Strategic Insight 005/2023
16 March 2023
Countering the Irish far-right: A transnational threat requiring international coordination
The rise of far-right extremism is a global phenomenon, and Ireland is no exception. While the far-right was historically underdeveloped in Ireland, the ability of a network of far-right agitators to rapidly mobilise and insert themselves into nationwide anti-asylum seeker protests shows how much that has changed.
Many of the tactics playing out across the country are borrowed from extremist groups overseas, with the Irish and transnational far-right deeply interconnected. Countering the threat of far-right extremism in Ireland will require understanding this risk as part of a transnational movement and enhancing the international exchange of knowledge and first-hand experiences of dealing with the threat.
The rapid rise of the Irish far-right
Previously, no significant far-right movement existed within Ireland. This changed during the mid-2010’s when several far-right political parties and a loose network of Irish far-right influencers emerged online, invoking an idealistic Catholic Ireland and pushing back against the rapid social and demographic changes within the country. The movement quickly pivoted to an anti-immigration agenda, campaigning against direct provision centres accommodating asylum seekers in rural towns from 2018-2019 by infiltrating local Facebook groups to manipulate debates through disinformation. During the pandemic in 2020, they rapidly expanded online, as they converged with anti-vaccine and conspiracy movements, becoming more visible offline as they protested government restrictions and mobilised around racist and homophobic campaigns.
Today, the Irish far-right has gained unprecedented momentum from the ongoing anti-asylum seeker protests, exploiting a vacuum of Government information and lack of consultation to stoke fear and anger among local communities. The Government’s open-door policy for Ukrainian refugees and an increase in asylum seekers from other countries has collided with a housing crisis and strained services. Refugees and asylum seekers are being accommodated in hotels and empty office blocks, causing anger among locals, who have launched accusations of relative depravation and expressed safety concerns about ‘unvetted’ male refugees.
Although most protestors are unaffiliated with far-right networks and have genuine concerns, known activists have inserted themselves into the protests, characterising the arrival of asylum seekers as an ‘invasion’ by ‘military-age males’. Subsequently, there is a risk of increased radicalisation as a constellation of agitators gravitate around local flashpoints and graft their ideology to pre-existing social problems.
Although the Irish far-right milieu is relatively new, they have quickly learned how to effectively mobilise from borrowing tactics from overseas extremists, with An Garda Síochána observing far-right organisers using the same ‘“agitation playbook’” devised by international groups. This currently involves the hijacking of local concerns and exploitation of community tensions around asylum seekers. Over the last decade European far-right movements from Germany to the UK have similarly ramped up tensions around asylum seekers from Freital to Linton-on-Ouse, mobilising protests and attempting to seize the narrative.
The adoption of these tactics in Ireland is unsurprising. The far-right is transnational, with digital connections and social media making it easier than ever for groups to observe and learn from one another. On Telegram, the language and tactics of Irish networks have been noted by researchers to strongly resemble U.S. and international far-right movements, displaying ‘the same ardent efforts to promote division and conflict’. Several Irish activists promote the U.S. originated ‘Cultural Marxism’ conspiracy theory, while others emulate and adapt concepts for local contexts, including an Irish adaptation of ‘The Great Replacement Theory’ with the historical term ‘plantation’ to describe a replacement of the white Irish population through immigration.
Beyond overlapping digital ecosystems enabling the cross-pollination of ideas and tactics, far-right activists forge international connections. One prominent Irish far-right YouTuber has established strong ties to the U.S.-based white nationalist ‘Groyper’ movement and regularly appears in livestreams with high profile international far-right figures. The leader of Donegal-based far-right group ‘Siol na hÉireann’ has participated in online discussions with members of neo-fascist organisations across Europe, from Forza Nuova to Golden Dawn and the National Democratic Party of Germany. The Irish far-right ‘National Party’s’ youth-wing, ‘Óige Náisiúnach’ has recently stepped-up outreach with other groups including the Netherlands-based ‘Geuzenbond’, a Dutch white nationalist youth organisation, and ‘Uudenmaan Akseli’, a Finland-based far-right youth group. These direct lines facilitate the further sharing of knowledge and experience.
The sharing of tactics and the British far-right
The discussion of tactics between international far-right actors are generally broadcast to the wider far-right community, ensuring the broad diffusion of ideas. For example, Óige Náisiúnach have uploaded interviews with their Dutch and Finnish counterparts, as well as the Chairman of the Estonian ‘Sinine Äratus’ (Blue Awakening), on their YouTube channel, discussing how to push their message, the importance of aesthetics and the role of social media for growth and recruitment.
The anti-asylum seeker protests have particularly attracted the attention of British activists keen to give their advice to less seasoned Irish networks on similar platforms. Members of Patriotic Alternative, a far-right group founded by the former British National Party’s youth-wing leader, appeared on podcasts connected to the Irish far-right to share organising tactics used in the UK, such as focusing on ‘community politics’, building nationwide far-right support networks and returning to traditional methods such as banner drops, leafleting, and knocking on doors to earn the trust of locals. British far-right activist Tommy Robinson, who recently visited Ireland to film his documentary ‘Plantation 2: Rise of the Celts’, has claimed Irish activists could learn from his experiences.
However, the interest of prominent British figures in the Irish protests has divided the Irish far-right. Many are distrustful, accusing Tommy Robinson and Patriotic Alternative of being ‘grifters’ and pointing to their links to Loyalists, highlighting the complexities of Irish far-right networking with their closest neighbours. Nonetheless, some activists in Ireland have embraced their support, believing there is potential for a strong ‘united front’ and view British far-right activists as a source of valuable knowledge and experience, meaning a continued relationship from at least some activists within the Irish far-right milieu remains likely.
Ireland: Another far-right frontline requiring international coordination
Despite complications surrounding the support offered by British activists, their input looks set to continue. Ireland is emerging as an important battleground for the transnational far-right. Patriotic Alternative praise the optics of women and children at the Irish protests, while Tommy Robinson has declared that he believes these Irish protests could potentially inspire the rest of Europe. This highlights the reciprocal nature of British far-right’s interest in connecting with Irish activists, with the British far-right hoping to learn from events in Ireland and promote the narrative of an Irish grassroots movement against mass immigration to inspire similar protests elsewhere.
Just as the far-right actively connect to share experiences and insights, countering them will require similar coordination internationally across national government, civil society and law enforcement levels as well as the tech sector. Indeed, there is already infrastructure in place to facilitate such coordination, such as the EU’s Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), which hosts working groups connecting frontline practitioners from across Europe. More initiatives such as these are urgently needed to focus specifically on the ramping up of tensions around asylum seekers to exchange knowledge and experiences dealing with far-right agitators. This is needed now more than ever as housing pressures and a rising cost of living increase dissatisfaction and provide an opening that is ripe for continued far-right exploitation.
Joshua Farrell-Molloy holds an MA in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies from the University of Glasgow. He is a Research Fellow with the Accelerationism Research Consortium and previously interned with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism and the Institute of Strategic Dialogue.
The Azure Forum is a nonpartisan, independent research organisation. In all instances, the Azure Forum retains independence over its research and editorial discretion with respect to outputs, reports, and recommendations. The Azure Forum does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all author views should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).