January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Also in this editorial:
The road for Northern Ireland is still a long one but now a mixture of slight uphill and some downhill compared to the steeply uphill struggles and precipices of previous times. It is not a ‘normal’ society, if there is such a thing, nor is it a fully peaceful society in that sectarianism, racism, economic injustice and social division are commonplace. The level of physical violence itself is not dissimilar to other western European societies but the legacy of the recent past makes trust, understanding and progress difficult.
One particular milestone was the ending of the British Army’s ‘Operation Banner’ during the summer after 38 years. ‘Operation Banner’ was what they called their military operation in Northern Ireland and it yielded them important counter-insurgency training. They also paid a price for involvement; 763 soldiers were killed. The British Army can still be called in by the police/PSNI but their presence has been scaled back to ‘peacetime’ garrison levels (about 5,000 soldiers). Part of ‘normalisation’ for the British Army is seeking to make it ‘part of the community’ – and upping attempts to recruit members locally for outside Northern Ireland. Col. Wayne Harper was quoted as saying “As with other parts of the country,” [i.e. UK] “the military will become very much part of the community.“ (Irish Times, 30/7/07) Not if we can help, it won’t. Army recruitment is becoming more blatant and ‘in your face’ at a time when the Afghan and Iraq wars make British soldiers possible cannon fodder for misplaced foreign policies of the British government (and they are finding it more difficult to recruit).
INNATE believes that there should be a very large question mark over the presence and activities of the British Army in Northern Ireland and that the relationship should never be ‘normalised’. Those who believe in peace cannot support an armed force like the British Army and its international role. To accept it is to buy into British state violence against Iraqi people and future military escapades as well as more general concepts of militarism and violence as the way to solve conflicts. To this end, INNATE will continue to support alternatives to the military and to recruitment. The situation is somewhat different in the Republic in that the Irish army has not, as yet anyway, been involved in foreign wars as a partisan force. Given the Irish army’s largely honourable involvement in UN military peacekeeping we would not be taking the same active oppositional stand even if we would not be encouraging people to join up or support, again insisting that there are nonviolent alternatives.
If people want to support nonviolent conflict resolution and transformation work internationally there are a range of organisations working away and INNATE would be pleased to put you in touch with some. The reading of these pages will hopefully give you some idea of what people are up to around the island of Ireland and where you could potentially ‘fit in’. There is a lot happening but the forces of peace tend to be small and poorly funded compared to the government-funded forces of violence. Your involvement, or continued involvement, can make a real difference. Everyone can do something and, if you’re not sure what, INNATE is happy to help you explore your options.
The so-called dilemma over whether a member of the Garda Síochána Reserve who is a Sikh should be allowed wear a turban and dispense with a cap has been exercising the mind of the responsible ministers and of various letter-writers to the papers. Conor Lenihan, Minister of State for Integration, talked about “our way of doing things” which shows little understanding of turban-wearing for Sikhs, which is an integral part of the faith.
The answer should be quite clear. Out of respect for religious and human beliefs, where a practice is not contrary to (in this context) good policing practice then it should be allowed. Indeed, enough Garda officers have been wearing Pioneer pins for decades, and Ash Wednesday ashes too, to allow a required symbol of another faith. It was the founder of Christianity who said, and we paraphrase here, that rules are made for humanity and not the other way around. And we also have the difference between multiculturalism and assimilation (the latter being a word stressed by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern) and it is a poor example from a state institution to insist on particular rules which have no significance in relation to the job in hand.
The Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, justified the stance by saying “We are attempting to firmly retain an image of impartiality while providing a State service to all citizens”. This may be true but it is at the expense of an individual member or erstwhile member, and sends out conflicting signals from a body which has made some attempts to move with the multicultural times.
This matter may seem a little one in the overall scheme of things. It is not. If the Irish state is to discriminate against difference in this way, it does not augur well for the future, even if done in the name of ‘secularism’ and ‘impartiality’.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Climate change is in large part caused by the global warming gasses given off by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and gas. In an attempt to reduce our emission of these gasses the European Union (EU), the United States and other governments have introduced policies and laws that encourage the use of biofuels that don’t emit global warming gasses. The main biofuels are derived from maize, palm oil, soya and rapeseed. The British Government wants biofuels to account for 5 per cent of transport fuels by 2010. On first reading, using biofuels seems like an ideal way to reduce the amount of climate disrupting gasses we emit, as there is no extra financial cost or the sacrifice of comfort and convenience. We can have our cake and eat it. A steady rise in the use of biofuels will enable us to drive and fly with a conscience.
On examination this is a tragic illusion, which governments and the large corporations are probably aware of. In the first instance there is not enough arable land in the EU to grow rapeseed, Europe’s main biofuel crop. This means that if the EU is to meet its biofuel energy targets it must import most of what it needs from overseas, namely from Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and Colombia, where the main biofuel crop is palm oil. Palm oil plantations mean that vast stretches of rainforest are felled, in many cases they are simply burnt, and the indigenous people who have lived in the forests for countless generations are forcibly expelled. The loss of forests means the loss of biodiversity, topsoil and the collapse of the local water cycle.
According to the September issue of the Ecologist, forest destruction and soil degradation can lead to as much as 180 tonnes of carbon per hectare rising into the atmosphere, which would take as much as 50 years of a successful oil palm plantation to regain. Thus oil palm is not a carbon neutral fuel. Another overlooked aspect of using oil palm as a biofuel is that 7 million tonnes of crude palm oil generates 9.9 million tonnes of solid oil wastes and 10 million tonnes of effluent that must be disposed off. It is almost impossible to do this without causing serve environmental damage.
Aside from the ethics, palm oil is clearly not a viable alternative to fossil fuels, likewise with maize as a biofuel. Studies show that ethanol produced from maize grown in the United States is at a net energy loss of 30% when all the energy inputs are tabulated. These include the use of fertilisers, herbicides, machinery, processing, and transportation to the point of sale. Also to be taken into account are the environmental costs of soil erosion and water pollution, and enormous government subsides. Another point is that growing plants for fuel means that the land is not being used to grow crops, this means higher prices in the shops, for the poor of the world it means starvation.
In the light of this how are we to reduce our impact on the climate? The one definite thing that we can do is buy fewer things. We simply need to resist the temptation to buy what we don’t need. What we don’t need becomes clutter that we put in attics and sheds and ends up in a landfill site. We also need to reduce our travel by car and the amount of energy we use in our homes. Reduce is probably the only painless and practical way to meet the climate change challenge.