There were some angry scenes on Cork’s Grand Parade on Saturday afternoon as two groups of demonstrators faced off, with 20 members of An Garda Síochána forming a line between them.
A group of anti-immigration protesters had been due to hold a rally outside the City Library at 1pm, but a counter-demonstration by a group called Cork Says No To Racism gathered at the National Monument at noon, drawing a crowd of over 500 people.
There was a friendly, family atmosphere at the monument for almost an hour, with a brass band playing and musicians and singers entertaining the crowd.
The band Code of Behaviour played “I Feel Like Funking it Up”, and housing campaigner Martin Leahy sang “Everyone Should Have A Home”, his protest song of inclusion and generosity. Cork singer, songwriter and poet Majella M Murphy read her poem “Change for 2023”.
Ms Murphy told The Echo she had wanted to show there was no place for racism in Cork.
“I believe the hatred that I have seen online toward refugees and people coming into this country is a disgrace,” she said.
"It’s caused by greedy landlords and the Government, and it’s not any refugee’s fault,” Ms Murphy said.
Dasha Sologub, who is from Ukraine, said she wanted to cry with gratitude at the sight of so many people offering a welcome to Ireland.
“Sometimes I feel so sad that I don’t have a home, I don’t have the life I had before, and this makes me feel, ‘Oh my God, I can have a home here’, these people are so kind and thoughtful,” she said.
UCC academic Amanullah De Sondy said the turnout showed a turn in popular opinion and an appetite to preserve Ireland as an inclusive, vibrant and diverse country.
“I think we are shifting to becoming more anti-racist, and this is a small but major step here in Cork toward becoming more anti-racist,” he said.
Honore Kamegni, who is originally from Cameroon and is the Green Party’s candidate for Cork South East in the upcoming local elections, said he was extremely grateful to everyone who had turned out to support refugees.
“We know there is only one Ireland, and we are all welcome in this beautiful country of ours,” he said.
Cork city councillor Ted Tynan, president of the Workers’ Party, said it was good to see so many people standing against racism.
“We’re proud to be involved in this rally to show solidarity and support for those who come to our shores looking for sanctuary, looking a home, looking for safety, they’re fleeing both war and poverty,” he said.
Joe Moore, of Cork Says No To Racism, said the purpose of their counter-demonstration was to show that refugees and asylums seekers are welcome in Ireland.
Cork academic Piaras Mac Éinrí, who had been one of those organising the anti-racism rally, said the turnout was very heartening.
“You can see the difference in numbers, and I think it shows that hard-core racism is not very widespread in Ireland, and that most Irish people have no time for hate,” he said.
Down the Grand Parade, a smaller group had gathered outside the City Library on the Grand Parade, rallying behind banners reading “House the Irish, not the world”, “Cork says no” and “End the plantation”.
Some members of the group “East Wall Says No” had travelled from Dublin, and other anti-immigrations protesters had come from Northern Ireland, Cavan, Clare and Monaghan. Some held banners of the National Party, a tiny far-right party which has never had a single member elected to any office.
Just before 1pm, a small number of anti-immigrant protestors went toward the monument and, at the edge of the crowd, they clashed with members of the larger group, with some scuffles breaking out.
At one point in the confrontation, a row was defused by Sinn Féin councillor Mick Nugent, who was part of the rally against racism, and who persuaded one young man who had been extremely agitated to return to the group outside the library.
Approximately a dozen gardaí arrived on the scene shortly after that incident and kept the groups apart, and within an hour of that, as the anti-immigrant group grew to approximately 200, more gardaí arrived, with the line between the groups growing to 20.
The two crowds each attempted to drown each other out, with chants of “Reject hate, reject fear, refugees are welcome here” being met with “You’ll never beat the Irish”.
Later, as tempers rose, “Nazi scum off our streets” was countered by the other side shouting “Paedo scum off our streets”.
Eggs were thrown at anti-racism protesters.
The stalemate between the groups lasted for almost three hours, with numbers on both sides dwindling somewhat by the end, with the 200 anti-racist campaigners outnumbering their opponents two to one.
Just before 3.30pm a man with a Dublin accent and a loudhailer, who had been haranguing the anti-demonstrators and shouting “Blah blah blah”, announced “It’s about quality, not quantity”.
A man with an English accent and an Érin go Bragh flag accused the larger crowd of being “anti-Irish” while the Dublin man with the loudhailer said
At 3.40pm, the anti-immigrant demonstrators dispersed and the anti-racist campaigners cheered and applauded, chanting “Cork says yes” and singing “Solidarity forever”.
Afterward, Green Party councillor Oliver Moran said he had attended the rally to show that Ireland is a welcoming place, and he felt that message had been sent out by the vast majority of Cork people.
Socialist Party TD Mick Barry said anti-immigrant demonstrators had been roundly outnumbered, and that had been heartening to see.
“The racist message of hate and division is not welcome here in Cork city and needs to be stood up to, and I hope that a very broad layer of the people of Cork come out on the streets here on Saturday 25 March to say no to racism and to demand action on issues like the housing crisis,” Mr Barry said.