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Ireland’s anti-immigration backlash is spiralling into country-wide unrest

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Ireland’s anti-immigration backlash has spiralled into country-wide unrest. Protests, arson attacks and hardening anti-immigration views have transfused Irish politics with a fervour not seen since the Troubles.

I went to Ireland to make a documentary for The Telegraph to find out what Irish people make of the growing strife.

I started my journey in Dublin, where hundreds of people turned out for an anti-immigration march. Amid a sea of Irish tricolour flags, protestors chanted “get them out” about the government over its support for mass migration – which many felt was conferring already sparse housing and public services to foreigners, to the detriment of Irish citizens. One woman said she was scared to leave the house because of the amount of “unvetted male people” who’ve arrived in Ireland in recent years. 

The Irish government were not the only villains of the event – much ire was directed at “higher powers’’, variously the European Union and the World Economic Forum. Leo Varadkar’s trip to Davos last month when anti-immigration protests across the country reached a high-point no doubt did little to disabuse them of the impression that his priorities lie elsewhere. Some gripes were flagrantly conspiratorial: Mr Varadkar’s government, not known for its Anglophilia, was accused multiple times of being in thrall to King Charles.

Demonstrators also belted “Ireland is for the Irish” and other slogans which would usually be the preserve of the republicans of Sinn Fein. But the party’s support for mass migration has alienated their Irish nationalist base, with many at the march branding them “traitors”.

To find out more about where the anger is coming from, I travelled to Roscrea, a sleepy town in County Tipperary, where locals have been protesting for three weeks outside of the town’s only hotel – closed down last month after the government struck a deal with its owner to house more than 160 asylum seekers there. Mary-Claire Doran, a Roscrea resident, told me the town had been transformed by an influx of around 1,000 refugees in recent years, swelling the town’s population of 5,000 by 20 per cent.

Unlike in recent years in Britain and continental Europe, immigration has never been a dominant issue in Irish politics ahead of an election. But the surge in asylum seekers arriving in Ireland has catapulted it to voters’ number one concern, with most of the Irish public now in favour of tougher immigration controls, according to recent polls. 

I discussed the political fallout with Ben Scallan, a journalist for Gript, a media startup that has become a formidable challenger to the progressive orthodoxy espoused by the Irish government. “I think the Irish government is primarily concerned with appearing to be a modern European country,” Ben said. “They admire their European colleagues; they admire Scandinavian countries like Sweden which are progressive and very trendy.”

Ben said he was baffled that the Irish government was repeating the blunders of its European neighbours by ramping up mass migration, with little consideration for the dissenting views of the Irish public. “It seems like having seen the failure of that policy in countries like Sweden, Germany and France, they want to replicate it for some reason that I don’t really understand.”

Protests against the government’s immigration policy have been mostly peaceful, but some have turned violent – including in Dublin last year where riots broke out after three young children and a woman were stabbed, allegedly by a man of Algerian origin. There has also been a spate of more than a dozen arson attacks in Ireland over the past year on migrant facilities and venues wrongly thought to be housing migrants.

The Irish state last year accepted more refugees than it could accommodate, forcing the government to offer asylum applicants tents and sleeping bags as they arrived in Dublin. Since the Russian invasion, nearly 100,000 Ukrainians have also been offered sanctuary in Ireland. I spoke to one Ukrainian refugee outside of an asylum processing centre in Dublin, who told me that despite sleeping rough in Ireland, he was nonetheless grateful for refuge from Vladamir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.

The number of asylum seekers arriving into Ireland has shot up to more than 26,000 over the past two years, the highest annual figures on record, and a growth of nearly 200 per cent from 2019. Last year, most asylum seekers arriving in Ireland came from Nigeria, Algeria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Georgia.

There are some TDs who have spoken out against “unsustainable” levels of immigration in the Irish parliament. Six of them have formed a loose coalition called the Rural Independent Group. I sat down with one of their members, Carol Nolan, to hear their side of the story. “I have never seen the feeling as strong on the issue of immigration as it is now,” Ms Nolan said. “I do feel that people will protest at the ballot box and I do feel that if the government doesn’t change direction quickly…that they will be punished.”

Ms Nolan said she felt anti-EU sentiment was being stoked by the government’s immigration policy. “There is a lot of frustration over the EU dictating everything a country should do – the numbers they should take in and so forth. So there is definitely frustration over that dictatorship as some people see it.”

Leo Varadkar’s government says it can tackle the problems around immigration with better messaging and tougher laws to censor what it deems as “hate speech”. But the Irish public say their concerns are legitimate – a view which is becoming harder to ignore as it gains political momentum. It’s beginning to look like the Irish government’s vision of an Ireland which looks more like its European neighbours is coming true – a multicultural country, ripe for a populist revolt. 

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