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Far Right Rumors About Stabbing Attack Spur Anti-Migrant Riots in Dublin

Critics said the outburst was a result of years of demonization of migrants by politicians in Ireland and elsewhere.

Flames rise from a car and a bus, set alight at the junction of Bachelors Walk and the O'Connell Bridge in Dublin, on November 23, 2023.

Irish authorities on Friday condemned a far-right, anti-immigrant faction that rapidly spread rumors about the perpetrator of a violent knife attack in Dublin and ultimately tore through the streets of Ireland’s capital Thursday night, setting cars and buses on fire and smashing storefront windows.

The country was shocked Thursday by a mid-day stabbing attack on three young children — including a five-year-old girl who sustained serious injuries — and a woman who were reportedly on their way to a daycare facility when a man assaulted them.

The Garda Síochána, Ireland’s police force, were able to take the suspect into custody after several bystanders — including a Brazilian delivery driver who immigrated to the country — overtook the man, who authorities said acted on his own.

But the “appalling crime,” as Minister for Justice Helen McEntee called the stabbing, soon gave way to chaos at the crime scene when far-right protesters arrived and began chanting anti-immigrant slogans.

One protester told Agence France Presse that “Irish people are being attacked by these scum,” even as the press reported that the suspected perpetrator was a naturalized Irish citizen who has lived in Ireland for 20 years.

The cost-of-living crisis in Ireland has fueled recent anti-immigrant protests and acts of violence, with a group of men violently attacking an encampment inhabited by migrants from several countries earlier this year. Such incidents have also led thousands of Irish people to march this year in support of the immigrant community.

The Brazil-born delivery driver, identified by The Irish Times as Ciao Benicio, told the paper that the far-right faction’s decision to seize on the knife attack as evidence of a dangerous immigration crisis did not “make sense at all.”

“I’m an immigrant myself and I was the one who helped out,” said Benicio.

The city’s public transit system was badly hit by the ensuing riots, with protesters setting trams and double-decker buses ablaze. They also smashed store windows on O’Connell Street, a major thoroughfare.

“This appalling incident is a matter for the Gardaí and that it would be used or abused by groups with an agenda that attacks the principle of social inclusion is reprehensible and deserves condemnation by all those who believe in the rule of law and democracy,” said Irish President Michael Higgins in a statement.

Police commissioner Drew Harris said the riots were driven by misinformation that was spread for “malevolent purposes.”

Mary Lou McDonald, president of the left-wing opposition party Sinn Féin, said the city of Dublin was “traumatized twice: by the barbaric attack… and then by marauding racist mobs.”

Thirty-four rioters were arrested Thursday evening, and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar addressed the country’s immigrant community by saying Ireland would be “vastly inferior” without immigration.

The demonstrators did not wreak havoc across the city “out of any sense of patriotism, however warped,” said Varadkar, “they did so because they are filled with hate.”

One critic of the riots noted that anti-immigrant sentiment has been egged on in recent years not only by politicians like Hermann Kelly, head of the far-right Irish Freedom Party, but also by liberal policymakers like British Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer.

Starmer said in a Sky News interview Thursday that migration levels in the U.K. are “shockingly high.”

“We saw last night in Dublin,” said agriculture researcher Alex Heffron, “a consequence of politicians spending years demonizing immigrants.”

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