How misinformation is shaping anti-immigrant protests in Ireland

By: naledi mashishi&
April 22 2024

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How misinformation is shaping anti-immigrant protests in Ireland

(Source: Social media screenshots/Edited by Logically Facts)

The suburb of Coolock in the north of Dublin has been locked in protests for close to a month. TikTok videos show community members marching, waving the Irish tricolor flag, and holding banners with slogans like "Irish Lives Matter" and "Coolock says no." Other videos show a road being blockaded with camping equipment set up and community members standing guard. 

But guarding against what? The protesters claim to be protecting their community from what they have termed "unvetted migrant men." According to one protester, who has posted numerous videos about the protests, "We’re out here for your children, for your liberation, so this country doesn’t get taken over by a bunch of men."

The protests kicked off on March 25 when a group of youths on horseback led furious community members in opposition against the government’s decision to house up to 500 asylum seekers in an abandoned Crown Paints warehouse in the community. The protesters claimed to be fighting back against mass immigration and open borders. Local media outlets reported that up to 2,000 protesters have taken part in the demonstrations, which have included blockading the warehouse in a bid to ensure that asylum seekers do not enter. A video posted on April 11 shows the protesters still camping on site nearly three weeks later. 

The protests are not new. Tensions over immigration have been bubbling up in Ireland, particularly in Dublin, which is facing a worsening housing crisis. Soaring rental costs and housing shortages have resulted in record rates of homelessness. By January 2024, over 13,500 people were in emergency accommodation, and at least 4,000 of them were children. The country is also battling unsustainable pressures on its healthcare system and a cost of living crisis. 

At the same time, record numbers of asylum seekers have applied for protection in Ireland. Many of the asylum seekers are Ukrainians who were granted temporary protection following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By February 2024, there were 103,450 Ukrainian refugees in Ireland, many of whom depend on government housing and assistance of €38.80 per week for adults and €29.80 per child. This has led to resentment brewing among locals who feel their tax money would be better directed towards citizens. 

TikTok is one social media platform on which dozens of videos about immigrants and the protests have been posted. Other videos claiming the country is being destroyed by illegal asylum seekers have been posted to X (formerly known as Twitter) using hashtags such as #IrelandBelongsToTheIrish and #IrelandIsFull.


Posts on X found under the #IrelandBelongsToTheIrish hashtag which focuses on criticizing asylum seekers (Screenshot/Edited by Logically Facts)

In one telling video, Malachy Steenson, a former IRA volunteer and independent candidate who has been involved in anti-asylum seeker protests since at least 2023, addresses a crowd stating, "the only issue in this country is immigration. All of the problems we have, whether it’s the health service or the housing problems, all stem from increasing the population from 3.5 million to over 5 million."

But the TikTok videos about the protests reveal a common narrative of "unvetted" migrant men entering the country by the thousands and rendering communities unsafe. So where does this narrative come from? And is it accurate?

"Unvetted men"

We found videos alleging that the Irish government planned to place up to 1,000 unvetted refugees in the Coolock warehouse. TikTok videos of those barricading the warehouse make it clear that the barricades are intended to prevent the migrants from entering the building. In posts on other social media platforms, like Facebook, the claim specifies that the "unvetted" asylum seekers are men. 

Screenshot 2024-04-19 at 13.48.42Screenshot of a TikTok video taken from the Coolock protests which claims that 1,000 unvetted asylum seekers will be placed in the area. (Source: Tiktok/Screenshot)

The only problem is, it hasn’t been confirmed that the building will be used to house asylum seekers. A spokesperson for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth told Logically Facts that they are "currently considering an offer for the use of the former Crown Paints warehouse in Coolock to accommodate International Protection applicants." This offer includes a proposal to place modular units inside the warehouse "providing mixed use accommodation for families, couples, single adult males and single adult females." The department also states that the proposal is to house up to 500 asylum seekers – not 1,000. 

The unvetted men narrative has been used by anti-asylum protesters since at least April 2023, although it is difficult to say where exactly it originates from. However, a popular Irish TikToker, who also has a YouTube channel, provides a possible explanation on his channel. He argues in one video that according to the government, over 70 percent of immigrants entering Ireland do not have passports or identity documents. Narratives of unvetted male asylum seekers have also appeared on platforms like X and Facebook.

IrelandTweets1Posts on X repeating the narrative of unvetted male asylum seekers entering Ireland (Screenshot/Edited by Logically Facts)

This contains kernels of two truths that have been taken out of context and welded together. According to Irish news organization RTÉ, almost 70 percent of asylum seekers applying for international protection at Dublin Airport in 2023 arrived without a valid identity document. Experts have said a possible explanation for this phenomenon may be the number of people who have to flee quickly, making them unable to obtain documents from their governments. As airlines will often refuse to allow people to board without documentation, those who lack a valid identity may resort to irregular smuggling routes to reach safe destinations. Others may borrow or use fake passports to board planes and destroy them before arriving at immigration. 

Further, 2023 figures from the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) provided to Logically Facts show that of the 13,277 asylum seekers who applied for protection in 2023, 6,983 were adult men while 3,393 were adult women. However, these figures do not desegregate single adults from couples.  

This is a trend that has continued into 2024. IPAS’ weekly report dated April 10, 2024 shows that single males continue to make up the majority of asylum seekers in Ireland at 32 percent. In contrast, single women only made up 7 percent. More women arrived as part of a couple, with couples making up 27 percent of new arrivals. 

Asylum seekers are meant to be housed in government provided emergency housing, but this is also under strain. Limited availability means that the most vulnerable are prioritized for emergency housing, meaning that single adult male asylum seekers are often at the bottom of the list. As a result, over 1,100 overwhelmingly male asylum seekers are left sleeping in tents while awaiting a decision.

These asylum seekers face destitution, unsanitary conditions, and violence while sleeping rough on the street. They also become the most visible representation of asylum seekers. This combination has been used to feed into prevailing narratives on social media about unidentified and unvetted men entering the country en masse.

This narrative is intended to stoke fear, as the men, often termed "military-age men," have been likened to armed combatants coming to destabilize the country and threaten its vulnerable populations. "With the amount of migrant men coming into the country, if we are not outnumbered, we very soon will be," warns one TikTok video. Other accounts have zeroed in on specific immigrant men, like a Turkish man who TikTokkers claim is wanted by Interpol – a claim that we recently debunked

More alarmingly, some accounts have implicated existing businesses in this narrative. One video shows a man driving past a hotel that he claims is being used to house migrants for free, but the video does not indicate any evidence of this. Another claims that a company that builds cabins is allowing single unvetted migrant men to occupy their show cabins. These accusations take on a particularly sinister tone when one considers the escalating number of businesses that have faced arson attacks after being accused, sometimes without evidence, of housing immigrants. The most recent of these was an attack on a former nursing home in February 2024 which was torched following rumors that it would be used to house asylum seekers. 

Screenshot 2024-04-19 at 14.18.45A post on X claiming that a hotel is housing asylum seekers with little to no evidence (Screenshot)

New arrivals’ identities established at borders

Cian McGonigle, executive officer of media relations, communications and engagement for the Department of Justice, told Logically Facts that the identities of all asylum seekers are established at the port of entry. "When it comes to international protection applicants, each person that enters the process is fingerprinted and photographed," he said. "These fingerprints are checked against EURODAC, an EU immigration database which stores the fingerprints of asylum applicants and those who have crossed borders illegally."

Applicants are also checked against the Schengen Information System, which alerts member states of persons wanted by member states for criminal persons, or in connection to missing persons cases and ongoing judicial processes. 

"Character and conduct checks are also carried out with An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s national police service) at the point where consideration is being given to granting an applicant refugee status or other permission to remain in the State," he said. 

According to recent statistics, the numbers of asylum seekers arriving without valid identity documents is on the decline. Figures provided to Logically Facts by the Department of Justice indicate that the number of undocumented asylum seekers declined from 4,968 in 2022 to 3,287 in 2023. Figures for 2024 also show a gradual decrease from 205 in January to 188 in March. The Gardaí has also recorded a surge in the number of people who have been charged for arriving in Ireland without a valid passport in a government attempt to crackdown on undocumented arrivals. 

Further, the Gardaí stated in 2023 that there was no link between male asylum seekers and increased crime. "Notwithstanding isolated local incidents, An Garda Síochána has not recorded any significant increase in criminal activity or public order issues directly caused by international protection applicants at this time," they said in a statement

Women particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence

Aoife Kavanagh, senior external relations associate from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Logically Facts that they don’t have data on the reasons for the male/female imbalance, but the data shows a general trend of male asylum seekers significantly outnumbering women.

"There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is the case because asylum seekers often face very dangerous routes to get to a country where they can seek asylum, and the risks to women are considered even more heightened, such as the risk of sexual exploitation, particularly if they are traveling alone," the representative said. 

UNHCR data indicates that girls and women are particularly vulnerable to facing gender-based violence in their countries of origin, in transit, and in destination countries. For example, in a study of seven countries in the Americas, 62 percent of women reported feeling unsafe during transit, with sexual violence being the main form of violence they faced. The UNHCR has led initiatives to mitigate the harms that girls and women face, but underfunding, language barriers, and fears of cultural and legal repercussions continue to impede access. 

What is most telling is that while the narrative of unvetted men is often accompanied by rhetoric around protecting women, little to none of the videos on TikTok speak about the conditions women asylum seekers face or how to mitigate their risk of sexual violence. Further, the narrative of the invading immigrant men positions sexual violence as an outside threat to women. This obscures the reality that the majority of victims of gender-based violence are victimized by men they know. Data from Women Aid indicates that in 2022, 87 percent of women killed in Ireland were killed by a man known to them. Current or former intimate partners made up 57 percent of resolved cases.  

The unvetted male narrative is one with real human costs that risks endangering an already vulnerable population. Kathy Sheriden, a journalist for The Irish Times, wrote that the narrative has roots in far-right discourse which dehumanizes young men and boys by demonizing them as existential threats. 

"The spectre of the single, unvetted, military-age male of unknown nationality has bounced from mad, far-right outlier into the heart of Irish mainstream discourse," she writes. "Fellow human beings are being dehumanized, and we are being played."

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