There was a strong reaction from some viewers to Monday’s episode of RTÉ’s Upfront programme, with numerous people criticising the national broadcaster for what they described as its “gaslighting” of those who have genuine concerns about mass immigration.
The Monday night current affairs programme, hosted by Katie Hannon, discussed racism, the Mother and Baby Home redress scheme, and banning certain dog breeds. Appearing on the programme to discuss the topics were Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward, and RTÉ television presenter Emer O’Neill.
Several women shared their upsetting experiences of racism in Ireland, which met with a sympathetic reception online. However, many viewers felt that the framing of some of the discussions amounted to an attack on protesters who oppose government policy on immigration.
It was felt that during the programme, guests were prompted to suggest that their experiences of racism increased when the protests began. One young woman said racist attacks were becoming more “frequent and normalised”. The host of the show, Katie Hannon, then asked: “Where’s your sense of where it’s coming from?”
The young woman answered by saying that the attacks had started to increase when the protests started. “It’s become really dangerous,” she said, aiming accusations directly at local people who protested on Aungier Street in Dublin, saying that they had made it a “no-go zone” for her.
No-one who took part in the Aungier Street protests was on the programme to defend themselves from that accusation. On the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk last week, a woman taking part in the protest said that she was married to a man who had come to Ireland from Africa. “I’m married to an African man, I have African children,” she said. She and other women said their concern was that male migrants without identification were being put in the area with consultation.
In recent weeks and months, protests have continued to grow in number and size, with significantly larger numbers turning out in Mullingar and Ballymun last week, along with other protests in Coolock and Aungier Street.
The demonstrations are growing even as Minister Roderic O’Gorman asked other Departments to make halls, including arts centres, sports centres, student leisure centres and “any other large buildings” available to house migrants and asylum seekers.
On the Upfront programme, Niamh McDonald of the Far Right Observatory was asked where racist attacks were coming from. She said that “a very small but very vocal cohort” were raising up and spreading hate – and accused protests against migrant centres of being part of a hateful “handbook”.
At no point were the concerns of local people regarding their safety and their right to consultation acknowledged. Protests were framed as being “anti-refugee”, although many of the migrants now being housed in centres are not from war-torn countries.
Meanwhile, RTÉ presenter, Emer O’Neill, told the programme that it is now necessary that people ensure that such ‘disinformation’ is not being spread on the internet.
“Lies are being spread which incite hate, which are putting people in danger, their lives in danger. Refugees have come from a toxic environment where their lives are in danger”.
“Yes, of course they have power,” she said of the protesters. “This is not a new thing. I was born in 1985 here in Ireland and I’m 37 years old. I have gone through racism and discrimination my entire life. This is only something that other people in Ireland have now become aware of,” she said.
One of the female audience members featured on the programme also painted Ireland as being inherently racist:
“It’s a lot every day to be reminded that your existence is hated for no reason. Like, people just resent you for being alive”, she said.
Nobody appearing on the programme – either on the panel or in the audience – expressed a view that racism is not inherent in Ireland.
Ahead of the programme, on Friday, RTÉ Upfront appealed for stories of racism in Ireland, posting on Twitter: “Have you personally experienced racism recently in Ireland? Or have you been a witness to someone being racist towards someone else?
“We want to hear your stories, send us a message or voice memo on WhatsApp”.
However, some accused RTÉ of “looking for evidence of a problem that doesn’t exist” while ignoring problems that do.
“If racism was so systemic…..surely RTÉ wouldn’t need to put out a call for random people to call in??” user @kevinthebooks said.
“Mad that despite Ireland apparently being a racist hellhole where young “poc’s” are afraid to get on the Luas, we have thousands of people literally tearing up their travel documents to get here,” another wrote.
Viewers heard from host Hannon about how “there are many people across the country who are concerned about our ability to accommodate large numbers of refugees and people seeking asylum in their communities”. The programme went on to explore “some of the more sinister elements that are exploiting the valid concerns about the lack of resources in these communities”. Hannon referred to individuals using social media to “spread hate and confusion” around the issue of immigration.
However, users accused the programme of unfairly “demonising” the majority of those with genuine concerns about immigration.
“More biased gaslighting on RTE’s Not-Upfront (with the truth) tonight. Insinuating everyone protesting today is a violent racist & unemployed. A full 20 minutes of guilt tripping hardworking Irish people cos they don’t think Mass immigration of males that rip up Documents is OK,”
More biased gaslighting on RTE's Not-Upfront (with the truth) tonight. Insinuating everyone protesting today is a violent racist & unemployed. A full 20 minutes of guilt tripping hardworking Irish people cos they don't think Mass immigration of males that rip up Documents is OK. pic.twitter.com/yTQnHp67hF
— Teach Gruama (@Bleakhouse12) February 7, 2023
“Seems RTE Upfront wants to demonise folk who have genuine concerns about uncontrolled immigration & bogus asylum seekers here by posting a few ugly tweets from racist nutjobs ,Rte wokes again,” another user @EoinPoil wrote.
Another person described it as a “blatant attempt at creating a biased narrative” adding, “So this is where the license fee goes.”
Many were quick to point out that RTÉ Upfront’s Twitter account banned public comments on a tweet regarding the programme.
“Censorship alive and well and propaganda too, I thought that was a right wing thing?” one frustrated user wrote.
The programme set the frame for the discussion by quoting some extremist tweets which read: “[Named area] is about to be planted with hundreds if not thousands of mostly young single men. And your area will become extremely violent and rapes and sexual assault rates will rocket”.
Another Tweet featured by the programme read: “Women and children lives are on the line. Every day there is a report of a sexual assault, a rape, and a murder in this country coming from unknown illegal migrants”.
“Now just to be clear, there is absolutely no basis to any of those claims,” Hannon said.
But viewers said that the programme sought to unfairly conflate protests by people with genuine concerns with extremist and violent views.
“I used to consider myself liberal but thanks to RTE I now know this was unconscious far rightism,” another woman wrote.
However, some comments described the programme as “important” and said that contributors were “brave” to share their experiences.
Upfront also faced criticism last month from viewers who argued that the programme failed to uphold balance on the issue of mass immigration, and failing to deliver a balanced debate to aptly convey the concerns people have.