The news that the fascist National Party has had €400,000 worth of gold stolen from a vault has prompted many questions about how they amassed such a fortune. Clara McCormack takes a look at the funding behind the far-right.
The public announcement of an enormous quantity of gold being ‘stolen’ from the National Party (NP) this week raises enormous questions about the sources of funding used by the far-right in Ireland, and what this might suggest about where their loyalties lie.
In an amusing and poorly written statement posted by the far-right National Party this week, NP leader Justin Barrett claimed that the party’s stash of gold had been stolen from its vault by two other executive NP members. The former national organiser, Paul Conroy and former Leas-Cheannaire James Reynolds allegedly gained access to the vault using Conroy’s key and removed a quantity of gold bars valued at over €400,000. The Gardaí have recovered the gold following a complaint by Barrett, but have not yet established whether a crime has been committed.
Regardless of the legalities of this alleged heist, there looms a much bigger question of where a novel, marginal, far-right party with no elected representatives and no state funding managed to acquire over €400,000 worth of gold bars. Barrett’s statement on the stolen gold, posted to the NP Dublin Bay South Twitter account, claimed that the gold had been collected through donations from party members and supporters over “many years”. For a party that was only established in 2016 and failed to secure more than 183 (0.7% total) first-preference votes for its party leader in the 2021 by-election, it is difficult to believe that the gold came from individual members and supporters.
Furthermore, it is not clear that the gold came from Ireland. It is a legal requirement for political organisations in Ireland to submit an annual declaration to SIPO of all donations made to the party. Foreign donations are banned. SIPO records show that the NP has not only failed to declare donations this year but has declared no more than €7,500 worth of donations in a year since it was founded.
While the Gardaí will likely investigate the source of this funding and hopefully provide the public with a definitive answer on the question, the links between Justin Barrett and reactionary movements in other countries – primarily the US and UK – may offer some insight into where such an staggering amount of wealth came into the possession of such a marginal group.
The Far-Right’s American Donors
It has long been known that US-based conservative Christian organisations have funnelled money into anti-abortion, socially conservative and anti-queer movements in Ireland. Many people questioned the source of funding used by anti-abortion campaign groups around the time of the Repeal the 8th referendum. The American far-right group ‘Pro-Life Action League’ has openly admitted to donating huge sums of money to anti-abortion groups here – most notably to Youth Defence, of which Justin Barrett was a prominent member in the 1990s and early 2000s. Barrett has admitted that Patrick Mahoney, of the US-based religious extremist group ‘Christian Defence Coalition’ also donated generously to Youth Defence in the 1990s.
Youth Defence was founded in 1992 by ultra-conservative activist Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna, and has grown infamous throughout the years for its inflammatory and misleading messaging around abortion and other social issues. Her two children, Niamh Uí Bhriain and Dónal Mac Mathúna, went on to establish the Life Institute, to which Youth Defence is closely affiliated. The Life Institute, which is a registered Irish company under the name ‘Pro Life Institute Limited’, came under scrutiny in 2012 when it became apparent that they were funding anti-abortion campaigns in Ireland. When asked by the Irish Times whether the Life Institute had received a €410,000 ‘loan’ to set up the organisation, Ms Uí Bhriain said that the money came from their Irish supporters and from Youth Defence.
It is difficult to imagine that this money did not originally come from US-based organisations such as the Pro-Life Action League. Niamh Uí Bhriain also happens to be one of two owners of Gript Media, a reactionary, far-right “media” source in Ireland which regularly spreads vile articles filled with racism, transphobia and misogyny. Is Gript also receiving American dollars via Youth Defence?
So far, we know that American political organisations have been funding anti-abortion campaigns in Ireland, and that Irish legal structures are seemingly incapable of sanctioning this despite it being illegal. When SIPO attempted to pursue Youth Defence over its foreign funding a decade ago, they simply refused to comply. When SIPO’s powers of investigation were strengthened in 2015, Youth Defence still refused to comply on the basis of freedom of speech. In response to a complaint from a member of the public about Youth Defence’s misleading billboards and posters, SIPO said that “without legislative support, the standards commission is not in a position to act on your complaint.”
Barrett’s Connections With Fascism and Loyalism
What remains unknown is where Barrett and his band of uniform-clad lackeys got their gold. As mentioned earlier, Barrett was once a prominent member of Youth Defence, but seemingly left the organisation in 2004, claiming that their methods had become too extreme. He was arrested but narrowly escaped criminal charges following clashes with Gardaí at an anti-abortion Youth Defence protest in 1998. He also came under fire in the media in 2002, and again when the NP was established, for attending conferences of two fascist parties (Forza Nuova in Italy, and the National Democratic Party in Germany) to speak about abortion on behalf of Youth Defence. However these past associations between Barrett, Italian and German fascists, and Youth Defence cannot alone provide definitive evidence that the NP gold came from any particular place, and it seems that Barrett no longer ‘gets along’ with Youth Defence and its associated organisations, leaving the question around the source of the gold wide open.
These are not the only questionable associations Barrett has built over the years, however. Jim Dowson is another prominent figure, found lurking around British fascist circles, with whom Barrett has rubbed shoulders in the past. Dowson was born in Scotland but became an ardent loyalist and member of the Orange Order in the North of Ireland. He supported convicted loyalist murderer Michael Stone, who shot mourners at the Milltown Cemetery Attack in 1988, Belfast. Barrett admitted that Youth Defence had written to Dowson in the early 1990s asking for financial assistance for the anti-abortion group. Dowson, inspired by Barrett and Youth Defence, later set up the UK-based anti-abortion group ‘Precious Life’, before going on to join the fascist British National Party (BNP) in 2007. After a string of controversies surrounding the party’s funding while Dowson was party treasurer, he left the party and set up Britain First, another fascist political party.
Irish “Nationalists” and their love-in with British Fascists
Barrett and the NP are not the only far-right group in Ireland to benefit from the support of British fascists. Síol na hÉireann, a fringe far-right group set up by Donegal-based Niall McConnell, is supported by Dowson and also by fascist and former leader of the BNP Nick Griffin. The BNP, Britain First, and Jim Dowson and Nick Griffin all have a history of supporting loyalists in the North, which might seem to contravene their support for Irish ‘nationalists’ such as the NP and Irish Freedom Party (IFP) in the south.
Hermann Kelly, founder and leader of the IFP, appeared in a YouTube video alongside Jim Dowson in 2019. It was revealed through an FOI request to SIPO that the IFP received 26 separate payments from the UK in 2019 from unknown sources and of unknown quantities. In the same year, the IFP spent an estimated €40,000 on billboards in Dublin to promote its Eurosceptic message. While no definitive answers have yet been found regarding the sources of Irish fascists’ funding, it appears that these ‘nationalist’ projects may rely heavily on international purses.
Doing the Capitalists’ Dirty Work
Irish far-right activists are shaking the collection bucket in working class communities and claiming to represent the ‘interests of the Irish nation’, yet they have no problem cosying up to loyalists and monarchists, whose heroes for centuries have oppressed Irish people, people of marginalised ethnicities, and gender non-conforming people. The struggle for Irish liberation from colonialism has long been recognised as a struggle for liberation of all oppressed and working class people, and this has been rooted in the recognition that capitalism relies upon the working class being divided along the lines of race, gender, religion, or whatever cleavage becomes exploitable by elites.
The largest threat to the capitalist system and the exploitation of people through landlordism, engineered inflation of the economy, and decimation of workers’ rights is working class unity. Unity based on shared economic oppression extends beyond the imagined boundaries of race and gender, and scares the capitalist class far more than fascism ever has or will.
It should come as no surprise then that Irish fascists have very wealthy financial backers: they exist to divide us and to protect capitalism.