent policy changes.

However, their stance on migration seems to have changed recently.

As the most likely party to be in government after the next election, Ms McDonald urged them to adopt progressive policies on the issue.

"All parties need their house in order on this, especially those who are going to be in government. Sinn Féin are the biggest party north and south and what Mary Lou McDonald says has weight in communities across the country.

"There is an onus on Sinn Féin to stand with people seeking refuge, and to have brave progressive policies."

Ms McDonald said the majority of local representatives have the best interests of their constituents at heart. However, she said some have become more involved with the far-right.

In an example of this, an investigation by BreakingNews.ie identified one local politician who appeared on the YouTube channel of well-known anti-immigration activists.

"There are different levels. There are some local representatives really taking it up and running with it, then some who don't know how to respond and are not supported in how to respond.

"I don't think the leadership of political parties are pushing down enough that this is not acceptable in their values. In Ireland, we have a multicultural, diverse population. The far-right may be targeting migrants today, but next it will be the LGBT community. They don't want progress for women either.

"Once you go down that road, many groups will be affected. It's extraordinarily short-sighted."

Ahead of a huge year of elections that will include local and European elections here, a British general election, the US presidential election and a possible general election here, Ms McDonald said political leaders will have to show bravery to prevent further issues.

"2024 internationally is the biggest year of elections we've seen. In the US, the narrative and framing will affect our politics. The narrative coming from there will be picked up by the far-right and more reactionary independent forces in our elections.

"We've heard warnings that 50 per cent of the seats in the European elections could be filled by far-right candidates, so that will be a toxic debate as well.

"There needs to be discipline in all mainstream parties, this is about democracy. What do we want in our democracy? The far-right want to reduce our democracy, they want to disrupt, and they want to smash it effectively. We want to maintain our democracy. That's about speaking to the issues people are facing in Irish society right now and not being pulled into the playbook of hate and division.

"Local election candidates on the ground can be far removed from the parties, so there needs to be support for them, so they can do their best."

Read More

Message submitting... Thank you for waiting.

Want us to email you top stories each lunch time?

Download our Apps
© BreakingNews.ie 2024, developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com