One of the most troubling aspects of Irish political culture over the last 12 months has been the rise of the far right and its apologists. Although the far right always existed to a certain degree in Ireland it was somewhat latent. And, probably more importantly, a figurehead was lacking. But now the far right are not so latent and their figurehead exists in the form of Gemma O’Doherty. Using her former professional title as a way of giving herself credibility, she has turned into a monstrous figure who targets people she considers traitors or people she simply wants eliminated.
Many of were caught off-guard by her metamorphosis late last year, myself included. My own support dates back to 2014 when I wrote about the penalty points scandal and mentioned O’Doherty’s role in uncovering it. For many of us she represented a person willing to ask hard questions in defence of the vulnerable. And she had paid for this with her career. Skip forward to 2018 when she announced her intention to seek a nomination for the presidential elections. Based on what I knew up to then I supported her.
I backed her attempts to get a nomination in the face of widespread mockery from journalists and the political establishment. I was far from the only one to support her both before and during her attempt to secure a nomination. Having failed to get nominated, she slowly began to drift further and further to the right. And given what we now know I was clearly wrong to support her.
By late November she began tweeting about migrants and their role in exacerbating the housing crisis. From there it has been a rapid descent into outright racism, hatred, and the promotion of conspiracy theories. She now pushesthe idea that Irish people will become a minority due to being replaced by migrants. No mention of the fact that according to the CSO there are only “593,600 non-Irish nationals resident in Ireland accounting for 12.2% of the total population”. Of this figure, the majority — 63% — come from the UK, EU, Australia, Canada, and the US.
She has appeared in a documentary produced by far-right talking head Lauren Southern in which she again claims that Ireland is being inundated with migrants who are putting pressure on the health system and social housing. With seemingly no understanding of the concept, she has referred to the country as “Communist Ireland” on more than one occasion.
She has latched on to the “Cultural Marxist” myth which posits that Marxists are plotting to destroy Western society. In this case Marxist means any person who deviates to the left of her and who cares about equality. “Cultural Marxism” itself has its origins as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in which Jewish people were plotting to rule the world. But it doesn’t just apply to Jewish people anymore. It applies to anyone the far right considers a threat. And that’s not to mention her outright contempt for the Jewish George Soros. She sees his influence in any opposition she encounters.
She has also launched the Anti-Corruption Ireland (ACI) movement. Amongst its aims are the removal of “Cultural Marxism” from education and ending uncontrolled migration under the Agenda 21 agreement. She claims that this agreement is a threat to our freedoms, believing that it is a communist plot. She has said it is “a means of controlling everything including what and how we think”. This is despite the fact that the plan is non-binding and is essentially a roadmap for states to become more sustainable. ACI also says it is in favour of banning 5G technology, stopping further construction of wind turbines, “investigat[ing]” the effectiveness of vaccines, and ceasing the fluoridation of Irish drinking water.
Her rhetoric has also gotten progressively bizarre over the last few months. When the Christchurch massacre took place she was quick to argue that it was a “false flag” operation, i.e., faked. And when the Notre Dame fire struck she blamed the French government and the Freemasons.
When it comes to the vulnerable who she once claimed to care about, she now attacks them. If it’s not refugees and people seeking asylum here it’s others she considers a threat. One prominent pro-vaccine advocate, Fiona O’Leary, has been directly threatened by O’Doherty. Her crime was to call out O’Doherty’s fanatical anti-vaxx propaganda. O’Doherty took to her livestream and declared that O’Leary “needs to be taken under control and dealt with and once and for all”. When I spoke to O’Leary for an article I wrote for The Canary she explained:
Why I do this is really because I care about children. I care about the groups in our society that are not able to get vaccinated.
And for that she has been threatened by the former journalist and received a number of threatening phone calls from O’Doherty’s supporters. One of the callers said he would burn down her house.
But probably the most egregious aspect of O’Doherty’s behaviour was her recent targeting of schoolchildren in Longford. She shared a photo of the children, which included a number of black children, on social media claiming that it demonstrated that Irish people will become an “ethnic minority” in the future. She subsequently visited the town and was guided around by a member the National Party whilst livestreaming. It was during this that Aneta Safiak challenged O’Doherty. Safiak, whose son is one of the children in the photo, discovered it after a friend sent her a link to O’Doherty’s post.
I spoke to her about what happened. Originally from Poland but having lived in Ireland for 15 years, Safiak related that O’Doherty’s “racist comments” accompanying the photo angered her. And after finding out that O’Doherty was in her hometown to film a livestream, the heavily pregnant mother left her house in her pyjamas and slippers to confront her. When she was initially approached, Safiak said O’Doherty appeared “happy” as she seemed to believe that a supporter was coming to speak to her. However, when the Longford mother told O’Doherty that her son was one of the children in the photo, she backed away and did not want to speak to her.
In the video which can viewed on YouTube, O’Doherty can he heard saying “I don’t want to talk to you at the moment, if you don’t mind”. After O’Doherty fails to explain her actions and comments Safiak left, calling her a “c***t” as she does so. Safiak insisted that she was “hoping for a conversation” with O’Doherty. She said she expected “eloquent words” from the former journalist to convince her and to explain why she used a photo with her son in it. Instead, Safiak related that “nothing like this happened” and she was “very disappointed”.
Given O’Doherty’s social media postings Safiak also thought she would find a “bull terrier” but instead found “a puppy” because “she couldn’t even stand up for her own beliefs”. She argued that O’Doherty’s privileged upbringing, education, and professional work “didn’t do her justice”.
Safiak herself wrote a post on Facebook after the confrontation explaining what happened and why she did it. She told me that she woke up the next morning after having gotten
a hundred comments, and people sharing it, and sending me messages, you know, ‘Can I send you flowers and boxes of chocolates?’
She said that the level of support she received proves that not everyone subscribes to O’Doherty’s worldview. Safiak believes that:
This is good. This shows that 800 people liked what I did. That means that 800 people are not like Gemma.
She revealed that she “did not expect all these tweets, and Facebook posts, and people calling me a hero”. And when asked, she said “Yes, I would do it again”. In the aftermath O’Doherty has claimed she was “assaulted” by Safiak. The video, which is widely available, shows otherwise.
Despite this horrific behaviour O’Doherty stills garners a level of support that is troubling. She attracts this support because people are sick of our consecutive governments who enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of ordinary people. For the most part the left has failed to capitalise on this, thereby leaving a vacuum which O’Doherty is trying to exploit. Not all of her supporters are racists, or at least consciously so.
But the fact of the matter is that she is using the rhetoric and talking points of the far right. And this attracts a wide swathe of people; from those genuinely concerned about corruption, to people who see corruption as part of a global conspiracy to undermine nation-states, and to true believers who fully embrace the idea of white supremacy. For the latter, the former are a means to an end. O’Doherty is using the same tactic.
Evidence that she was merely using Broadsheet was her rapid deployment of a threat of legal action if an article in which she was referred to in a critical light was not removed from the website. Anti-corruption is a cover for nothing more than an attempt at gaining any kind of power. Once that is achieved we all know what comes next. And she has made clear who her targets are and how she’ll deal with them.
But there also appears to be an aspect of grift involved. She calls on people to stop using smartphones while tweeting from and using her iPhone. Twitter, she said, “has subjected me to the foulest of treatment” as she continues to use the platform. The pharmaceutical industry is a threat to our health while she proudly advertises on her website the fact that she won an award sponsored by GlaxoSmithKlein. And, probably most obviously, she rails against immigration and the ethnic replacement of the Irish even though she was married to an Englishman and counts an Irishman who joined the British military as a “patriot” and ally. The inherent contradictions in all of the above are blatant. In fact, so much so that one possible explanation is that she simply counts on her supporters to do as she says and not as she does.
So, what comes next? Despite her penchant of threatening people with legal action, she herself is being sued for defamation. The thing about money is that it runs out and defamation cases are notoriously expensive. That might explain the increasingly extreme rhetoric as she attempts to attract some far-right fans from across the Atlantic. Sources in Europe have told me that she has begun to forge links with the far right on the continent.
For some, being part of the far right can be a lucrative business. Just ask Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson). Given this, her rhetoric is not likely to ease off. She has found a crowd and is doing her best to give them what they want. If people end up being hurt as a result, it doesn’t matter.
But the question remains: How do we cover this relatively new phenomenon in Ireland? Do we even cover it to begin with? One side argues that to give coverage to her and her ilk is necessary to expose them and the dangerous rhetoric they spread. The other argues that by starving them of the oxygen of publicity they will fade away. Both sides have merit. Thus far, the mainstream media in Ireland has been largely reluctant to give her coverage.
Whether or not they’re right to do this, she will still be around using the currency of her former professional title to give her arguments a sheen of authority. And her “anti-corruption” stance will continue to attract people who are sick of the political status quo. For this reason alone, calling her out is necessary. Doing nothing gives her free rein to spread lies and hatred. Doing nothing lets her win.