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A Day of Ire
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A Day of Ire

What led to the largest riot in Ireland in decades.

Happy Tuesday! We’d like to offer our congratulations to Delilah, a critically endangered Sumatran rhino, who did her part for the species over the weekend when she welcomed a 55-pound male calf. He joins a very small family—there are fewer than 50 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, all of them in Indonesia.   

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Qatari foreign ministry announced Monday that Israel and Hamas would extend an internationally-brokered temporary ceasefire until Thursday morning, as 11 more Israeli hostages held by Hamas—all women and children, including 3-year-old twins—and 33 Palestinian prisoners charged or convicted of violent crimes in Israel were released Monday as part of the existing deal. The extended agreement could allow for the release of at least 20 more Israeli hostages, with Israel continuing to release three prisoners for every one hostage freed—as well as permit additional humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.
  • Tech billionaire Elon Musk visited Israel on Monday and toured the sites of the October 7 Hamas massacre of Israelis alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The X owner sparked outrage earlier this month when he seemed to endorse antisemitic speech, prompting a significant exodus of major advertisers like IBM and Apple from his social media platform. Musk, the richest man in the world, owns important technologies like internet service provider Starlink, which makes him a key ally for world leaders. “It was jarring to see the scene of the massacre,” Musk told Netanyahu during the visit.
  • A Defense Department spokesman said Monday that initial reports suggest the five individuals who attacked a commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden over the weekend were Somali pirates. The USS Mason, a U.S. Navy destroyer, and other nearby allied ships responded to the cargo ship’s distress calls and forced the five attackers to flee before they were caught and taken aboard the destroyer. Two-and-a-half hours later, Houthi rebels fired ballistic missiles from Yemen in the Mason’s direction, though the missiles fell well short and it’s yet unclear if the ship was even the intended target of the attack.
  • Argentine President-elect Javier Milei will be in Washington, D.C. today to meet with representatives of the International Monetary Fund, of which his country is the top debtor. Milei is also set to meet with several Biden administration officials, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, but not with Joe Biden himself, as the president is traveling to Atlanta to attend memorial services for former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Milei, a libertarian economist and political outsider who won a presidential run-off earlier this month, was in New York City on Monday, where he had lunch with former President Bill Clinton and visited the grave of Chabad-Lubavitch movement leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in Queens. 
  • Biden will reportedly not attend COP28, a two-week United Nations summit on climate change set to begin in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday. Biden attended the previous two meetings, but officials said he was focusing his attention on the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine—though the White House has not officially confirmed his planned absence.

‘A Complete Lunatic Hooligan Faction’

Police officers patrol Dublin on November 24, 2023 to counter violence and unrest sparked by school stabbings. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Police officers patrol Dublin on November 24, 2023 to counter violence and unrest sparked by school stabbings. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

A middle-aged man wielding a knife attacked a line of young children outside a Dublin school on Thursday afternoon, injuring three children and leaving a five-year-old girl and a teaching assistant who tried to defend the kids in critical condition. Bystanders intervened to stop the attacker before he could injure more people. The suspected assailant—an Algerian-born naturalized citizen who’s lived in Ireland for 20 years and been arrested multiple times—is in custody and being treated for serious injuries.

The brazen attack in broad daylight sent shockwaves throughout the city and country, and sparked some of the worst rioting and looting Ireland has seen in decades. The mayhem, fanned by online extremists denounced as “far-right” by Irish leaders, came as a surprise to some as Ireland has largely avoided the rise of anti-immigrant political factions and unrest more common in continental Europe. Whether the riot represents a high-water mark for such turmoil or a harbinger of worse unrest remains to be seen, as Ireland concurrently navigates high levels of immigration, a housing crunch, and a vocal fringe of hard-right activists.

Just hours after last week’s attack, early reports that the perpetrator was a foreign-born national began to circulate online and—egged on by far-right provocateurs—anti-immigrant protesters gathered near the scene of the stabbing. Protesters pushed into the crime scene, and violence broke out as the crowds grew to approximately 500 people. The Garda Síochána, the Irish national police, said an initially smaller group of protesters was joined by others looking to take advantage of a lawless situation. “A smoke signal went up to every thug on TikTok in the city that Dublin was a free-for-all,” one officer said, and Irish Times reporters present during the riot noted that groups of teenage boys joined in the chaos. Rioters burned police vehicles, city buses, and even the tram along a main thoroughfare in the center of the city, clashing with police throughout the evening. They damaged and looted storefronts and attacked two refugee housing facilities before police restored order late Thursday night.

“What we saw last night was an extraordinary outbreak of violence,” Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the next day. “These are scenes that we have not seen in decades.” The riot police mobilization was the largest in the country’s history, according to Ireland’s justice minister, and authorities have arrested 34 people so far—but plan to arrest more as investigators review footage of the rioting. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, the leader of the center-right Fine Gael party, condemned the violence. “Yesterday our country experienced two terrible attacks,” he said. “The first an attack on innocent children, the second an attack on our society and the rule of law.” 

What precipitated the violent outbreak? In recent months, Ireland has experienced smaller-scale anti-immigrant protests by groups touting slogans like “Irish Lives Matter” and “Ireland is full.” In September, anti-immigrant and nationalist activists staged a protest—opposing not only asylum seekers and refugees but the country’s pandemic, transgender, and hate-speech policies—outside the Irish parliament, where they harassed lawmakers and even erected mock gallows. Those present included representatives of small, upstart factions with anti-immigrant views like the Irish Freedom Party, the Ireland First Party, and the National Party (NP). The latter described last week’s rioting as a “spontaneous” and “organic” eruption of “righteous anger.” 

“Whilst the National Party does not endorse any illegal activity, yesterday evening’s events were an outburst of passion in response to overt injustice,” an NP statement read. “Ireland’s open borders immigration policy has allowed the dregs of foreign countries to settle in Ireland, often being entitled to housing and welfare whilst Irish people struggle.” There were more than 160 anti-immigrant protests or migrant housing protests in Dublin between January and mid-August 2023, according to the Garda, following a spike in such demonstrations in 2022. More recently, the groups have highlighted in their messaging high-profile murders committed last year by foreign-born immigrants.

But for now, these far-right parties aren’t represented by elected officials in government—in fact, the 220-seat bicameral parliament has no far-right members. “The majority of people are not voting for them,” Gail McElroy, a professor of political science at Trinity College Dublin, told TMD. “All of the major parties from the center right through the far left are surprisingly pro-immigration.” Even the term “far right” is a relatively new descriptor in Irish politics, given the fringe status of these groups, according to McElroy. “It’s not a term that would be used regularly to describe Irish politics,” she said. “It is new in the context of Irish politics and the narrative around the Irish party-policy space.”

The newness of the Irish “far right” is one reason why the riots came as a surprise to so many—and likely contributed to government officials’ willingness to emphasize the role of extremist groups in their response. “We have a complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology,” Harris, the police commissioner, said of the rioters. In May, Harris described the far right as a small faction in Ireland that isn’t growing. “Confrontation, which plays into their [the far right’s] hands, is a trap we’re not falling into,” he added. 

In the wake of the historic riots, Prime Minister Varadkar is pushing lawmakers to pass controversial legislation that would make it easier for the government to prosecute incitement and punish hate speech. “We will modernize our laws against incitement to hatred and hatred in general,” he said last week. “Our incitement to hatred legislation is just not up to date. It’s not up to date for the social media age.” Rights groups, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, have called for changes to the legislation as currently written, arguing the bill’s ambiguity could undermine freedom of expression

Some observers don’t see last week’s riot as a sign of the growth of the far right in Ireland. “Certainly, the spark was lit on social media by people who do hold far-right, anti-immigrant views, but not all of the 500 people on the street were people with a deep political philosophy,” McElroy told TMD. “I don’t think it should be blown out of proportion. There isn’t some ‘extreme far right on the rise in Europe’ in Ireland.” It’s difficult to say the far right is on the rise when the movement lacks a single elected representative in the parliament—although some of the fringe parties are no doubt looking to change that fact in the next general election, which could be held next year.

But researchers focusing on extremism in Ireland warn that additional unrest might not be far off. “The online world where mis/disinfo thrives in Ireland is growing [and] is fuelling offline hostility [and] violence,” said Ciarán O’Connor, a senior analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that researches extremism and disinformation. “[The] events of Thursday night were shocking but not all that surprising for people who’ve watched these spaces seriously the past few years.” Last Monday, the institute published a study on Ireland’s “information ecosystem,” analyzing millions of social posts and finding that the pandemic catalyzed the spread of false and misleading health information online. The same actors involved in propagating false information about the pandemic shifted to other topics—including immigration—after pandemic restrictions ended, the study found.

In this landscape, misinformation surrounding social and economic pain points have a tendency to spread—and last week’s turmoil could be just the beginning. “I think it’s a potential harbinger,” Jane Suiter, a professor at Dublin City University who studies disinformation, told TMD.

Ireland also faces a housing and affordability crisis, magnified by population growth fueled by elevated immigration, that will continue to add pressure to the situation. “There’s [a] housing crisis everywhere, and it’s particularly acute in Dublin,” Suiter said. “People see the waiting list for their family doctor growing. They see it’s harder for themselves or their kids to get accommodation, or somebody is homeless. There’s all sorts of capacity constraints in Ireland.” While the Irish economy is performing relatively well, the influx of migrants—nearly one in five people in Ireland in December 2022 was foreign-born, according to EUROSTAT—has made the housing shortage more severe, and some refugees have even been housed in tents. Hundreds of thousands of renting Irish households receive government assistance to deal with housing costs. 

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Ireland has also absorbed almost 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into a country with a population of five million. Polls show that, while much of the Irish population holds favorable views of immigration and helping refugees, they also believe there’s a limit to what Ireland can provide. A June Ipsos survey, for example, found that 72 percent of respondents felt immigrants contribute a lot to Ireland and 87 percent felt Ireland should help Ukrainian refugees, though a Business Post-Red C poll published just last week found that 62 percent of respondents agreed that Ireland had taken in too many refugees since the start of the war.

In the immediate term, Ireland must now focus on recovering from the two terrible attacks—one against its children and one against its society—suffered last week. One of several passersby who helped fend off the attacker last week was Caio Benicio, a Brazilian immigrant who came to Ireland last year. “I didn’t even make a decision, it was pure instinct, and it was all over in seconds,” he told reporters after the incident. “I have two kids myself, so I had to do something.” When asked about the protests that followed the attack, he said, “Well I am an immigrant, and I did what I could to try and save that little girl.”

Worth Your Time

  • For many of us, education simply wasn’t complete without a few cursive handwriting lessons. Though instruction in the style has waned over the last decade, it’s making a comeback in several states’ curricula as it’s become clear students may have lost the ability to read historical documents like the Constitution—or letters from grandma. “Many states dropped cursive instruction beginning with the 2010s adoption of the Common Core, a set of shared standards in English and math,” Sara Randazzo reported for the Wall Street Journal. “It says nothing about cursive, only that by first grade, students should be able to print all upper- and lowercase letters. Common Core’s backers have said cursive took a back seat to technology and skills like typing that children need in the modern world. In Indiana, state Sen. Jean Leising has put a cursive bill forward each year for a dozen years, only to have it killed by the Indiana House Education Committee. ‘My whole premise when I started this was, gee, if kids can’t be taught cursive, they’re not even going to have a signature,’ Leising said. Over the years, people have shared horror stories of a cursive-illiterate generation with her, including a land appraiser who had to fire a young man because he couldn’t go to the courthouse and read old land-transfer documents, and a family whose 15-year-old son couldn’t sign his name at the passport counter.” 

Presented Without Comment

Reason: Elizabeth Warren Wants the Government to Investigate America’s ‘Sandwich Shop Monopoly’

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NBC News: Southwest Airlines Passenger Hospitalized After Opening Emergency Exit and Climbing onto Wing, Officials Say 

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! The team will discuss the news of the week and, of course, take plenty of viewer questions! Keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how to tune in.
  • Our fact checker extraordinaire Alex Demas assessed claims that an IDF helicopter fired on and killed Israelis on October 7.
  • In the newsletters: Kevin argued (🔒) in favor of legislative branch supremacy, the Dispatch Politics crew examined Trump’s alarming campaign rhetoric, and Nick wondered (🔒) how a former vocal Trump critic can rationalize voting for him again. 
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David discuss the Voting Rights Act and look into Elon Musk’s case against Media Matters for America.
  • On the site: Stirewalt tackles the intractable nature of the immigration debate.

Let Us Know

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James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.