The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has launched an investigation into its deputy president, Michelle Byrne, after she appeared willing to hand over the names of right-wing activists to a purported anti-fascist group that said it wanted to “slap them around”.
On Friday, the Burkean – a conservative publication that has been condemned for promoting racism and eugenics – announced it had set up a fake anti-fascist network in order to conduct “long term investigative work into antifascism in Ireland, as well as its insidious and often blatant links with civic society, journalism and politics”.
Yesterday, the Burkean published a recording of a conversation with Byrne, USI’s deputy president and vice-president for campaigns, in which she said she would pass on the names of particular students so that they could then be placed on a “watch list”.
“Nobody can know you got the names from me”, she told a person posing as a member of the anti-fascist group.
Today, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick wrote in an email statement to The University Times: “USI is aware of this matter and is currently engaging in its internal processes to investigate it.”
“As we are committed to following due process, we won’t be making any further comment at this time”, Fitzpatrick said.
The recording of Byrne appears likely to be the first release from what the Burkean calls “a series of exclusive messages, audio and video recordings that give a hint of the sheer scale of this corruption”.
During the phone call, Byrne – the second most senior officer in USI, which represents around 374,000 students on the island of Ireland – said that “this phone call basically never happened”.
By the time of publication, Byrne had not responded to a request for comment.
On the call, the person posing as a member of Irish Students Against Fascism told Byrne that “when you supply names, we can pass it onto people that could slap them around”.
“Absolutely”, she responded. “No, that’s good, and I could probably send on a couple.”
While Byrne said that USI could not “single out” or “dox” students – meaning publish identifying information online – she appeared to encourage other actions the person claimed to have perpetrated, including burning posters put up by the National Party on campuses.
She advised the group that it could use college disciplinary procedures as a method of tackling far-right activism on campuses.
It’s not clear whether Byrne actually handed over the names to the group.
Byrne identified “a lot of links” between right-wing activism and Young Fine Gael. “You’d do well if you could get someone on the inside at the YFG conferences”, she said, “because what I’ve heard is a lot of media aren’t allowed go or don’t go to it – but it’s an absolute shitshow internally at those conferences”.
“Any ideas that you can’t enact for saving face – we can do the sort of illegal stuff, so to speak”, the person said.
“Yeah absolutely”, Byrne said. “And then, I suppose, is there anything that I can do, in my capacity in work, to help you – without obviously saying that I’m helping you?”
By the time of publication, the Burkean had not responded to a request for comment. The identities of its editorial staff are not known. The person on the recording said their name was Ryan.
Two reporters from The University Times also conducted phone calls with members of the group, in interviews that saw the group discuss its aims and strategies. No article on the group was published.
The Burkean was established in 2017 with the financial backing of Irish entrepreneur and conservative Declan Ganley.
Last year, prominent Irish conservatives – including Ganley and John McGuirk – blasted a Burkean article for promoting racism and eugenics, and called for the resignation of its then-editor, Michael O’Dwyer Connolly.
Entitled “Not All Are Born Equal”, the article has now been deleted from the publication’s website. In it, O’Dwyer Connolly wrote that global economic inequalities – he singled out “Sub-Saharan Africa” as an example of an area that has not experienced economic growth – are largely down to the genetics of people with different ethnicities.
Eight former members of the publication subsequently condemned the article, as well as calling on O’Dwyer Connolly to resign.
In an email statement to The University Times, the founders – including the paper’s first editor, Guillermo Dillion – wrote that it “is shocking that the editor of the Burkean would write an article so utterly repugnant to Burke’s ideals”.