President Higgins slams racism in St Patrick’s Day message amid far-right protest plans

Public order units on stand-by and “considerable resources” will be deployed to prevent protest groups causing havoc in the city centre

President Higgins

President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Allison Bray, Ken Foy and Conor FeehanIndependent.ie

President Michael D Higgins has used his St Patrick’s Day message to condemn the growing rise of racism, forced migration, modern-day slavery and a “poisonous xenophobia”.

The President’s remarks, making clear reference to the recent anti-refugee protests around Ireland and elsewhere, come as gardaí have also put a “robust” policing plan in place to prevent far-right protests from disrupting the country’s main parade, in Dublin city centre on Friday.

In President Higgins’s message, offering his “warmest greetings and good wishes” to “our Irish family and friends of Ireland across the world”, he speaks of a need for solidarity, empathy and compassion for those forced to migrate or who are fleeing conflict and natural disasters.

He also speaks of a shared responsibility to protect our planet and all its inhabitants with dignity and respect as the world struggles with climate change.

St Patrick© Getty Images

With a growing tide of racism and xenophobia here and abroad, he says: “We can draw a shared strength from recalling the inspirational teachings from the life of St Patrick, our national patron saint.

“There are many powerful echoes from Patrick’s life that resonate with our contemporary circumstances, ones that have brought new forms of slavery into being, where racism is increasing rather than decreasing, in so many parts of a world where a poisonous xenophobia, new and recalled, has taken hold in so many places.

“It is in these spaces where fear is being sowed.

President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Mr Higgins says the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last month that claimed the lives of more than 46,000 people “remind us all of our utter vulnerability, and of the shared humanitarian response required” at a time of “increasing conflicts and a departure from the principles of international and humanitarian law so carefully crafted over decades, as alternatives to war”.

He urges Irish citizens not to forget the people of Ukraine a year after Russia’s invasion of their homeland, as well as those caught up in armed conflicts around the world.

However, he also thanks the Irish people and others around the world for offering refuge to Ukrainians displaced by the war, and describes as “heartening” those Irish citizens and schools that have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees.

His comments on the plight of Ukrainians come at a time of growing anti-immigration protests by far-right agitators in Ireland outside facilities providing accommodation for refugees and asylum-seekers.

Yet he says the plight of migrants resonated “as a constant feature of the Irish experience” in which “we are required to respond to the ongoing, brutal reality of human trafficking and forced migration as a constant feature of human experience”.

He also points out how St Patrick was himself a slave who was trafficked across the Irish Sea as a young man, and how his life as a former slave and migrant “is a reminder of the resilience and necessary courage of migrants, a reminder, too, of the contributions that they have made and continue to make to the countries they call home”.

“Today, as we recall the life of our patron saint, we can invoke his spirit in acknowledging our role as global citizens, opening our minds and hearts to our universal human family in all its complexity, circumstances and vulnerability,” he says.

“It is by showing empathy, compassion and solidarity, such as by helping those fleeing distress, by offering our hearts and doors to those in need, and giving people an opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their families, that we demonstrate our commitment to bringing into being values which have the power to transcend borders.

“Basic human morality suggests that we must think in terms of the common good if we are to invoke or follow the path of St Patrick.”

The President’s comments come as a “robust” policing plan is in place for the St Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin on Friday, to prevent anti-immigration protesters from disrupting the parade.

Public order units will be on stand-by and “considerable resources” will be deployed to prevent protest groups causing havoc in the city centre.

A well-known far-right activist is believed to be behind a planned anti-immigration protest due to take place near the Four Courts tomorrow afternoon – but senior sources say they have “no information of any specific threat” to the parade arising from this event.

Gardaí say they are not expecting a large crowd at the protest, and in fact report that numbers at anti-immigration protests “have been dwindling” in recent weeks.

“There could be a number of reasons for this – the bad weather has definitely been a factor in stopping people coming out to protest,” said a garda source.

In the lead-up to St Patrick’s Day, the Special Detective Unit and officers in the Security and Intelligence section at Garda HQ have also continued to monitor the online activities of a number of far-right activists involved in anti-immigration protests.

“The protest will be policed in the way many of these protests have been over the past number of weeks,” said a senior source. “It will be low-key policing – not in any way will it be in-your-face style. People have a right to protest.

“However, public order units will be on stand-by – and in the highly unlikely event that there are attempts to interfere with the parade, people engaging in criminal conduct will be dealt with in a robust manner,” added the source.

Gardaí said “very considerable resources” had been put in place for tomorrow’s festivities. However, they had received “no tangible feedback that there are plans to cause disruption”.

“Every St Patrick’s Day, a policing plan is put in place – and this year is no different. In terms of risk projection, there is more danger of trouble from youths coming from the suburbs and engaging in anti-social behaviour in the city centre, rather than anything specific from the protest.

“But there’s no room for complacency – and, as with every protest, a specific policing plan is in place.

“The main concern for gardaí on the day is for the parade to pass off peacefully and without any interruption.

“It needs to be stressed that there are no heightened feelings of threat here,” added the source.

No alcohol will be on sale in pubs or off-licences in parts of Dublin city centre until 4pm, and gardaí will be operating a cordon around Temple Bar after the parade to stop overcrowding in the area.

Rest days and annual leave has been cancelled for gardaí in the Dublin region, with 600 personnel expected to be on duty from 5am throughout St Patrick’s Day and that night.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend tomorrow’s parade, which will include a record 4,000 participants and feature 15 marching bands from Ireland, the US and Canada.

Assistant Garda Commissioner Angela Willis said there would be a significant policing operation in place, adding that safety was a priority.

“We’ve established a dedicated event control room that will be staffed by all the agencies. That will include the event controller, representatives from the emergency services, Dublin City Council, Civil Defence, stewarding, and the National Transport Authority,” she said.

Officers from the Store Street, Pearse Street and Kevin Street garda stations will be monitoring events at this control centre, located in the south city, to ensure the parade passes off peacefully.

“The festival and parade are family-friendly events, so you can expect high-visibility policing,” said Assistant Commissioner Willis in her appeal to the public yesterday.

“We want everyone to have a great time with family and friends, and we will be making safety a priority.”

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