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Rally for Life Mattie McGrath

Mattie McGrath

NUMBERS AT the annual Rally for Life, organised by the Life Institute, have continued to fall. Only a few thousand showed up this year, despite organisers supplying posters and banners for marchers as well as memes and hashtags in advance to help promote the gathering online and providing a live stream. The event attracted coverage from most national media including RTÉ, the Irish Times etc.

If overall numbers are down, fresh forces have been attracted to the pro-life movement from a number of strands of the Irish far right that were prominent at the Rally for Life and which seemingly does not bother the organisers.

The National Party put a big focus on the Rally for Life, with leader Justin Barrett and deputy leader James Reynolds leading participating party members. While they both wore suits and ties, other party members wore a uniform of T-shirts and jackets emblazoned with the party logo.

Barrett and Reynolds have a long history of involvement in the anti-choice movement but their activism in the NP in recent years has been very controversial.

In November Barrett – clearly rattled after a confrontation between NP members and anti-fascist protestors at the NP ard fheis in Fermanagh – attempted to stamp his authority on dissent within the party by posting a quote from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf on his Telegram social media channel. The NP and some of its members quickly shared it on their own Telegram channels.

While the quote has disappeared from the NP account, it is notable that it still appears on both Barrett’s and NP youth-wing leader Yan Mac Oireachtaigh’s Telegram channels.

In recent months Mac Oireachtaigh has also stepped up the rhetoric, using the phrase “blood and soil” – which was popularised by German Nazi’s in the first half of the 20th century – in a speech at the party’s ard fheis. Also on his Telegram channel, he alluded to the NP following the example of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, an Irish fascist party founded in the 1940s, and followed this up by posting that movement’s slogan: “Words fly away with the wind but blows strike home to the bone.”

The NP had a stall at the assembly point for the Rally for Life and it distributed leaflets and chatted to attendees there and along the route of the march.

In the aftermath of the rally, the NP promoted its attendance and, in addition to pictures posted online, the party even produced a two-minute recruitment video with footage from the rally along with commentary from Barrett and Reynolds, among others.

Another prominent far-right agitator who attracted attention at the rally was Gavin Pepper. On the day, Pepper was wearing a high-vis jacket printed with the Rally for Life logo and, in bold type, the word STEWARD. Indeed, Pepper acted as a steward on the route of the march and in front of the stage beside the Customs House where the speeches took place at the end of the march. He even managed to get into a picture with senator Sharon Keogan, the Life Institute’s Niamh Uí Bhriain and TD Mattie McGrath.

Pepper is a taxi driver from Finglas who in recent months has repeatedly tried to provoke confrontations at anti-immigration protests and at public meetings organised by Sinn Féin and People Before Profit.

In June, Pepper posted a video on Twitter in which he said: “As you may or may not be aware, me house [sic] was raided at 6.30 this morning.”

Pepper recounted that his phone and some clothing were seized and when he asked to see the warrant, he described how the sergeant showed it to him: “‘This is the warrant’ but he just flashed it at my face and he goes, ‘see, Sandwith Street’.”

Pepper then said the sergeant continued: “You are being blamed for Sandwith Street, you know what I mean, they are blaming you for that.” This refers to the destruction of a migrant camp on that street in May.

Does Mattie know what type of political forces he is dealing with here?

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