Irish politics is lamentably glacier-paced, but are the green shoots of right-wing populism beginning to show in opinion polls?
The Irish media has had the right-wing spectre on the brain since the outbreak of citizen protests against the asylum industry in East Wall last November with one eye on the political turmoil on the continent and elsewhere.
A cathartic expression of working and middle-class scorn against an international protection system hell-bent on gobbling up communities the length and breadth of the Republic, both the left, Gardaí and political establishment have been head-scratching about what to do about the emerging but still fatally schizophrenic force: right-wing Irish populism.
While recent asylum protests have yet to find a political home, their staying power has prompted murmurings in high places that populism in the style of that has been seen on the continent could be around the corner, as establishment figures even began dog-whistling in preparation.
The brief rise of Peter Casey in 2018 showed Dáil Éireann that a potential 23%+ constituency existed for nativist politics given a coherent figure and viable platform, as even Garda sources commented that all Ireland lacked was a Nigel Farage figure for discontent to rally around.
Far from the heyday of Jobstown, Trotskyists are now barely able to walk the streets of Tallaght for fear of verbal harassment from former voters as Sinn Féin begins to ameliorate their public rhetoric on migration to certain estates.
Looking at opinion polls since November 2022, when the demonstrations first emerged, one can see perhaps the first electoral rumblings of populism, albeit channeled into the “Independents or Others” category.
Mainly to the detriment of Sinn Féin and certainly not to the benefit of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or even Aontú, a circa 5% jump has occurred since November for “Independents or Others” in national polling figures.
As the radical left in the form of PBP and assorted communists flatline and run down their political capital accrued since the Water Protest years it would be fair to assume that most of that 5% of disgruntled voters are hesitative populists looking for a voice.
East Wall and what came after it was a monumental psychological moment for nativism in Ireland and it normalised certain right-wing talking points to a segment of the electorate in between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil feeling for a new home.
No Gemma O’Doherty-style figures or bombastic rhetoric to strangle in the cri,b any political gains the public for the first time saw a relatable and respectable protest movement against an issue both the government and opposition had no response to.
Right now that energy is to the benefit of a range of microparties and rural independents but for what it’s worth we are seeing the melting of the unipolar Irish consensus as the asylum system melts down.
Next year’s European and Local elections or even the 2025 Presidential race are all potential flashpoints for this inchoate populism to fully emerge as the establishment and a gaggle of insincere rural independents will try earnestly to diffuse the situation.
Recent European examples have shown that what begins as a trickle can sometimes become a flood in a matter of years when it comes to right-wing grievances finding a voice in the political arena. It is an open secret that while holding the Taoiseach’s office until recently, Fianna Fáil is an organisational dead duck now and certainly in ten years hence nevermind the proletariat backlash to be expected when Sinn Féin gets into power possibly in the next general election.
What now follows is a veritable herding of cats as regional kingpins, independents and a horde of parties battle it out to carry the electoral banner into the semi-mainstream.