Fintan O’Toole’s erratic “far right” broadside

“The important thing to remember about fascism is that it doesn’t need excuses. The object of its hatred is irrelevant – the hatred itself is the point.”

So opens Fintan O’Toole’s latest broadside, published yesterday in the Irish Times, against what his headline calls “a rising threat from a far-right that is growing in ambition”. In the course of this piece, I will take the rare liberty of quoting the article at length. That is only fair to Fintan, so that you can see that I am neither misquoting him, or taking him out of context.

As is customary, at this point, who he means precisely by “the far right” is never spelled out. Indeed, his first example of the kind of poisonous bile we might expect from the far right comes not from Ireland, but from America:

The eternal template of the far-right is anti-Semitism. White supremacists in the US, pushing the Great Replacement conspiracy, slip in their chanting from “You will not replace us” to “Jews will not replace us”.

“Jews will not replace us” has not, to this writer’s knowledge, been uttered at any Irish demonstration in relation to the current arguments about immigration in Ireland. Indeed, I doubt that it has been uttered at any Irish demonstration at all. But that’s not Fintan’s point: it is not a reference to anything that has actually happened, in Ireland, you see. It is, instead, the most casual and half-assed of smears: Not being, apparently, able to find anything offensive that the targets of his article have said, he resorts to importing an outrage from America and assigning it to Irish people, without any evidence, bar the certainty of his own prejudices.

“They can’t help themselves.” He writes, directly after that quote from an unnamed American.Whether or not it is consciously expressed, anti-Semitic rage is in the DNA of fascism. It cannot be removed.”

Note well the line in bold: “Whether or not it is consciously expressed”.

As such, one does not actually need to say, or to do, anything antisemitic to be considered an anti-semite. The sole criterion required, to be convicted of that crime by the Irish Times’ flagship writer, at least if we are to take him at his word in this column, is to be someone he considers vaguely similar to attendees at an un-named US protest. That’s Irish journalism for you, in 2023. It all sounds very authoritative, but it would struggle to pass a first year exam in critical thinking in any third rate university.

Anyway, having spent the first 200 words or so of his piece ranting about a slogan apparently chanted in America, Fintan gets into the meat of his argument. Here it is:

The question to be answered is: how much of this agitation is “about” real issues and how much of it is an exploitation of real issues for purposes that have, at heart, nothing much to do with them? To put it in other terms, is this a supply-side problem or a demand-side problem?

Ideologically and organisationally, it is overwhelmingly a problem of demand. There is a demand for a vulnerable Other. Refugees and asylum seekers fill it – but if it were not them it would be somebody else.

What’s happened in Ireland over the last decade or so is that three causes that appeal to people on the far-right have run aground. Rage against refugees is a substitute for older impulses that are, for now, largely thwarted.

Those three causes are, crudely, militantly conservative Catholicism, violent nationalism and anti-EU agitation. They often formed a package but each element had its own force.

The resounding defeats of religious conservatism in the referendums on abortion and marriage equality have left behind an embittered residue of reactionaries for whom “Ireland is not Ireland anymore”. The visceral thrill of Anglophobic and anti-Protestant holy war in the North is largely unavailable.

There you go: You see, people in East Wall and Ballymun are not really angry about immigrant accommodation arrangements at all. They are, per Fintan, really angry at gay people, the British, Protestants, and the Europeans. The Immigration issue, he argues, is just a facsimile for a spot of gay-bashing.

An aside, by the way: Of all the people in Ireland who get to talk about “Anglophobia”, the man who has published sixty or more columns about how Brexit is rooted in British Imperialism should get his backside to the rear end of the queue, and do so fairly lively.

The local people in these areas, per this argument, are not just jew-haters, but homophobes to boot. Honestly, if Gript paid me six figures a year, I’d hope to be expected to offer a little more by way of analysis than such cheap abuse.

It is abuse, after all, that is not based in reality. It is not based on interviews. There is no supporting evidence offered. There are no quotes from protest attendees. The whole, entire, and complete basis for this assertion, slanderous beyond words as it is, is that Fintan imagines it to be true. If the protestors themselves engaged in such overt fantasy, he would condemn them further, but what is good for the goose is not good, in this case, for the golden boy.

It never seems to cross Fintan’s mind, for whatever reason, that the protests might not be directed at refugees at all, but at the Government policy in relation to their accommodation, and the numbers of them which might be accommodated.

Indeed, in recent weeks, we’ve heard some calls that protests at these venues be banned. “Why don’t you protest at Leinster House?”, some have asked. Well, the answer to that is fairly straightforward: Local protests tend to focus on the local problem. Protestors against the North-South Interconnector, for example, rarely protest at Electric Ireland’s headquarters, but at local sites where Pylons are proposed. The Shell to Sea protestors, all those years ago, protested at the construction site, not the Oireachtas. When environmentalist types blockade roads, or sit in front of diggers, they don’t get lectures about how they should take their protests to the Dáil. That command is reserved purely for those protests that middle Ireland – or more accurately, middle Terenure – disapproves of.

But back to Fintan:

“As for the foot soldiers who turn up at anti-refugee protests, we should remember that there is always a market for recreational bullying. Ganging up is a sadistic pleasure – and so is kicking down.”

At this point, something should be noted again, and underlined for emphasis: Fintan has not – or if he has, he has amazingly omitted the fact that he has – talked to a single one of these “foot soldiers”. He recounts no conversations. No interviews. No first hand knowledge, in fact, of any kind. And yet he is a mind-reader – able to divine purely from observation that these “foot soldiers” are bullies who actively enjoy bullying. If somebody wrote that about him, he would sue them, and win.

Personally, I’d have thought a sure sign of a bully was fact-free name-calling, but apparently our opinions differ.

And what of solutions? What solutions does Ireland’s most famous newspaper columnist offer, to deal with all of the problems being created by the anti-semitic, homophobic, British protestant hating, bullying far right footsoldiers?

Prepare yourself:

So one obvious policy response is that the Government should be much more active in explaining to the public that Ukraine is not the only horrific conflict from which desperate people are fleeing. And much more active in countering the lies being spread on social media. There needs to be a rapid response unit that gets accurate information out to people through the same channels that the far-right uses to propagate scare stories.

The other proper response is to cut the far-right agitators off from decent local communities who are feeling powerless and frustrated. That’s not done by preaching to people. It’s done by giving them reassurance and hope.

If you were looking up the road from the Travelodge in Ballymun where there were nasty protests last week, what would you see? Acres and acres of grass – serviced land ideal for housing that has been ready for development for years.

And it’s a big nothing. The wind raging over its bleak emptiness is the soundtrack of a hopelessness that, unlike the land, is waiting to be built on. Construct something good or see it filled with vile fabrications.

There are two solutions offered there: The first is more Government propaganda – and, make no mistake, propaganda is what he describes. He wants taxpayer money spent to promote Government policy, and challenge dissenters. A Government advertising campaign on Telegram, apparently, can “give people hope”.

Personally, I thought that’s what the handout to the Irish Times and other established media outlets in the form of a VAT reduction was for, but no matter.

Second, he wants some houses built in Ballymun. Oddly, I think he might find common ground with those he denounces, on this front. Except that they might argue, where he would presumably not, that those houses should go to people from Ballymun.

In any case, the latter solution will take years, and the former solution is unlikely to work, given the growing number of people who believe we have more than sufficient amounts of Government propaganda already.

Is this the best that the Irish Times can offer, by way of analysis? Name calling, and solutions so obvious and well-worn and already tried that they’d likely appear as radical new ideas in someone’s manifesto to lead Young Fine Gael?

Taken in the round, it is a typical late-stage O’Toole bromide for the prejudices of Ireland’s governing class: Just as he was able to read the minds of the UK’s Brexiteers, who were, in his telling, motivated by little more than delusions of restoring the Empire of the departed Victoria, he now applies the same Mystic Meg talent to the working class people of Dublin. They are, in this recounting, more like zombies than humans – motivated by base urges towards racism and homophobia and incapable of rational thought. One might even call it classist, reeking as it does of fear and loathing towards the uncivilised barbarians moaning and groaning their way towards the gates of disused ESB buildings. 

We are not reading analysis, here. We are reading Fintan’s imagination. Fiction, presented as argument.

It’s a pitiful thing, this new Ireland – at least, in the old one which Fintan decries, sermons reading feckless sinners from the altar had some substance to them.

Share mdi-share-variant mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-printer mdi-chevron-left Prev Next mdi-chevron-right Related
Comments are closed

Do you favour HAVING a referendum to insert a right to housing into the constitution?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...