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Irish anti-lockdown activists plan ‘Easter Rising’ protests

Online coronavirus conspiracy theories are spreading as a result of pandemic fatigue

Anti-lockdown protesters in Ireland are planning so-called Easter Rising demonstrations across the country on April 4 to mark the anniversary of the 1916 armed struggle against British rule. Activists in Telegram groups are sharing posters bearing slogans that equate the anti-lockdown movement with the battle for an independent Ireland. 

The anniversary of the 1916 rebellion is a significant influencer, according to experts. “The narrative is being used to spur on the movement,” said Aoife Gallagher, a Dublin-based researcher at UK think tank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “Although the vast majority of the anti-lockdown movement is peaceful, the possibility of violence at these protests cannot be ruled out.” 

Why it matters 

The current atmosphere in Ireland is one of “extreme fatigue,” said Gallagher. The country has been locked down since Christmas Eve and, though the government is considering steps to lift restrictions, a roadmap for the country’s reopening has yet to be announced. 

The vaccine rollout is also lagging severely. Around 780,000 doses have been administered so far — by way of comparison, more than 750,000 were given out in a single day in the UK last week. 

Campaigns casting doubt on the scientific legitimacy of the lockdowns have become increasingly popular. Protests have been held in the Irish capital of Dublin every few weeks, each time greeted by a heavy police presence. Though the demonstrations have been small, Irish Facebook groups opposing the lockdown have grown to more than 130,000 followers. This jump in anti-mask, anti-vaccine membership online has been reflected all over the world. 

“There’s a lot of very divergent, disparate groups coming together under these anti-lockdown banners,” said David Robert Grimes, an Irish physicist who campaigns against anti-vaccine disinformation. He described how he has seen protesters in Dublin carrying anti-5G posters, “Covid is a Hoax” signs, and placards endorsing QAnon ideas and homeopathic remedies. 

The big picture 

One regular speaker at Irish anti-lockdown protests is University College Dublin professor Dolores Cahill, a renowned scientist who has spread conspiracy theories about the virus in the past year. Many of her claims are outlandish, such as the notion that wearing masks can lower children’s IQ. But Cahill’s academic background has been a boon to Ireland’s anti-lockdown brigade. 

Cahill is part of a growing group of scientists who have pinned their colors to the Covid denialist flag. Last year Luc Montagnier, a French Nobel prize-winning virologist, said he believed the virus had been manufactured in a Chinese lab, while in the UK, a former Pfizer vice-president, Michael Yeadon speculated that the Covid vaccine could cause infertility in women. 

These scientists’ dismissal of the facts comes much to the delight of anti-science activists. “It gives them a fig leaf of legitimacy,” said Grimes. “But I keep having to point out: once a scientist is no longer reflecting the scientific evidence, their perceived authority and prestige is irrelevant.”

Cahill did not respond to requests for comment. 

As anti-lockdown demonstrators prepare for protests on April 4, a coordinated campaign to inundate Irish members of the European Parliament with emails protesting vaccine passports has been shared widely in Facebook and Telegram coronavirus conspiracy groups. The emails all state that the European Union’s proposed Covid-19 green pass is the “same as imposing travel papers on Jews by the Nazis” and make false claims that mass vaccination may increase the spread of disease. 

Across the rest of Europe, similar parallels have been drawn, equating the rollout of the green passes with the forced experiments Nazi doctors did on concentration camp prisoners. 

With protests planned for Sunday in numerous cities and towns, Gallagher said that Irish anti-lockdown demonstrators “remain determined in their mission to spread their version of the truth and force the country to reopen.”

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Isobel Cockerell

Isobel Cockerell is a reporter with Coda Story. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she has also reported for WIRED, USA Today, Rappler, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post and others.

Get in touch via [email protected] Follow @isocockerell

@isocockerell