Adrienne Wallace looks at how the far-right weaponises the idea of protecting women in order to scapegoat migrant men.
Since far right groups began their most recent period of agitation against refugees, they have followed a familiar playbook. They began with claims of false scarcity – “Ireland Is Full” and we need to “look after our own first”. When the government began moving asylum seekers into disused buildings, they sought to spread a panic about “unvetted” and “military aged men”. Soon, they were spreading outright lies about sexual assaults perpetrated by migrant men.
The far right’s renewed concern for the safety of women might cause some surprise for campaigners who, in the wake of Ashling Murphy’s murder, had to endure solidarity vigils and meetings being hijacked by shadowy far-right figures. So how do the claims of these self-proclaimed “protectors” of women hold up in reality? And which women are they claiming to protect?
Track Record of Misogyny
A factual look at the track record of the far-right tells a very different story. Justin Barrett, the current leader of the Nazi National Party was a founder of Youth Defence who physically attacked those campaigning for a woman’s right to choose in the 1980s. During the 1995 divorce referendum, he was also spokesman for the Youth Against Divorce campaign. It seems Barrett and his far-right collaborators were unwilling to “protect” women fleeing leaving violent marriages.
Hermann Kelly, leader of the Irish Freedom Party, is a former editor of the Irish Catholic. He wrote a book entitled Kathy’s Real Story in an attempt to discredit Magdalene laundry survivor Kathy O’Beirne and defend the abuse of women and children by the Catholic Church.
While people in Ireland were rallying to defend these victims, Hermann Kelly was rallying to protect an institute with a long history of violence against women and children.
The reality is that the far-right have never advocated for a woman’s right to live in safety – but they weaponise violence against women to push their own agenda. While the country reacted in horror and outcry to the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore in early 2022, far-right trolls spurred rumours online about the nationality of the perpetrator. As news broke that Gardaí had initially arrested a Romanian suspect, social media was swamped with material linking Romanians to crimes alongside calls for Irish borders to close. A petition was also set up calling for the deportation of the so-called ‘Romanian murderer’, and he and his family received death threats.
When the suspect was released with no charges, the focus immediately moved to the next target, a Syrian man living in direct provision in Tullamore, another false rumour. While the country grieved, the far-right saw only opportunity. The narrative shifted from being about the victim and about violence against women, instead becoming an online frenzy that targeted immigrants.
Gender-Based Violence and the System
What the far-right refuses to acknowledge is that gender-based violence is a global symptom of capitalism as a whole, and an issue that impacts women across every culture. In their so-called fight to protect women they also refuse to challenge the sexist nature of the system and of establishment politics.
Despite national outrage the government has only played lip-service to the demand for increased domestic violence refuge provision. Nine counties still have no refuges at all and the cuts heaped on rape crisis centres and domestic violence support services during the austerity years have not even been fully reinstated, 13 years later.
The silence from the far-right on these issues is in stark contrast to their vulgar, baseless attacks on refugee men. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that men seeking asylum lead to an increase in crime in any capacity, let alone gender-based violence. In fact, the statistics tell a very different story. 87% of women who have been murdered in Ireland were killed by a partner or ex-partner – in other words, someone that was already known to them and the community.
The far-right are only concerned with punching down and have never mounted a serious campaign to tackle the misogynistic nature of the current system. If we truly want to build a society where women can live safely in their homes and where refuges are properly resourced, then we must challenge those responsible for upholding a political system rife with sexism. Targeting asylum seekers, who have the least amount of political and economic power in Irish society, will only lead us on the road to fascism and with that, the further erasure of women’s rights.
Furthermore, the centres that house refugees are largely communal living spaces. Some are used to house mostly women and children, some are single sex and others are mixed. While the far-right stoke up fear over “bus-loads of military aged men” moving to an area, ignoring the fact that this is done in order to make space for migrant women and children in other centres. They essentially acknowledge that the only women and children they want to protect are white and Irish.
When 17 year old Alanna Quinn Idris, a young black Irish woman was brutally attacked in December 2021 there was no outcry and no organised protests from the far-right. It seems their “protection” also does not extend to black Irish women, or LGBTQ+ women for that matter.
Indeed, they have a record of inflicting violence on those women who oppose them, like LGBTQ activist Izzy Kamikaze, who was assaulted at an anti-mask protest by a National Party member who beat her with a wooden plank wrapped in an Irish flag. For far-right groups in Ireland, anyone who sits outside the confines of white, straight and Irish is seen as a threat to their own deeply conservative, racist ideology.
Women and Fascist Ideology
Indeed, feminism itself is also seen as a threat, as it supposedly targets white men and runs the risk of removing women from their perceived place in society – namely the home. Far-right figurehead Derek Blighe actively promotes the platform of Dave Cullen who believes “that the birth rate in Ireland is below the “replacement rate”, and that feminism has destroyed the family unit by encouraging women to go into the workplace in “their most fertile years”.
Thus, the far-right want to keep women under control, while at the same time claiming to defend them from migrant men. Fascism ultimately sees white women as the property of men and the nation, to be protected by the men of the nation from black and brown men. The National Party spell this out in their leaflets, which claim that “Irish women are not safe in multicultural Ireland”, and urge Irish men to “Man up”, join the NP and “Make Ireland safe for women and children”.
Solidarity, Not Division
Targeting migrant men will bring us no closer to ending violence against women. Ultimately, capitalism is a system that has long benefited from the division of the working class and the old adage “divided we fall, united we stand” rings true in the face of rising fascism. Those who are stoking up fear have no solutions to the very serious problems facing Irish society, or indeed the world over. If we want to fight for an end to the housing crisis and an end to gender-based violence then we have to bring the fight to those with the power to do so. We should be chanting “Get Them Out” outside the gates of the Dáil, not the doors of direct provision centres.