They call themselves nationalists. In Ireland, of course, this doesn't really mean that much. After all, most of the leading figures in our history for the last century and a half would identify as nationalists. But the people we’re talking about are different from the figures in our history. It’s fair to call them 'new nationalists’.
Like other similar groups in Spain, Germany, the U.K. and elsewhere, the focus of these groups is immigration. Some of them subscribe to the internet conspiracy theory, called the Great Replacement. Rather than seeing the increase in non-Irish people living and making their lives here as being a normal part of a modern European country, some of the new nationalists see it as a conspiracy to overwhelm Ireland with foreigners.
For many of them the conspirators include the Irish government, NGOs, the EU and the UN. They believe that these organisations want to replace Irish people with brown and black people from abroad. That’s the idea which has taken hold among these groups.
The origins of the theory are in the French far right, in France’s crisis of identity associated with poor economic growth and an uneasy relationship with minority communities of North African origin.
How is that relevant to Ireland, you may ask. Well that’s a good question. The new nationalists appear to have a principled position in opposition to immigration. They take every opportunity to denounce it.
In direct provision, they have found a target that has plenty of other critics. Communities in Oughterard, Ballinamore, Roosky and Moville baulked at large direct provision centres being situated in their towns and villages, and the new nationalists clearly believe that they have found a receptive audience.
They spoke at meetings and rallies, but largely their message was not taken on board by the targeted communities. That is not to say that there isn’t a rumbling of anti-immigrant feeling in some areas. There is.
But it is not an obsession, as it appears to be with many of the new nationalists.
They look across Europe and see groups like Vox in Spain and the New Democrats in Sweden scooping up votes and may, not unreasonably, ask, why not here? Many of the new nationalists are very Eurosceptical and admire UKIP. Again, they marvel at how that party apparently came from nowhere to a point of supreme influence in Britain.
This seems to be their dream. The 2020 general election was not encouraging for them. Most candidates, from the National Party, the Irish Freedom Party, Anti Corruption Ireland (including the most high profile) got less than 2% of the vote.
But their hope is to emulate their more successful European counterparts — to go from obscurity to relevance in one miraculous election. It may seem unlikely, but as those counterparts show, it is not impossible.