|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Also in this editorial:
And so the previously implacable enemies, Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, agreed to work together (though it is Martin McGuinness who will be Deputy First Minister) in a powersharing administration from 8th May. Chairman Mao asserted that power grows from the barrel of a gun, and guns certainly do a particular kind of power, as we know to our cost in Northern Ireland. But in this case, Ian Paisley had run out of excuses; local power and control, and issues like water charges (the ‘water barrel’ mentioned above) were more important than the power of the gun (on any side) which has diminished very considerably.
Things have been moving on, and Northern Irish voters have wanted to see a powersharing administration, even the bulk of DUP and Sinn Féin voters. Both parties showed strongly in the recent Assembly elections, and with the threat of increased Dublin power over the North, Ian Paisley was persuaded to move. It might be said that this was a case of ‘about time too’. Gerry Adams has the track record of moving gradually away from violence over the last 25 years; Ian Paisley has only now been converted to powersharing after a lifetime of opposition (and saying ‘no’ consistently contributed significantly to the hopelessness and difficulties of Northern Ireland). But we should be grateful that he has at last said ‘yes’, even if it is only when he has become political top dog.
There will not be easy travelling before or after 8th May given the diametrically opposite views on some matters – the constitutional one goes without question, but there are also matters such as education and a replacement for the socially divisive 11+ exam. Selective education was so important to the DUP that they received an assurance, as part of the St Andrew’s Agreement, that a local assembly could decide to continue it whereas both Sinn Féin and the SDLP oppose it.
But it must be noted how the conflict in Northern Ireland has, or is, being resolved. It has not been by the growth of the political ‘middle ground’ (basically the Alliance Party, courageous as many of them have been). It has not been by military or paramilitary might. It has not been by ‘rooting out the men of violence’ as many reactionary politicians and commentators called for during the Troubles. Rather, the solution emerging has come from the inclusion of what were previously labelled as ‘extremes’. Admittedly the DUP and Sinn Féin have both moved much more ‘centre’ as part of their political strategy but they have taken most of their supporters with them, and gained new ones in the process. While the SDLP has suffered somewhat from the growth of Sinn Féin, there has to be even more regard, in this context, for the Ulster Unionist Party who made the jump to powersharing and suffered for it.
Politics in Northern Ireland will continue to be a mixture of the normal and the abnormal. People still vote on tribal lines but now expect the elected tribal leaders to get on with working together – an ongoing irony which is not going to diminish overnight. The system under the Good Friday Agreement both enshrines and limits a sectarian carve up of power – and Paisley and Adams and their parties now have a good amount of that power, and the need to work together. That cooperation across the boundaries is for the good. It is another step altogether to transcend those tribal divisions, and that is a task for a generation or more to come, with a whole range of responses necessary. Within the current system it is also a necessary task to get parliamentary opposition going as the Good Friday Agreement enshrines a collective system; this is also part of normalising politics in Northern Ireland.
We can be thankful that we are on the edge of a new era. The old era still makes its presence felt, and the new will not always be comfortable, but the seismic shift has happened. There will still be aftershocks but the ground is settling again, and there was little of the hype surrounding the Good Friday Agreement. We do not want people to get too comfortable, however, because more change is essential if Northern Ireland is to overcome not just political violence for good but also the scourges of sectarianism and its evil cousin racism.
We await the results of elections in the Republic in a couple of months time when we will see whether people are still comfortable with Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fail or feel it is time for a change. Part of the interest in this will be whether Sinn Féin gets a knock on effect from being in government in the North.
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For the record:
Democratic Unionist Party, 30.1% first preferences (+4.4%), 36 seats (gain of 4 seats)
Sinn Féin, 26.2% (+2.6%), 28 seats (gain of 4 seats)
SDLP, 15.2% (-1.8%), 16 seats (loss of 2 seats)
Ulster Unionist Party, 14.9% (-7.7%), 18 seats (loss of 6 seats)
Alliance Party, 5.2% (+1.6%), 7 seats (gain of 1 seat)
Progressive Unionist Party, 0.6%, 1 seat (Dawn Purvis retained the seat of David Ervine’s who died in January)
Green Party, 1.7% (+1.4%) 1 seat (gain of 1 seat)
Independent, 1 (re-elected)
The UK Unionist party lost its one seat (Bob McCartney) but received 1.5% of the vote, the only unequivocally anti-powersharing unionist party (anti-powersharing republicans made a bit of a showing in a few places but were nowhere near being elected).
Taking first preference votes, of those who voted ‘Unionist’ (not including the Alliance Party in this) it can be said that people voted 2:1 for the DUP as opposed to the UUP. Of those who voted ‘Nationalist’ or ‘Republican’ it can be said that nearly twice as many voted for Sinn Féin as for the SDLP. The Alliance party had its best result since 1998 including the election of Anna Lo in South Belfast, reportedly the first person of Chinese ethnic origin elected to a Parliament in Europe; the Green Party had its first MLA elected, Brian Wilson in North Down.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column, two pieces this month –
We recently witnessed what can only be described as the insanity of the UK Government as well as its main opposition, the Conservative Party, led by David Cameron. Both voted to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system, which the government says will cost £15 – £20 billion. The real cost is likely to be closer to the estimate of CND and Greenpeace, who say that it will cost £100 billion to develop and maintain until 2045. If the Trident nuclear missiles are ever fired, millions of people will be vaporized and millions more will slowly die from exposure to radiation. In fact their use, which would prompt or be part of a nuclear exchange, could bring an end to civilization.
In the same week major speeches were made in defence of the environment by David Cameron, the chancellor Gordon Brown, and the Prime Minister Tony Blair. They all stated that it was vital that action be taken to save humanity from the expected impact of climate change. The seriousness by which their speeches can be judged is by the money the government has committed to mitigating global warming, which is very little. In terms of policy the government is to set legally binding limits on Britain’s carbon emissions, but aviation and shipping emissions are excluded, while at the same time it has foregone ensuring that new buildings produce no green house gas emissions, and it is implementing a programme of major airport and road expansion, all of which is contrary to its stated aim of tackling climate change. On the other hand the government, as reported by The Guardian, 14 March, has long been involved in preparing for the renewal of Trident, and the vote in the House of Commons was merely rubber-stamping what had already been decided. Just as important as the money spent on instruments of mass extermination are the skills that will be monopolized by the programme, which could be used to develop carbon-neutral forms of energy generation and machines and procedures that are energy efficient. As Professor Bowen of the School of Engineering, University of Wales Swansea, in a letter to The Independent, 14 March, writes:
“An alternative to the use of engineering in preparation for military deterrence and pre-emptive war is to use the same basic skill resources in preparation for pre-emptive peace.”
Further evidence of the insanity of our pro-Trident, supposedly pro-environment leaders, is that they proudly claim to be Christian, that is followers of Christ, whose life is characterized by his commitment to non-violence, as underscored by his reaction to one of his followers who drew a sword and cut off a soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus told the man to put away his sword and healed the soldier’s ear. (Luke: 22.47-51) The reason why those who voted for Trident can be considered insane is because not only can they not see the polar contradictions in their thinking, but they are also pro-war and pro-mass extinction of life on Earth.
One has to seriously question the sincerity of governments and many big businesses (which for brevity sake we will call ‘the establishment’) in their proclaimed desire to tackle global warming through enabling and encouraging us all to live in an ecologically sustainable way. The three pillar stones of the eco-living they promote are the use of bio-fuels, lowering carbon emissions from our homes and recycling our waste. Some aspects of the eco-friendly life-style they want us to adopt reap tangible environmental benefits, as in for instance using long-life light bulbs, switching off unused electrical equipment and recycling. However, when it comes to substantively changing the way we live the establishment refrains from taking radical action and instead engages in subterfuge. Sadly the public through apathy, delusion, or lack of awareness and information, largely accept that the establishment is acting in their best interests, which by definition includes that of the planet.
The case of the promotion of biofuels as an alternative to petrol and diesel highlights the insincerity of the establishments’ ‘fight against global warming’. George Monbiot for instance informs us in The Guardian, 27 March, that a recent report by UN states that biofuels are worse for the environment than petroleum. He writes that: “A report by the consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces.” The reason is because when the vast tracks of rainforest in Indonesia are burnt and clear-felled to grow palm oil, which is turned into biofuels for the European market, the trees and the peat, they grow in, release carbon dioxide. Ian Mackinnon in The Guardian, 4 April, forwards another reason why the mass growing of palm oil is bad for the environment. It is because “Within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, little more than a footnote in history.” This will mean the loss of “the Asian elephant, the Sumatran tiger and the orang-utan” as well as innumerable other life forms. In Brazil, rainforest is been felled to grow another source of biofuel, sugarcane, which is destined for the U. S. market. Aside from these negative environmental consequences, the indigenous peoples who live within the felled and burnt forests face almost certain extinction.
Other evidence that reveals the insincerity of the establishment in tackling global warming is the unwillingness of motor vehicle manufacturers to built vehicles that have almost zero carbon emissions. As John Hari informs us in The Independent, 5 April, the technology to do so has existed for some time. He writes: “Somewhere out there, in the dusty basements of the Chevron-Texaco corporate headquarters, there is a technology that can – in one swoop – slash global warming emissions, save millions of people from respiratory illnesses, and stop us trashing the Middle East to seize its oil. Yet it is deliberately left to rot.” The reason Hari says Chevron-Texaco are not acting on this technology is because: “There is a $100 trillion of oil left in the earth, and they plan to mine it – even if doing so will make the planet uninhabitable.” In February when the European Commission was setting the benchmark for car fuel efficiency, the German chancellor Angela Merkel lobbied on behalf of car manufacturers for it to be set at 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, rather that the proposed 120 grams per kilometre.
What we can draw from this is that we cannot rely on the establishment to protect our interests or that of the Earth and must act on our own initiative in cooperation with others to do so. Easter for Christians, and many non-faith communities, marks a new beginning, a new dawn in our lives. This Easter is an appropriate time to act on our best eco and human justice aspirations.
A report by Sean McCrum
on the second seminar of series of three: Fear of the Other, Power and the Other, Religion and the Other, organised by the Dublin Peace Committee of Dublin Monthly Meeting
24th February 2007 at Irish School of Ecumenics, Belfast.
We held this seminar in Belfast because it is important to act on the basis that peace is an island-wide concern. Our first and third seminars are in Dublin.We must thank our speakers, Hassan Mansour, Martina Weitsch and Mannete Ramaili and the participants from northern and southern Ireland who were present. We thank Irish School of Ecumenics, Belfast, for their assistance and the use of their premises and facilities to allow us to hold this seminar.
Fear of the Other, the first seminar, considered fear as generated within the individual and how that can be projected upon the self as other or another individual or group as other. It moved to the experience of people who had worked through this problem for themselves and used this experience in the sphere of public action.
Power and the Other moved to considering the relationship between individuals and small interest groups and large structures. What balances exist? Who defines the source of power, why do people feel disempowered or empowered? How to build some alternative sense of empowerment to the assumptions of owning power, which majority power structures assume?
These questions carry problematic relationship at every level. This seminar approached the problem from three viewpoints:
1. Islamic belief and its expression as a minority part of a larger western European culture in N. Ireland;
2. peace building within the power structure of a large political phenomenon, the EU, in which seeking peace is broadly regarded as a nuisance and eccentric other, related to policy and special interest structures;
3. the building of self-worth by a small country, Lesotho, within regional African and wider international power and economic structures.
In each case, it was important that lack of basic knowledge amongst participants was addressed. Each speaker spoke both from their situation within a wider structure, and from the need to provide information. Hence participants were able to begin making informed assessments – demonstrating that knowledge is an important part of empowerment.
Hassan Mansour discussed the situation of Islam in N Ireland, but put emphasis on the nature of Islamic belief as experienced by him. He initially set his experience as Islamic, in the context of having lived in Canada and N Ireland. He pointed out the relationship of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He came from the direction of believing that the Koran is the word of God and the basis of his beliefs and practice, which he outlined. He discussed the ill-informed current misuse, often within Islam, of the term “Jihad”. He outlined the situation of women in Islam. He discussed Sharia law and its direct implementation, which he felt appropriate as part of his beliefs. The logic of practice drawn from his beliefs was coherent and caused very difficult examination of participants’ views. It raised the complexity of relating self to other and who is the other to whom.
Martina Weitsch, of Quaker Council for European Affairs, Brussels, approached the problems of placing peace-related concerns in legislation and power block international negotiations. She noted individuals’ perception of power as being within the EU/ Brussels institutions, with a feeling of personal and regional powerlessness. For individuals, there is a sense of being themselves seen as the other by the EU, which they also regard as the other. She noted the sense in which peace-related thinking has to deal with being regarded as a nuisance by this structure: again, the other and the other.
She discussed the EU as an effective model for the reality of peace-centred thinking as valid and necessary for international problem-solving – Europe has overall had peace for 60 years, something which had not happened for centuries.
However, QCEA and other peace-centred non-governmental organisations [NGOs] are confronted with a power structure and regional special interest groups, including militarisation and armaments industries. She then presented a detailed summary of the EU’s current complex structures.
Part of these structures relates to the EU’s and individual member countries’ often-contradictory relationships with non-EU regions and countries. It involved international crisis and longer-term situations, where support was often fragmented to the point of dysfunction. Such situations often sought to combine immediate “damage limitation” with long-term political and legal stabilisation and economic reconstruction.
These situations are, as a matter of very serious concern, indicating the potential for imbalance between military and civilian input in terms of numbers of EU staff and funding. The balance is currently in favour of military input by a factor of 6:1. It indicates a militarisation of attitudes and thinking towards habitual action, within an organisation, the EU, which has proved the effectiveness of peace as the core of its existence.
Within this complex scenario, QCEA and other peace-related NGOs work together as an advocacy group. They are able to build their negotiating strength, in part because EU structures prefer to negotiate with groups. They are able to bring peace-related concerns to legislators’, bureaucrats’ and negotiators’ notice. Whilst their work related to specific legislation and negotiation is vital, it is equally important that they keep in the foreground peace-based thinking and intentions as a realistic habit of thought. Their work is difficult, slow and unglamorous, but is now very important within a structure, which could easily move towards militarisation.
Mannete Ramaili, the Ambassador for Lesotho, discussed the colonial background to current African cultural, political and economic problems. She pointed out the scale of Africa and its immense regional, cultural and political diversity. In colonial terms, it had been a large area of the earth exploited as a permanent other. Consequently, a significant part of how this continent rethinks its diversity concerns self-belief and its cultural integrity. In contemporary terms, she noted the North-South divide and the problematic situation of developing EU trade. She pointed out the problems for Lesotho of emigration to South Africa. She noted the effects of imbalance for developing countries caused by organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
She discussed the complex cultural, economic and social situation of Lesotho. The country became a place, not a mark on a map, because its complexity made it real. It has regional problems. Zimbabwe is not simply a moral problem but a complex political, socio-cultural and regional difficulty involving other neighbouring countries. When she was asked “What have you done about Zimbabwe?”, she replied “What have you done about Sellafield?” The equation between Lesotho and this island becomes real.
Her country is small, landlocked and economically constrained. It is in the complex process of redefining itself and building its own integrity in its terms. Lesotho, southern Africa, indeed the whole continent, may be the other to Europeans, but Europe is the other to most southern Africans. It is economically powerful, but essentially outside most people’s experience as they build their own definition of empowerment.
These three discussions raised a huge number of questions. For many participants, this was the first opportunity to build questions on information. Subsequently, they have been able to come to grips with three complex bodies of thinking and belief, all of which opened up the problem of who is the other, why, and how we can move from that mind-set of exclusivity, exclusion and down-grading, to inclusivity and rethinking. In many cases, this involves moving from otherness as a comfort zone, embedding other people in being the other. How do we develop our thinking from here to focused and positive action?