'just evil’ | 

Far right mobs slammed for stirring up hatred across Irish communities

Local councillors and the schools have been scrambling to fight the misinformation

Schools, a convent and a community centre in Ballyfermot are among the properties that have become the target of far right gangs who say they are being used to house asylum seekers. Above, conspiracy theorist Dee Wall aka Dolores Webster

Ellen Coyne and Ralph RiegalSunday World

In a breathless report, far-right conspiracy theorist Dee Wall made herself out as quite the intrepid investigator as she crept towards St Louise’s convent in Ballyfermot under the cover of darkness on Wednesday night.

Live-streaming a video to her social media account, she claimed to be searching for “two busloads” of “unvetted, illegal migrants” who she believed were being covertly accommodated in a number of local buildings.

Wall, aka Dolores Webster, is one of a number of “campaigners” who have become convinced that asylum seekers are secretly sleeping in Ballyfermot’s schools and community centres at night, before slipping out in the morning.

“We think we found out where they put them,” she said triumphantly, behind her phone’s camera.

Along with a male friend, Wall stood outside the “old convent” which they claimed had been “abandoned a long time”. At one point, to the audible delight of Wall and her accomplice, a silhouette of a person appears in one of the windows of the convent.

“There yez are lads, Ballyfermot is riddled,” the man says.“There yez are, they’re in Ballyfermot now,” Wall agrees.

There is no way of knowing from the grainy, shaky video who the person standing in the window is.

Common sense might suggest it is one of the half a dozen or so elderly and now quite distressed Daughters of Charity nuns who live in the convent, which is neither abandoned nor being used as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

After Wall posted her video, the convent became one of a number of buildings and homes which were targeted by a mob of demonstrators on Thursday night, who stood outside shouting “Ballyfermot says No.”

It is understood the angry crowd told those in the convent that it was now officially “under surveillance".

It is also believed this vigilante scrutiny led to incorrect claims that a mattress, which was being delivered for one of the nuns, was evidence that the convent was now a secret state-run emergency accommodation centre.

The Sisters who live at St Louise’s did not want to talk to the press, but it is believed the demonstrations have caused huge upset and concern – particularly for the children attending St. Louise de Marillac Primary School next door, which has also been the subject of the same misinformation and “surveillance”. One nun was heard denouncing the protests as “evil, just evil”.

The convent has joined at least four local schools and a community centre which have become embroiled in a frenzied witch hunt for “military-aged men” who are “invading” both Ballyfermot and Ireland.

A small but obsessive minority of people have this week been standing outside Ballyfermot’s schools in the middle of the night watching for lights being turned on and shadows in the windows, which is understood to have led to at least one school stopping an overnight food delivery for fear the driver would be attacked.

Local councillors and the schools have been scrambling to fight the misinformation, with one school sending letters to parents confirming it is not housing asylum seekers.

Rather than being sheepish about the misinformation she helped spread, Wall instead suggested that Ballyfermot had staged a powerful pre-emptive demonstration against what she regularly describes as the “asylum industry”.

“OK lots on Instagram comments shooting the messenger,” she said on her social network.

Wall, who also spread conspiracy theories during the pandemic, did not respond to a request for comment.

The misinformation which has seized Ballyfermot seems to have evolved from an accurate report last year that the local De La Salle national school was being considered as accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.

Then Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School in Drimnagh was used to accommodate refugees over the Christmas break, but this ended before pupils returned to school.

But these two truths have been exploited to create a giant lie, which many community leaders now fear has some local people believing a vicious false reality that completely lacks either sense or proportion.

Independent councillor Vincent Jackson, a well-regarded local advocate, has been trying to quell the fears and misinformation within the community.

On Thursday night, he returned to his family home to find his wife in tears. A mob of angry demonstrators had shown up outside his house, while his wife and two of his children were inside.

Cllr Jackson said his children had been “extremely upset", as were the staff of the local schools which had also been targeted. He says he is now is fearful for the safety of newer communities in Ballyfermot.

"Some of them are rent-a-crowd, some are parents who have been whipped up into believing that there are people staying in the school overnight,” Cllr Jackson said.

Experts believe that elements of the misinformation spread in the west Dublin suburb match the rhetoric used in anti-asylum seeker demonstrations currently being held across Dublin and countrywide.

Aoife Gallagher and Ciaran O’Connor, ​​analysts and researchers of extremism, disinformation and hate online with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), said analysis of social media has found clear evidence Irish far-right activists are using a specific kind of rhetoric “to foster anger and hostility against asylum seekers".

The rhetoric identified exactly matches language used in Ballyfermot – where social media posts suggested that “military-aged” and “unvetted” men were being bussed into localities.

Mr O’Connor told theIrish Independent that the ISD had found evidence that this online activity was spilling offline, with a number of far-right activists either being involved in or helping to organise anti-immigration rallies in Dublin’s Ballymun and East Wall.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Simon Harris and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris admitted they believe a small group of far-right individuals with international support are involved in a sinister, organised campaign to intimidate and sow dissent within Irish communities for their own political benefit.

Commissioner Harris said gardaí were now investigating recent far-right protests amid concerns they have been supported by far-right and neo-Nazi groups in Europe and North America.

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