An Italian immigrant to Ireland who plans to a host a meeting of a far-right, anti-immigrant party in a Co Galway pub next month is set to face stiff opposition from the local community.

Members of the Italian community in the West of Ireland, residents of the town of Headford, and anti-racism activists are set to meet early in the New Year to make plans to oppose an event which has been fixed for the Headford Arms Risto Pub on January 31.

Awareness of the meeting spread via social media this week and prompted the Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN) to set up an informal meeting with Italians living in Galway who are shocked and appalled by attempts to bring the Lega party to the West of Ireland. 

“The meeting being complained about is attempting to promote a far-right Italian party in Galway. The person organizing the meeting is heavily involved in the Headford Arms Ristopub and has been using its page to promote racist views,” said a statement from GARN. 

The chairperson of GARN, Joe Loughnane, said it was clear that Italians in the region and the people of Headford, a small town 20 minutes north of Galway City, did not want to be associated with racists who were inciting religious and racial hatred. 

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A GARN meeting.

A GARN meeting.

People from “all four corners of Italy” met with Loughnane in a Galway pub this week and they are keen to reach out to the wider community to oppose a meeting of what has been described as a fascist political party. 

“Some have been living in Galway for the past 50 or 60 years, some have arrived much more recently, but they were all on the same page about being against the promotion of far-right or fascist politics from their own country,” he told IrishCentral. 

“We are going to engage with the people of Headford, who have been in touch with us about this. We want to urge this person who has organized this far-right meeting to reconsider scheduling this event.”

Activists are astonished that the Italian man, Antonio Gravegliu, has been using the Facebook page of the pub to spread anti-immigrant sentiments and to call on Ireland to leave the European Union (EU).

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Publiée par The Headford Arms RistoPub sur Mercredi 12 décembre 2018

Ironically, it is because of Ireland’s membership of the EU that Italians have the right to live and work in Ireland without any need for a visa or work permit. 

The Lega party is closely aligned with Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National in France, which changed its name from Front National in a bid to “soften” its image earlier this year. 

A number of people have messaged the pub via social media to express opposition to the meeting. Some have been abusive. 

“To all of those people accusing us of being xenophobic racists or fascists I would respectfully suggest you read your own messages out loud: Pot, kettle, black comes to mind,” posted Gravegliu on the Headford Arms Ristopub Facebook page.

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To all of those people accusing us of being xenophobic racists or fascists I would respectfully suggest you read your...

Publiée par The Headford Arms RistoPub sur Jeudi 13 décembre 2018

“We are quite simply holding a meeting for members of the Italian political party of which the current Italian Deputy Prime Minister is the head! Clearly, none of you promote freedom of speech or political opinion but instead resort to uninformed libel and name-calling.”

However, members of the Italian community in Galway have expressed outrage that anyone would want to bring far-right Italian politics to the West of Ireland. 

“We, European citizens, came here with all the comfort of a Ryanair flight and knowing that we could always go back. I am at home and I plan to stay for good, but I am an immigrant, an economic immigrant. I have been working in Ireland for the past 13 years,” Marcello Deidda told IrishCentral. 

“I am ashamed of being associated with a person who is happy that people drown in the sea trying to make a better life, that a person who as an immigrant in Ireland is supporting a party that kept women and children confined in a ship against the law, a person who supports throwing women and children on the street with no support.”

He said he could not believe that support for a “xenophobic party” came from an Italian immigrant who also moved to Ireland in search of a better life. 

“It's embarrassing and shameful. How many Irish people crossed a sea for a better life? How many died? As an immigrant, as an Italian in Ireland and in County Galway, I am furious.”

Silvia Trentin, who moved to Ireland in May 2015, said she thought it was a sick joke when one of her friends told her about the planned Lega meeting in Headford last week. 

She said she was shocked that an immigrant to Ireland was spreading anti-immigrant posts on his business page on social media. 

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The Galway Anti-Racism Network.

The Galway Anti-Racism Network.

“At first we thought it was a joke. I read the Facebook profile of this event and I was even more shocked. I read all his posts. He is linking events all around the world involving Muslim people and adding his comments. It doesn’t make any sense,” she told IrishCentral

“For me, it was comforting to find out this week that other Italians in Galway feel the same as me. I don’t tolerate anyone, regardless of whether he is Irish, French, Italian, or Chinese, making propaganda about any other nationality or religion.”

Loughnane said it was clear that far-right parties were using the issue of ‘Ire-exit,’ a possible Irish exit from the European Union, to promote far-right, anti-immigrant policies. 

“We do criticize the EU for the way it is dealing with the refugee crisis. We would call it a fortress. Blood is on the hands of European leaders, but in this regard, ‘Ire-exit’ is a non-issue in Ireland at the moment,” he said. 

“There are far more important issues than Ireland leaving the EU at the moment in Ireland, such as housing, the health crisis, and the last thing people need to talk about is Ireland is leaving the EU right now. 

“We should not overblow these things. They are not that well organized and they are obscure, but they will try to take advantage of rural isolation and evictions to try and get a foothold in Irish politics. That’s clearly what they are doing in a place like Headford.”

He said it was clear from engagement he has had over the past couple of weeks that Italians in Co Galway and the people of Headford do not want a business in their area to be used to give a platform to people with dangerous, racist views. 

“We know there's a housing crisis in this country. We know rural Ireland is being ignored by an urban elite. We know immigrants are not to blame. We are asking people to stand with us in putting a definitive end to any attempt to normalize racism in our county,” he added. 

Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year 2018 award in Dublin recently. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here. Visit his website here -CiaranTierney.com.

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