Wednesday, 29 November 2023
Recent Violence in Dublin City Centre: Motion
I thank the Minister for coming in. I hope I have enough time to say what I want to say. The most important people in all this are the victims of the stabbings last Thursday. I preface anything I am going to say with that. I am not looking for anybody's resignation or sacking. What we need now is solidarity and a bit of unity in this House, but in order to do that, we have to face the facts of life.
I was downstairs in committee room 4, where the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána was being questioned by the Joint Committee on Justice, and Senator Ruane asked a very important question. She asked what the primary driver is for the latent, inchoate violence in our society. I am a Dubliner. I went to school in the 1960s, believe it or not, and Dublin has changed. It has become a more violent place, and the reason for that, the primary driver, as Senator Ruane asked the Commissioner, is social inequality. We have a large number of citizens who feel unfairness and exclusion right across the spectrum: housing, education, health and social protection. That is the primary driver, and we have to address that. We are not going to police our way out of this, although policing is a very important component. There are many moving parts in what has happened in recent months, and I will try to go through them.
I am a Dubliner. I remember the riots in 1981, during the hunger strike, when the British Embassy was burnt down. What is the difference between now and then? I will tell the House the difference. The gardaí were not the primary target of the rioters. The gardaí were in the way. They wanted to get at the embassy. There was a political ideology, whatever one might call it. My father was a garda. He was involved in those riots and, as a garda, was able to live in the community he policed. He could afford a house and was able to have the modest ambition of sending all five of us to university. That is something that needs to be addressed. If we want to attract and retain people in An Garda Síochána, in teaching, in nursing and across all our public services, the fundamental building blocks of our society, we have to reverse the dynamic we have seen over the past 20 years of austerity and a neoliberal economic agenda.
The last major riots were in 2006, with the Love Ulster parade. What is different between now and then? The gardaí were not the target. We, as politicians, were not the target. Again, it was an angry, inchoate mob. The other difference was that digital media were in their infancy, so the rioters did not have the kind of capacity to collectively organise in the way they have now.
In 2023, the riot we had last Thursday was the culmination of a number of things. As to what happened on Thursday, those tragic events, unlike the statements some Senators have made in this House, that stabbing was not predictable. I am sorry to say that these things happen. As Senator O'Sullivan said, it does not matter whether the perpetrator was English, Irish, Japanese or Italian. These things happen every now and again. The attack, however, was seized on by people outside this House. We also need to address as the elephant in the room the fact that we now have Members of these Houses who are prepared to engage in dog-whistle politics to provoke hatred. After this motion, we need to have a discussion as a House about what we think is acceptable in terms of our political discourse and our narratives.
Who are we looking at? Who is responsible for these riots? The social inequality is being mobilised by far-right groups. We have 12 far-right groups active in Ireland at the moment and they are exploiting the unfairness and exclusion so many people experience. In 2022, NUI Maynooth published a major piece of research, Resisting the Far Right. A recurring theme among the far-right, dating back to the Nazis in 1930s Germany, is to create a perception of crisis with an immediately and easily identifiable enemy of the people. For the Nazis, the enemies were Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies, to use the language of their time. Today, for Irish fascists on the far-right, the enemies of the people are immigrants, Travellers, asylum seekers, the LGBTQ community and Roma communities. In their Telegram groups, on their Facebook pages and X accounts and elsewhere, they spread conspiracy theories and attempt to engender a moral panic about the groups they have targeted as enemies. I am sorry to say there are people in this House who seek to amplify that moral panic and that false sense of crisis.
I am running out of time, but the NUI Maynooth study is so good and it identifies solutions to this. We must fund and empower community-based civic groups and NGOs to educate, inform and counter the toxic narratives of the far-right. Most importantly and fundamentally, there is a requirement to immediately address the stressors exploited by the far-right: the cost-of-living crisis, the housing crisis and crises in health and social well-being. We fixed our economy; now we have to fix our society. We need to do that together and in solidarity.
I have given a great deal of thought to what is happening now. I listened very carefully to the speeches that were made outside here in September, during the protests. Again and again, the speakers said we are the enemy. They want to bring this edifice down. They are targeting us as politicians. With these far-right groups there is also an extreme form of misogyny. They will target female TDs, Senators and councillors. I am sorry to say this, but I think it is only a matter of time before a Member of this House, but particularly a female Member of this House, is attacked.
Finally, An Garda Síochána has also been targeted. Gardaí are called by these far-right groups our henchmen. We are traitors to whatever warped idea they have of a republic. We really need to ensure that An Garda Síochána is properly equipped and properly supported in order that it can police this city. We do not need paramilitary-style policing in Dublin. We need to continue our great tradition of policing by consent. An Garda Síochána still occupies a wonderful place in our society but it needs our support. One of the features of the riots last week was the deliberate targeting of members of An Garda Síochána, members of our public transport services, members of the fire service and paramedics. That is a step change, and they need our support, but we all need to get together. Fundamentally, the social contract has to be repaired.