Dublin riots: a blow to Ireland’s reputation

Unrest shines a spotlight on Ireland's experience of mass migration

Dublin riots
Nearly 50 people were arrested, and dozens injured in Ireland's capital
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Ireland had long seemed resistant to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment seen across Europe, said Rory Carroll and Lisa O'Carroll in The Guardian

Today, one-fifth of the Republic's population of five million was born elsewhere – a "seismic" but largely painless transformation that has occurred since the 1990s. Thanks in part to its own long history of emigration, Ireland prided itself on greeting foreigners with céad míle fáilte – a "hundred thousand welcomes". 

But that seems to have changed. Last Thursday, a naturalised Irish citizen of Algerian origin stabbed three children and a woman outside a school in central Dublin, and within hours, "all hell had broken loose". Anti-immigrant protesters gathered, chanting xenophobic slogans: "Get them out", "Enough is enough". The worst riots in Dublin's recent history followed. Nearly 50 people were arrested, and dozens injured. Three buses and 11 police cars were set on fire. The events "scorched the notion of some progressive Celtic nirvana".

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'A pressure valve for discontent'

That idea has long been a liberal delusion, said Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. A recent poll found that 75% of Irish people think there are "too many" newcomers. Protests against centres for asylum seekers happen almost weekly, and placards bearing slogans such as "Ireland is full" are widely seen; the arrival of about 100,000 Ukrainians has added to tensions. Despite the "sense of moral superiority" among its elite, Ireland's experience of mass migration has been very similar to Britain's, but without parties such as UKIP acting as "a pressure valve for discontent".

This isn't just about migration, said Ian O'Doherty in The Spectator. The area where the trouble started – Dublin's north inner city – has long been seen as "bandit country", known for its drug dealing and feuding gangs. It has spent the past few years in a "cycle of decay and despair"; lockdown and austerity have helped to make it "a powder keg".

'They do not speak for us'

This riot is not "an expression of where Ireland is or who we are", said Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times. Yes, there are tensions as the country struggles to cope with refugees amid a housing crisis, but that doesn't mean that anti-migrant sentiment is seething across the nation (there has been much praise for the Brazilian immigrant who stopped last week's stabbings).

And yes, there are problems in north Dublin, but it's very unfair to blame its community for last week's events. The rioting was organised by a tiny gang of far-right "fascists", aided by a few hooligans. "These pitiful thugs are not us. They do not act for us, speak for us or burn buses for us."

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