Over the Summer the Google European Headquarters on Barrow Street were the stage for prolonged demonstrations as freelance journalist Gemma O’Doherty protested the ban handed to her by the video-sharing platform YouTube, one of the company’s many subsidiaries. O’Doherty, joined by supporters from her organisation Anti-Corruption Ireland, alleged that Google had given no legitimate reason for her de-platforming and that the tech giant was guilty of censorship.
The ban in question occurred after the journalist uploaded a video that was critical of ethnic minorities in Ireland and received a seven-day suspension. O’Doherty circumvented this suspension by continuing to upload content to a secondary account, which a spokesperson from Google said in a statement meant the sites Terms of Service had been breached, thus invoking a ban. During the course of the protests O’Doherty and her allies earned forty formal complaints to the Gardaí from local residents as well as a special meeting of local councillors, despite the fact that city councillors do not generally meet at all during the month of August. O’Doherty also sparked a counter-protest march by a group calling themselves Speakers Unicorner, who accused the ACI of spreading hate speech.
On August 10th, Green Party councillor Hazel Chu gave a speech on Barrow Street that was heard by a crowd of approximately 250 people. 200 of that number made up those who had marched together from the nearby Irishtown Garda station in protest of O’Doherty. The rest were O’Doherty’s supporters, several wearing high-vis ACI jackets and waving tricolours. Councillor Chu recently became the first Irish Born Chinese politician in the state and as a local politician she had already been aware of the action on Barrow Street and later attended the special meeting of councillors. However, Chu became personally involved after a number of comments were made both online and during the course of O’Doherty’s demonstrations regarding her Chinese heritage, a video on social media shows one of O’Doherty’s supporters using a loud hailer and referring to the councillor as ‘that immigrant’. Cllr Chu is an Irish citizen by birth and has lived in the country her whole life, as referenced by her Instagram handle ‘irishbornpanda’ and it was on social media that she responded to these comments tweeting: ‘I will always fight hate speech so my kid doesn’t grow up listening to the likes of [the ACI]’. She also urged her followers to join the Speakers Unicorner counter-march.
Although her initial protest was relatively small in numbers, Gemma O’Doherty’s profile and the nature of her accusations against Google (in one video recorded outside the headquarters she asserts that the company is protecting paedophiles) meant that it wasn’t long before she started receiving coverage from the mainstream media. On July 17th, a day after her ban, several newspapers, such as the Irish Times and Irish Examiner were already reporting it. O’Doherty was already familiar to many from her failed bid at a presidential nomination in 2018 and her campaign to be elected to the European Parliament in 2019, where she placed twelfth out of nineteen at the first count. Formerly chief features writer for the Irish Independent she had received much praise for work as well as several awards, however she was fired after an instance of malpractice while investigating for an article. Since then she has become a controversial figure due to her views. During her campaign for the European Parliamentary elections she outlined a platform that included preparing for an ‘Irexit’ and the removal of ‘cultural Marxist ideologies’ from school curriculum. She has also been accused of espousing homophobic and racist viewpoints on her social media. In 2019 she founded Anti-Corruption Ireland to fight for ‘justice, truth, and integrity.’ As of September 2019 it has not been officially granted status as a political party, although O’Doherty still used the name and imagery on some of her campaign material. Despite the fact that O’Doherty only received 1.8% of first preference votes in the European Parliament elections and the size of her protest was relatively small in number, anxiety surrounding herself and the demography which she represents has been mounting in the general public. The founding of the Speakers Unicorner is a prime example of this, on their Facebook page they write that ‘we have seen all over the world what happens when hate speech goes uncontested…. violence and the death of innocent people’.
Over the past several years there has been a surge in right-wing politics globally, with a spike in the far-right in particular. This spike has made itself felt in elections and governments around the world with varying degrees of success. In France Marine Le Pen of the Front National was defeated by Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 Presidential Elections and that same year Geert Wilder, the leader of the Party for Freedom, suffered a significant defeat in the Dutch parliamentary elections. Countering these losses have been the recent wins of right-wing politicians in Brazil and Hungary. In August 2018 the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán became the second longest-serving minister at that post. Orbán has painted himself as a defender of Europe against Muslim immigrants and refugees, and it is in Europe specifically that the ongoing refugee crisis has sparked support for the right-wing in recent years, Ireland being no different. A number of new right-wing parties have been formed in the last decade such as Identity Ireland in 2015, the National Party in 2016, and most recently the Irish Freedom Party in 2018. All three parties advocate for stricter immigration control and are heavily Eurosceptic. Identity Ireland in particular has been accused of racism, with a number of its meetings being disrupted by protesters or cancelled by venues. At the time of writing none of these parties are represented in government. Although Anti-Corruption Ireland is not a formal party it espouses similar views and has shown evidence of attracting extreme elements.
On August 10th a video surfaced of a young man standing with O’Doherty’s supporters and performing the Nazi salute.
After several weeks of O’Doherty’s protest An Garda Siochána became involved after receiving numerous complaints from local residents and business owners, who said that the noise levels were disrupting their day to day lives. On the 13th of August Gardaí read out the Public Order Act to the protesters, asking them to desist playing instruments and using speakers. Following this the protests began to dwindle. The Gardaí also met with local councillors on Friday the 16th of August to discuss the concerns raised by locals. Media attention surrounding the demonstrations has since died down but Councillor Chu’s Tweeted claim that she had gained ‘a few hundred followers, a good 1/4 of a million tweet engagements & lots of support by good people wanting to make sure fascism doesn’t win in our country.’ suggests that a vocal section of the Irish public will continue to take a keen interest in preventing the proliferation of the far-right in Ireland.
Caoilfhinn Hegarty – Politics Writer