As restrictions to tackle Coronavirus are in place, some people choose to show their frustration in a form of protest. Many have condemned such protests not only for posing a greater risk to public health, but also for their possible links with far-right groups. Laura Matjusaityte talked with counter protesters and the people supporting them.
Protests organised by such groups as Yellow Vests Ireland, which claims to be an independent citizens movement, and Health Freedom Ireland have been taking place in Dublin City Centre on the weekends since the start of autumn.
Within a short time the protests seemed to attract even more attention not only from like-minded, but also from opposing groups, which in some occasions ended up in clashes among the demonstrators.
It was reported that up to 100 Gardaí were called in to patrol a protest which took place near the Dail on the 10th of October. There were two instances where Garda intervention was necessary in order to break out clashes among protesters and counter protesters.
During the protest two men, one in his 30s and one in his 40s, were arrested due to the public order offences.
Garda reported that further investigations being carried into the organisers of both the anti-lockdown protests and the counter protests.
The current situation of the pandemic and public anger over government’s decisions has sparked an increase in various conspiracy theories, which are said to be being exploited by far-right leaders in order to gain influence.
The anti-lockdown, anti-mask protests are often being linked with the far-right political parties, the National Party, and the Irish Freedom Party.
Tommy Hamzat, an activist for the Black Lives Matter, said that allowing the far-right activists to organise such events is dangerous.
“Giving them a platform extends their reach and potential to recruit people who are completely unaware of how really dangerous they are,” Hamzat said, on the subject of an incident where an LGBTQ+ activist was assaulted in one of the first clashes against protesters and counter protesters.
The incident happened during an anti-lockdown protest on the 12th of September when a confrontation between the opposing groups started in front of Leinster House. During the clashes LGBTQ+ rights and Repeal the Eighth activist Izzy Kamikaze was struck in the head with a large wooden object and sustained a serious head injury.
Hamzat, talking about clashes among protesters and counter protesters, said that it was expected but “it was a massive disgrace that the Garda didn’t clamp down on the protest even happening”.
Antifa Ireland, an anti-fascist organisation operating in Ireland, is believed to be the organisation behind the counter protests. When asked about the anti-lockdown protesters, a spokesperson from the organisation said that their “only concern are fascists”.
“The National Party led by Justin Barrett has links to the German National Democratic Party and Italian Forza Nuova, ” they claimed.
The National Party leader Justin Barrett, known to the public for his strong nationalistic rhetorics, was seen giving speeches to the crowd of cheering protesters outside Leinster House during one of the protests.
The National Party leader is well known for his anti-abortion activism.
Back in 2002, Barrett admitted to the Irish Times that he did speak in the meeting of the far-right Forza Nuova party and participated in the meetings of the far-right German National Democratic party. Back then Barrett claimed that he wasn’t aware that both of these parties were regarded as neo-fascist organisations.
“Anti lockdown protesters, whatever we may think of their ideas, are not our opponents,” the Antifa spokesperson said.
In the midst of the clashes, the existence of the pandemic was completely forgotten. Many recordings circulating on social media show that while counter protesters wore face masks to cover their faces, the original group of protesters did not and the guidelines for social distancing were not being followed.
Hamzat said that the reasons why the safety measures and the threat of coronavirus was forgotten was because “the far right doesn’t care about anyone but themselves”.
“They used the lockdown aspect to get people to come,” he said.