How Anti-Immigrant Anger Has Divided a Small Irish Town

On a cold January afternoon in Roscrea, a market town of around 5,500 people in rural Ireland, news began to spread that the town’s only remaining hotel would close temporarily — to provide housing for 160 asylum seekers.

Almost immediately, speculation and anger began to swirl online.

Posts to a local Facebook group blamed the closure on the government and on “non-nationals” moving in. Someone called for people to gather outside the hotel, Racket Hall, to demand answers.

That night, dozens of people showed up for an improvised protest that has divided the town and become a monthslong symbol of growing anti-immigration sentiment across Ireland. A small group of locals have kept a constant presence in the hotel parking lot since then, using a tent as protection from the rain and a metal drum as a firepit.

Similar demonstrations have sprung up in pockets across Ireland over the past year, fueled by nativist rhetoric online, a housing shortage and a cost-of-living crisis. Occasionally, they have erupted in violence: There was a riot in Dublin last year, and a series of arson attacks have targeted accommodations intended for asylum seekers.

Last month, protesters congregated outside the Custom House in Dublin during an anti-immigration march.Credit…Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

While the Roscrea protest has been small and mostly peaceful, it echoes a well-defined playbook. “It’s not like this is all centrally planned,” said Mark Malone, a researcher at the Hope and Courage Collective, which monitors the far right in Ireland. “But there becomes a kind of repertoire of tactics that people replicate because they see it happening elsewhere.”

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