The European Union is not the immutable behemoth it once was.
The political bloc, although once appearing to be seemingly invincible, is starting to show its cracks. Largely as a result of the 2015 migrant crisis, as well as the rapid increase in progressive lunacy, the European project is facing more challenges than ever before. From yellow vest protests in France, to the rise of the right in Germany, to the ever impending Brexit, Europe now has a fair number of challengers to contend with.
One of these challengers is the newly renamed Irish Freedom Party. Founded in 2018 under the name Irexit Freedom to Prosper, the party prides itself on it’s hard Euroscepticism and Irish Nationalism. Headed up by the former Director of Communications of Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy Hermann Kelly, the party has heaps of experience in tackling the European Union.
Despite this though, their first European election campaign did not end the way many in the party would have liked. Failing to win any seats, Kelly himself was knocked out of the running after the fourth count for the Dublin constituency. With that in mind, when I met up with Mr Kelly late last week, I was keen to hear his view on what went wrong:
“With populists you shouldn’t engage, you shouldn’t react. That was the game plan from day one in regards to how the establishment dealt with us. They planned to kill us with silence.”
This lack of engagement in Kelly’s view proved problematic for the party’s election chances, but it was far from the only element that got in their way:
“You also had problems with the media. I was booked on ‘The Tonight Show’ on Virgin Media for instance some time in advance, but was prevented from speaking by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. These live debates drafted in all those you would expect; Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and all the parties on the left, including those with very little electoral representation.”
The BAI put out a ruling that only candidates belonging to parties with representatives in the Oireachtas or in local councils could partake in TV debates. Hermann Kelly seemed adamant that the effect the BAI’s decision had on his electoral chances could not be understated:
“When you look at it, it’s very clear that people like me were excluded from live debate and regulated to the likes of sixty second videos on RTÉ. The simple fact is that it’s at the live debates that you make ground, and I was excluded.”
The former MEP candidate’s problems did not stop there though. He also described to me the multiple issues he and his party faced with advertising platforms, both on and offline:
“I was the only candidate excluded from advertising on Dublin Bus. I had signed a contract with them, paid the money and everything, but they pulled the whole thing with the excuse of ‘we’re not doing it anymore’. Of course I was the only candidate affected.”
Kelly seemed to have had even worse problems with Social Media platform Facebook however, hardly surprising since the company has recently been seen gloating about influencing the Irish voting process:
“On Facebook they wouldn’t even accept my ID that I could advertise online. They wouldn’t even respond with their procedures.”
For Kelly, all of this appeared to be part of that single strategy. If one plugs the ears of the public, they won’t hear those fighting for change, no matter what they say:
“They were going to kill me by silencing me. With the [Peter] Casey thing that’s what they learned.”
However, despite all this, Kelly was adamant that this strategy could be defeated. To do so though, he made it clear that a lot of elbow grease would be needed:
“We’ll have to do more social media, we’ll have to organize more cumanns of real people, getting leaflets in their hands and going around.”
Mobilisation of the working class was also something that Kelly wants to work on. Those who gave the strongest reaction to his party’s platform were those in the poorer parts of the Dublin county, areas that he campaigned heavily in.
“The reaction in working class estates were actually really, really good. However, when you look up the stats afterwards you find that, in these places where reception was really good, voter turnout was between 13-15%. That’s one in seven people.”
However, despite all these issues, Kelly was adamant that things are about to change. The public could only be kept in the dark about Irish Freedom for so long, and as the global political sphere continues to turn, the chances for success will only increase:
“To be advocating Irexit, or taking back control of our laws and our borders at one point was unheard of, but now it is a moving beast.”
A large part of this coming upswing for Kelly is how Brexit has developed. While the project began with a heavy focus on achieving a deal before Britain leaves, now the campaign has become more extreme in its aims, something Kelly sees as greatly to his party’s favour.
“A WTO Brexit now appears to be nothing short of official Tory policy, and while it may be delayed it won’t be denied.”
“If Britain takes control of their democracy once again, and we end up looking at them in two to three years and see them doing well it will become a big issue here in Ireland.”
Kelly was also quick to point out the dangers that Britain leaving poses for Ireland because of Leo Varadkar’s Europhilic leadership. Under the Fine Gael Taoiseach, Kelly states, Europe sees Ireland as nothing more than a pawn in preventing the UK from succeeding outside the EU.
“WTO rules do not require Britain to put up a hard border. However, the EU is insisting that, in the event of a hard Brexit, customs paraphernalia and structures be put up along the border, and if that happens, well, who knows what will happen next. I don’t think it’s going to be very pretty.”
Despite this coming hardship, Kelly reiterates how much Brexit will end up changing the views of the Irish people. Once Brexit reveals the true colours of the EU to the Irish people, it will only be a matter of time before they demand a re-examining of their country’s relationship with the project.
“If there is big trouble with the border and big trouble with the economy, and Brexit eventually works out well for Britain, Ireland will have a political and economic imperative to leave.”
With all this talk of a WTO Brexit, I asked Kelly what he thought of Boris Johnson and the Conservative party, and their approach to Brexit. While he seemed to appear rather confident in them delivering, when asked if he trusts Boris Johnson, his answer was much more negative.
“Not at all, but with the recent success of the Brexit Party should at least make them more honest than before. Now I wouldn’t trust Boris in a thousand years, I think he’s vainglorious. But I believe that he knows that if he goes down in history as the man to successfully deliver Brexit, he will be looked upon positively in the years to come.”
The Irish Freedom Party’s aims have grown beyond that of a simple Irexit however. As their name change seems to have suggested, according to Kelly the platform of the party is moving to a much broader defense of a sort of nationalistic classical liberalism.
“It’s not just about leaving the EU, it’s about more basic things. It’s about freedom of speech, something that’s under attack in Ireland, it’s about encouraging work, encouraging families and encouraging people to have children.”
Other issues have caught the party’s eye. Kelly went on at length about the dangers posed to freedom of speech and freedom of thought, especially in regards to debates around immigration and national identity. Kelly stressed the importance of avoiding sectarianism, understandable considering the Derryman’s upbringing during the time of the Troubles, but also emphasised how debates in regards to mass migration must be had:
“If we look at countries like Sweden and Germany, we see their culture being undermined, their people cut down, and ultimately the futures of what we thought were stable countries and stable civilizations being cut asunder.”
Immigration, Kelly maintained, has lasting effects on the daily lives of the population. Population increases, he pointed out, put a strain on vital services, from housing to hospital beds, and before the government undertakes such population changing measures, immigration or otherwise, it must first consult the people of Ireland.
“We need to have a debate on it. We need to have a discussion about the consequences of it. We need to talk about what has happened in other countries.”
The stifling of debate in Ireland thanks to politicians and journalists, Kelly claims, has always proven a danger for Ireland. While the left have grown more militant in the last decade, even before then the monoculture of opinion on this island has lead to much suffering.
“In Ireland the media situation is very incestuous. If you think about all the big issues: the family, gay marriage, immigration, the EU, they all speak with one voice.”
“Groupthink in Ireland has not served us well in the past. This naive unthinking allegiance to the EU and the Euro helped lead to things like the banking crisis and the economic crash. We in this party are here to smash this groupthink on so many issues.”
Kelly also had a word of advice for dissidents living through these times. While organizing and speaking out may be hard, Kelly maintained that there is just too much to lose in standing by. As such, if you see problems with the modern world, it is up to you to challenge these problems, braving the social costs that may come. While many may try and ruin you for speaking out, all they do in attacking you is condemn their own position:
“For people who hate the truth, speaking the truth is what they regard as hate.”
“Speak freely, and do not be coerced, threatened or intimidated. It’s your children’s future which is at stake. Speak up and don’t be afraid.”