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Dublin Riot

Anti-lockdown campaigns are spreading across Europe. Governments need to be strong in the face of these protests and be clear and honest in all its communications. The protesters shouldn’t be ignored but neither should they be given more platforms than their conspiracy theories deserve.

At the core of the violent protest in Dublin last weekend was opposition to lockdowns and to vaccinations. There was also infiltration by those who seem to enjoy a bit of recreational thuggery.

But it would be a mistake to ignore these events or to dismiss them as irrelevant. Social media platforms provide energy and legitimacy to these movements where theories about migrants, 5G, vaccines and elites abound. An infodemic has followed on a pandemic. They characterise the EU as divided, incompetent and unable to manage the crisis.

First of all, let’s look at some of the wilder beliefs held by the protesters. It was reported on the front page of the Sunday Times that Erica Parker from Swords and her friend Susan were wearing matching black hoodies which said ‘RTE sold there [sic] souls’ and ‘Save our children from the Reptilians’.

They also claimed that 9000 people went missing last year and that RTE were responsible in some way.

The event was organised by Rise Up Eireann. On Facebook (where else), they described the event as a ‘social and cultural gathering’ rather than a protest. They said they wanted to gather for ‘craic agus ceol’ and to focus on the mental health crisis resulting from the lockdown. All of this is fair enough if they wore mask and respected social distancing.

They believe that Ireland is a tyrannical communist police state. They refer to the ‘Covid hoax’ believing that there is no virus and that it is what they call a ‘COV-AIDS Gene Therapy Bio Weapon’. The Government is described as the ‘fake self-elected Government’.

The vast majority of people recognise that Ireland is a healthy, open and tolerant democracy. Spend a couple of hours in the company of some health care workers to feel the visceral sense of how real the pandemic is.

You can find all of this on Facebook which acts as host to Rise Up Eireann’s home page and its 6,500 followers.

Facebook’s general attitude to allowing this misinformation to spread is to say that they are not publishers in the same way as newspapers. For all the great things that have been facilitated by social media platforms, they have really struggled with misinformation.

I am a member of a European Parliament committee looking at this issue. There are no easy solutions. The EU’s foreign affairs service has hundreds of examples of misnformation and disinformation associated with Covid on its website as well as on, much of it originating in Russia.

The difficulty is that misinformation thrives where there is ambiguity. The Government has had a patchy record on communications of late and is leaving plenty of room for mischief. Loss of trust in leadership will be very costly.

I am extremely concerned that we are seeing a repeat of the backsliding of last November and December. You will remember that the re-opening started on December 1st. Throughout November there was a clamour for reducing the restrictions more quickly. Within a few weeks, it was clear that we were heading for disaster. Many lives were lost.

The same is happening now.

I wouldn’t advocate providing a platform for conspiracy theorists as a way of flushing them out. Traditional media and traditional politics first ignored Trump and Farage. When they could no longer be ignored, they were dismissed as cranks. Now we are picking through the debris of what they have brought about.

The better policy is to be alive to these movements and confront them with evidence and science.

Otherwise HSE health care workers will be the ones following us around with a pan and brush once again.

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