Bigots whipped up hatred to incite Dublin riots

By Searchlight Team

Austin Harney explains how the right uses social media to spread poisonous lies about asylum-seekers and specifically how this tactic led to recent events in Dublin

This article was first published in the Winter 2023/24 issue of Searchlight magazine

The end of November saw the Irish far right organise a dangerous riot in Dublin after three schoolchildren and a school care assistant were attacked and stabbed outside a city centre primary school.

A five-year-old girl and the care assistant were seriously wounded; the girl was stabbed in the chest and lay critically ill in hospital for several days. The care assistant, Leanne Flynn Keogh, was wounded when she flung herself in front of the children to protect them.

The five-year-old’s life may have been saved by nurse Leo Ralph Publico, who happened to be passing. He gave first aid and called the emergency services. A Deliveroo driver used his crash helmet to bring down the attacker, who was then arrested.

On social media, far-right agitators immediately blamed the attack on Islamist terrorism and within hours a serious riot had erupted, with the capital descending into chaos during the evening rush hour. The Irish police force, the Garda Síochána, lined up with shields as bottles and fireworks were thrown. The rioters set fire to a police car, which exploded, and other vehicles, including a bus. Shops were attacked and looted.

In fact, the riot had been incited online through a quickfire far-right campaign of lies and incitement. First, the incident was mentioned on the “Ireland is Full” hashtag, claiming a “cowardly terrorist attack” had taken place. Even if that were true, the author could not possibly have known at that time, and it transpired later this was not the case: police said there was no terrorist motive.

But that did not stop the contagion. One of the first to leap in was Britain First leader Paul Golding, who posted: “Reports of multiple children stabbed in Ireland. Eyewitnesses claim ‘a man of foreign descent’ went on a stabbing spree injuring at least three.” Another tweet, from “Michael O”Keefe”, went further, claiming a foreigner had entered a school and stabbed five children, and multiple children were dead.

All of this was untrue, but the far right in Ireland, the UK and abroad continued to inflame the story. A Dutch right-winger posted a video claiming to show the attack, but it was of a totally unrelated incident several months earlier. A UK far right-right account claimed the suspect in the attack was on a terrorist watchlist – this was also untrue.

Someone called “Aney Stokes”, who has over 50,000 followers, then posted using the hashtag “Enough is Enough”, calling for people to assemble in Dublin and “stand with your fellow Irish people”. Calls such as this then led to far-right and anti-immigrant crowds assembling and the subsequent riots.

The ironies of the story are that the nurse who tended to the wounded five-year-old is from the Philippines, the Deliveroo driver who tackled the attacker is Brazilian and that a Frenchman intervened to stop the attack and was himself injured. The five-
year-old, although Irish-born, is the child of 
non-Irish parents.

The man suspected of carrying out the attack, Riad Bouchaker, is an Irish citizen; he has been in Ireland for 20 years, but is believed to be originally from Algeria. He has been charged with attempted murder.

Despite such events, politicians and some of the media view the far right as harmless, with low support in elections. However, extremist parties exploited the pandemic, with anti-vaxxers and conspiracy communities. The government’s failure to deal with ongoing social problems has also given them further opportunity to grow.

Far-right parties are feeding the poison that immigrants are taking Irish people’s homes during a housing crisis, under the slogan “Ireland is full”, they are exploiting farmers’ fears about environmental policies, and they are targeting LGBTQ+ and disabled people. Earlier this year, an angry group shut down a public library in Cork for having LGBTQ+ books on its shelves.