The strange and unsettling world of the Irexit conference where Nigel Farage was greeted like a returning hero
If there was theme - beyond the desire to be free - at the Irexit conference that took place in the RDS in Dublin on Saturday, it was that the mainstream media is silencing dissenting voices, with many of the voices here dissenting in the room.
The conference’s keynote speaker was Nigel Farage, a man whose extraordinarily high mainstream media profile hasn’t prevented him failing to be elected seven times as an MP. If he has been silenced by a mainstream media conspiracy, it has been a very ineffective one. But it didn’t stop him pushing all the old buttons. He encouraged the audience to bypass the traditional media while he railed against ‘career politicians’, ‘corporatism’ and the EU, as he helped Ireland launch its leap towards freedom.
“Who wants to be free?,” Hermann Kelly, the Derryman who is Director of Communications for Farage’s European Parliament group EFDD, asked as the day began. There was a guttural roar of assent, although who would ever shout ‘no’ when asked if they wanted to be free?
Farage was the main draw. This didn’t seem like a great time for any Brexiteer to be arriving in Ireland imploring people to join up, like seeing a man being devoured by a crocodile as you walk by the river who tells you to come on in, the water’s lovely.
"We've done our bit," Farage said and amazingly he was talking about Brexit, as if that was the kind of success story that makes people sit up and want a little of what they're having.
Britain is, in fact, tearing itself apart and many would wonder about the wisdom in joining Britain in an exit when nobody has any idea what Brexit will be, or if it will be at all.
On Saturday, it was time to declare that it was Ireland's turn. Farage wondered where the movements that had sprouted up all over Europe were in Ireland.
"What on earth is going in politics in this country?" he asked, although perhaps he was forgetting that Ireland does have its own extreme nationalist party, which used to come with a private army attached. So maybe we don't need lessons from anyone in the warped power of dangerous, romantic nationalism.
But that wasn't the point of the day. The brutality of the EU superstate and the complicit media were the overarching themes. "By and large," one of the speaker's Cormac Lucey said towards the end, "I think the media do a good job." In the crowd, a lone man clapped briefly and then stopped.
If Brexit wasn’t working, it was because of the resistance of the Remainers and it was soon clear that beneath the sensitivity, the suspicion and the bombast, this was a fantasy world, a hermetically sealed infantile paradise where everything that goes wrong is the fault of someone else.
If these groups fail to receive public support, it is because the media won’t allow them a platform. If they succeed and things don’t work out as gloriously as anticipated, this is not down to any flaws in their ideas, but in the actions of the saboteurs who are out to destroy them.
"If in 18 months' time they make a Horlicks of Brexit, I'll have to go back and fight the buggers again," Farage said in conversation with John Waters.
Standing ovation for Farage as he walks out pic.twitter.com/wKTWLem2uo
— Dion Fanning (@dionfanning) February 3, 2018
“We’re not going to be silenced anymore,” Councillor James Charity announced, leading some of us to conclude that the reason we’d never heard of him before was the result of this vast media conspiracy which, in his case anyway, had hitherto been successful.
There were some in the hall who were here to observe, some who said afterwards they still felt Ireland belonged in the EU and others, inside and outside the RDS, who were long time opponents of the EU. Some felt they could attach themselves to this Farage train, but the protestors outside wanted a different Irexit than anything associated with Farage could provide.
It was easy to see understand some of the opposition. In 2010 the EU was a bogeyman - if this movement had launched then it would have been a different story, Waters reflected - and there are many aspects of its structure which it’s not hard to dislike. But Brexit as it formed in the public consciousness was about a narrow form of English nationalism which should be a harder sell in Ireland. At least in places other than the concert hall of the RDS.
But even in the hall, they were sure there was a latent anger out there, a desire for freedom that the people were unaware of. “I don't think Ireland is a pro-EU country,” Farage told the crowd, "the political, media and big business class of Dublin are the ones”. They cheered heartily at that, even if it might have come as a shock to many in rural Ireland.
There was one outbreak of dissent, when a man produced an EU flag. A few people laughed and others roared. "We don't interrupt your meetings," one said, with the sad, aggrieved tone of a seven-year-old.
When a woman asked if the maleness of the room would be used by the media as a reason not to give coverage, it was decided that all the women in the room should stand up to rebut the point.
"Post that, you prick," one man shouted in the general direction of where I was sitting. Later the same man asked me why I would tweet about the room being full of men. I said I hadn't. It turned out he thought I was Donald Clarke of the Irish Times before grudgingly accepting that I wasn't.
But it was Farage the crowd loved. One woman was overcome at the prospect of getting a picture with him. She handed me her phone and said I would have to work quick. ‘Did you get it? Did you get it?” When I told her, I did, she walked off, punching the air in happiness.
Many left the hall hopeful, which was no surprise. Waters told the Irish Times that if nobody else comes forward to lead the movement, he would consider it.
The event was "the beginning, not the end", Kelly said as he asked everyone to provide their details so the movement could continue.
"Where do we go from here?" a questioner in the audience asked as the event drew to a close and they prepared to return to an outside world whose indifference or disdain can always be explained away as the work of their enemies.