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Nonviolence News August supplement

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Editorial: Northern Ireland - Wrong deal, no deal

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Lessons from Grenfell Tower

Readings in Nonviolence: Alternatives to Violence Project impact

Billy King: Rites Again

Editorials

These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 149: May 2007

Also in this editorial:

Taxing matters
The axiom that we get what we pay for is true but only up to an extent. Our finances may be such that we are constrained in what we can afford; the supply may be limited so that what we really want is not available. The information which we need to make an informed choice may not be available and other matters can affect our choice. This is as true of services supplied by the state as in matters of what bread or baked beans we buy except that in the case of the state services as promised by political parties and coalitions of parties we are opting for whole baskets of products – some not yet in the marketplace. There is the danger, as in the Republic coming up to the general election on 24th May, that ’auction politics’ can come into operation where each side feels it has to match the bids made by the other and what is on offer. The result is not a choice between different baskets (whether we want baked beans or dried beans or none at all) but simply concerning the label on the tin. And even when there are promises about services, for example, how the health service improvements that everyone wants will be financed is not always clear.

The Republic as an independent state also has a choice on taxation policy in a way that Northern Ireland does not. The corporate state system in Northern Ireland, instituted by the Good Friday Agreement and now enthusiastically endorsed by top dogs the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin, means that they are all in it together even if some wield more power in terms of control in departments of state. The market metaphor is even more difficult in describing the political situation in Northern Ireland; perhaps you could say that voters choose the composition of the consortium that will deliver the baked beans. In the longer term, as we have often said, this needs to change – hopefully when ‘suppliers’ (the parties) and ‘consumers’ (the public) have matured enough to realise greater choice is in everyone’s interests and bankruptcy and closure (the fall of local Stormont government) are unlikely to happen.

If voters have a lack of real choice between options, or the baskets of policies on offer do not represent what voters are looking for, then voters are disenfranchised in an important way. Auction politics tends to mean a choice between slightly different worldviews but often similar policies and this is a real and important problem in terms of the main coalition options currently on offer in the Republic. However a proportional system of voting, such as the single transferable vote (imperfect as it is), at least has the benefit of avoiding the danger of massive swings of policy (such as instituted under Margaret Thatcher in the UK who was able to bring about a right wing revolution in politics on a minority vote in the country).

The realisation that we need to pay more tax if we want better public services has not yet dawned on the people of Ireland. People, even radio commentators, analyse offers of tax cuts in terms of ‘best value’ with no reference to what this might mean for services. Prosperity in the Republic is so new that we are, as some commentators have put it, still in a ‘famine mentality’ or indeed simply yet in a ‘cultural adolescence’. Alternatively it may be a case of good old fashioned greed among influence carriers, with private opulence and public squalor. There may be ‘efficiencies’ in service provision but, once that axe has swung (and it often swings in the direction of privatising services and making working conditions worse for those delivering the services) then the only thing to be done is pay more. Political maturity will arrive in Ireland when a major party puts before the electorate its plans to increase taxes by a few cents to pay for the better services it outlines in its policies.

But there are also problems in what taxes pay for. Taxpayers in the British tax system are paying for the Iraq war, for example. Irish citizens see the Republic offering full use of Shannon airport to the US military; this may make a few bucks for Shannon but it makes a nonsense of a supposedly ‘neutral’ Irish foreign policy. How can we have freedom of conscience when our countries take us to war, or support for war, against our wishes? One way to resist is of course tax resistance, refusing to pay the proportion of tax that goes to the military but while this is desirable it is also a difficult route to follow for many people. Such exercise of conscience bears a price.

Death and taxes (the expression on the certainty of these can be attributed to Daniel Defoe or Benjamin Franklin) may be two inevitabilities in life but what kind of death and what kind of life may be determined partly by the level, and kind, of taxes paid by citizens. There is an ongoing struggle, particularly by those in the peace movement but by others as well, to ensure not only ‘no taxation without effective representation’ but that governments are responsive to the organised conscience of their citizens. How to bring that about is an important task for the future in building a truer and more participative democracy.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column

Education and Climate Change
A few days ago my daughter turned 6, by the time she reaches 30, with an expected 56 years of her life to live, climate change will likely have changed many of the things she and her generation presently take for granted. Adults have some idea of the changes that lie ahead, young children have no conception of them, and even if they had, they are in no position to prepare for them. Preparing our young for their future is the responsibility of parents and the school system. It is difficult to gauge what parents are doing to prepare their children for the challenges of the radically changed world they can be expected to live in, this is not so with the school system as the curriculum is readily available for all to read and digest.

The revised curriculum, which will be phased in over a number of years from September, places the idea of sustainable development at the centre of most of the subjects taught. Unfortunately ‘sustainable development’ is commonly understood as ‘sustainable consumption’ rather than what is ‘ecologically sustainable’.

If the latter understanding is used, which I dearly hope so, then schools will not only teach children about climate change and the loss of biodiversity but also the knowledge and skills that will enable them to live a reasonably comfortable existence in their new and radically changed world. This means that they will be taught how to take care of a kitchen garden, growing a wide variety of food and herbs, if not in their own gardens then in allotments rented from their Council. They will be taught how to make, mend and repair using local materials. Fortunately schools can readily draw on the knowledge and skills of the older generation, as well as from such groups as the Fermanagh-based Women in Agriculture, historical societies and the Ulster Folk Museum.

It is predicted that climate change on this island will mean wetter winters and drier hotter summers, and that our coastal towns and cities are likely to suffer from regular serve flooding, including island towns such as Enniskillen. At the same time, the era of cheap oil will be a memory, with all which that means for a global economy almost wholly dependent on it. If our children are to live the relatively comfortable stress-free existence they do today, not only should schools teach the skills and knowledge that allow for self-reliance, but they should also teach them to be truly innovative, how to solve problems, and how to cooperate and share. If our schools don’t do this, then we will fail our children, and saying sorry around a table scarce of food will be of little consolation to them.

Face to face with a West Bank wall
By Mairead Maguire

On Friday 20th April, 2007, Ann Patterson and I, joined the Bil’in Peoples Committee, (outside Ramallah) on their weekly nonviolent protest march to the Apartheid Wall, together with Israeli peace activists and Internationalists from over 20 countries. The Internationals came from France, (over 200) America, Porto Rica, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, and India.

Before the peace vigil, I participated in a Press Conference with the Palestinian Minister for Information, Mustafa Barghouti, in front of the World Press. Minister Barghouti praised the nonviolent vigil of the Bil’in people and the nonviolent resistance of many people around Palestine says Bil’in is a model and example to all. He called to stop the building of the wall, and for the upholding of Palestinian Rights under International Law. I supported his call and thanked the people of Bil’in offering my support for the nonviolent resistance to the Wall as it contravenes International Law, including the International Court of Justice decision in the Hague. I also called for an end to Palestinian occupation, which will be 40th years soon, and recognition by the International Community of the Palestinian Government, together with restoration of economic, political rights of the people.

Both Dr. Barghouti and I called for the release of the BBC Journalist Alan Johnston. I also called for the protection of journalists all over the world, whose ability to cover the truth is being infringed.

During Conference the Israeli military drove through the Gate onto Palestinian Land, with many foot soldiers. They surrounded World Media and in Hebrew warned us that if we did not disburse they would attack in five minutes. Myself and Dr. Barghouti, condemned this as abuse of freedom of press speech and peoples right to peaceful protest and speech.

During press conference a man from San Paulo, climbed to the top of the Surveillance Mask and released a Palestinian Flag. He planned to stay there for 2 days.

We returned to the Village and joined the Peace Vigil moving down the road towards the wall. Several hundred people participated, the Palestinian men, women, and many young Palestinian males leading the march. Very courageous as young Palestinian males when arrested often get beaten. I walked with my Palestinian interpreter who told me his home was on the other side of the wall. His 12 acre land was confiscated by Israeli Authorities and his 400 year old olive trees uprooted taken to Jerusalem and planted in new Israeli settlements.

When the walkers got half way down the road, the Israeli soldiers started firing gas, and plastic bullets directly at us. At another point they used water cannons. We were a completely unarmed peaceful gathering and this vicious attack from the Israeli soldiers was totally unprovoked attack upon civilians. The soldiers block the upper part of the road, thus preventing Dr. Barghouti and some of the Palestinians joining the main vigilers. We were then tear gassed and as I helped a French woman retreat I was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet. Two young women, one from USA and one from New Zealand, helped me towards an ambulance. I saw an elderly Palestinian mother carried on a stretcher into the ambulance, as she was shot in the back with a Plastic bullet. I aw a man whose face was covered in blood and a Palestinian youth overcome with the gas. About 20 people were injured. Ann and myself went back to the protest where the people were being viciously attacked with gas and plastic bullets. I was overcome with gas and took a nose bleed which resulted in being carried to ambulance for treatment.

We were advised by medial staff not to return to vigil and obliged to leave our friends several hours later still heroically trying to get near the wall. On the road towards the village we watched 2 children playing in their garden, oblivious to the nerve gas floating down on the wind towards their home. This permeates their clothes, their lungs and the question has to be asked, what the health of these children will be like in a few years time.

This is not only a question of abuse of human rights, international laws, by the Israeli government; it is a health and environment issue. We were all traumatized by our experience, and with the gas on the air, came the words flowing back to me of Palestinian Doctor, who said “the whole Palestinian people, after 40 years of occupation the whole people of Palestinian are traumatized, it is time the International Community acted to put a stop to this suffering and injustice of our people”. I agree enough is enough; it is time for action to force the Israeli Government to enter into unconditional talks to end this tragedy of tragedy of good and gentle Palestinian people.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Ann Patterson
Jerusalem
2lst April, 2007
www.peacepeople.com

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