Varadkar calls for media and politicians to push back against 'extreme populism'

The Tánaiste has said yesterday's anti-lockdown march in Dublin was a riot, not a protest, and i...

12.28 28 Feb 2021

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Varadkar calls for media and p...

Varadkar calls for media and politicians to push back against 'extreme populism'


12.28 28 Feb 2021

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The Tánaiste has said yesterday's anti-lockdown march in Dublin was a riot, not a protest, and it is lucky nobody was seriously injured or killed.

Three Gardaí were hurt during the city centre demonstration, with one officer requiring hospital treatment.

The Garda Commissioner has since clarified comments he made last night suggesting elements of the far-left were involved.


Drew Harris now says there is no evidence of that - with the majority of demonstrators linked to anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown and far-right groups.

Thirteen people appeared in court last night charged in connection with the rally.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee described the gathering as "a really serious incident" that "should not have happened".

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also condemned the scenes, telling On The Record with Gavan Reilly: "I think we're lucky that somebody didn't get seriously injured or killed.

"It wasn't a protest, it was a riot, and there wasn't an excuse for using that kind of violence to advance a political cause, no matter what that cause is."

Varadkar calls for media and politicians to push back against 'extreme populism'

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On whether society is doing enough to disabuse people of extremist views, Mr Varadkar said he is "reluctant to do anything that would involve infringing free speech".

"But I think there are things that can be done, certainly with the Online Safety Commissioner being established to order platforms to take down harmful content, if they don't do that already, and anything that incites violence, in my view, is harmful content," he said.

"I think there is a responsibility on some of the social media platforms as well to do the exact same.

"But often this stuff isn't hosted on the major platforms that are household names, there are some fringe ones out there as well that aren't regulated in Ireland.

"But I do think one thing we need to push back on, all of us, those in the media, those of us in politics, is this whole extreme populism which has very similar characteristics.

"It's the same concepts, it's the elite versus the people, the 1% conspiracy theories, it's emotion over facts, putting forward simple solutions to complex problems, it's the de-legitimisation of the mainstream media, it's support for conspiracy theories and it's tolerance for violent protests in certain circumstances.

"I think we all need to push back on that and unfortunately it appears in mainstream politics a bit as well and it needs to be countered in my view."

dublin protests Members of An Garda Siochana and anti-lockdown protesters at St Stephen's Green yesterday. Photo: Sam Boal/

Mr Varadkar added that popular social media platforms, some of which were used to advertise yesterday's event, should show more responsibility in prohibiting such content from their platforms.

A lot of these platforms have moderators to take down harmful content, and the Tánaiste believes "anything which encourages people to take part in violence" or to engage in activities which spread coronavirus should be removed.

"But at the same time we do need to bear in mind free speech, and what one person may describe as hate speech or incitement to violence is what another person might call free speech," he added.

Setting target number for reopening 'doesn't make sense'

With regard to the current public health guidelines, Mr Varadkar said limiting people's civil liberties goes against all his politics.

However, we can't afford to lower our guard as we did at Christmas, and it is important that schools are reopened in March, he added.

He said the numbers are coming down and it seems like "we're going in the right direction", even if it's "slower than we might have liked.

The Government is not setting "a specific metric" or target number on when restrictions might be eased as case figures, hospitalisations and variants all need to be taken into account.

"I have come to accept the advice of experts and NPHET on this and they say that setting a specific metric is unwise, that you need to take into account a number of factors," he said.

"Say you pick a target...any target you pick is going to be fairly arbitrary within a certain band and that doesn't make sense in our view.

It comes as a senior member of NPHET says he expects there to be an easing of COVID-19 restrictions from April or May.

Professor Philip Nolan told the same programme that restrictions can be relaxed once more people are vaccinated against the virus.

Main image: Leo Varadkar leaving the Convention Centre in Dublin in November. Credit: Sam Boal /

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