|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Also in this editorial:
The good news is that Irish people welcome intercultural interaction, and are some of the most enthusiastic in the EU in so doing. “The Irish were the most likely of all the EU’s citizens to agree that their lives were being enhanced by intercultural contact, level with the Luxembourgish (84% in agreement). Ninety percent of those still in the educational system felt this way.” (from the Eurobarometer website report on Intercultural Dialogue in Europe). They were also some of the most enthusiastic about intercultural dialogue being beneficial. In addition “Seventy-seven percent of Irish citizens had interaction with people from other groups, a figure beaten only by the Luxembourgers. Particularly high figures were recorded for interaction with those of a different ethnicity (64%) and for those with non-EU citizens (50%). Both these figures were also the highest in the EU.”
This shows a generally healthy approach to interaction, at least as reflected in this survey, though the high level of interaction may indicate that opinions are based on practical experience, which may make the reality even more positive. Of course the flip side is that there are some, even if a small minority, who feel Irish life is not enriched in this way.
The bad news is what the Irish government is proposing in relation to immigration. The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill seeks to regulate what is currently a rather messy situation. Some of the bill is positive and sensible, for example a new visa scheme for non-EU nationals wanting to come to the Republic, or protection for those who are victims of trafficking. However in its treatment of asylum seekers it is very retrograde; the possible deportation (by the minister’s decision) of people while decisions are awaited and curtailing appeal procedures are not the mark of a fair and transparent immigration system. Costs could be awarded against lawyers who bring ‘frivolous or vexatious’ challenges to decisions. Who will decide on this, and is it the mark of a fair system? Certainly not.
As it is, the asylum system grants refugee status to a smaller percentage of people from a given country where there are human rights abuses than other rich EU countries; and any system which ends up granting a considerable proportion of total decisions to give refugee status on appeal (as opposed to first hearing) is already flawed because cases are evidently not being properly heard in the first instance. Maureen Kirkpatrick, Legal Officer at the Irish refugee Council, said, ‘Every day in the course of my work I meet asylum seekers who due to no fault of their own have been unable to have the facts surrounding their application properly considered. This has grave implications for each asylum seeker and I had hoped that the Minister would put in place a much better system with safeguards.’ Instead of being better the new system risks being worse.
The state does need to sort out the immigration system. However, penalising the weakest people in the world, those fleeing human rights abuses of many kinds, is a cruel and vicious act. Ireland is now firmly in the category of rich countries and can easily afford the government’s stated aim of being ‘fair and transparent’ in the immigration system. Ireland, and Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan, could and should do much better. Given the ‘good news’ at the start of this editorial, it should be expected to do so.
INNATE hit two decades last year and is heading for 21 this year, so we celebrated the birthday at our January conference in Belfast, complete with birthday cake. There is some reflection on INNATE’s history elsewhere in this issue but a few comments are apposite here as well.
INNATE is a small, volunteer effort to provide Ireland, all directions of, with a network on nonviolence and peace. Our understanding of this is broad in that human rights and ecological issues are also an essential part of the deal. Where we have members actively involved we also function as an activist group in raising public awareness, campaigning and so on. We have a broad nonviolence training capacity as well.
We are small in numbers of people involved but the information we produce through Nonviolent News and the website is there for all of those who find it – not everyone who seeks finds it, and if people do not know it is there to seek then it is well and truly hidden unless a web search digs us up. We continually try to grow our recipient and information-providing bases. Perhaps you – the person reading this – could help by telling others about INNATE. The e-mail edition of Nonviolent News is more immediate in its availability than the web or paper ones so we would advise anyone wanting to be right up to date to get the e-mail edition where possible. And we do need people to send us in news of events and groups from around the country.
We hope not to be sitting on any laurels but continuing to develop our work over the forthcoming months and years. We are open to suggestions. One of the ‘statements’ we were keen to make in holding an ‘open space’ conference to mark our 20th/21st birthday was just this – that we are open to suggestions from anyone; a report on the conference is also available in this issue.
Ireland, north, south, east, west, and middle (often forgotten about!) is a very different island to that which existed twenty years ago. Some of the challenges are similar to then but many are very different, and different in different places and contexts. We will be working to rise to those new challenges, coming at them from a radical (root) and nonviolent approach.
Wish us luck – and, if you feel at all inclined, do give us a hand, wherever you are.
[See also “INNATE – notes for a history of two decades “in this issue]
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column or should we say, in this case, columns–
The United Nations has designated 2008 as the ‘Year of Planet Earth’. This is apt as the various environmental illnesses that afflict the planet have to be seen in a holistic light if they are to be properly addressed, as opposed to the tendency to look at problems from a purely regional and national perspective. A full-hearted embrace of a One Earth perspective would make it much easier for governments to reach agreement on measures to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity.
The idea that a national economy will suffer because of actions to reduce levels of greenhouse gasses, the position most governments bring to environmental negotiations, is to overlook the fact that a healthy economy is based on a healthy ecosystem. The collapse of civilizations throughout history makes this point abundantly clear. Like the threads of a spider’s web regional and national economies are a part of the global economy, which in turn depends on a healthy biosphere as in large tracks of vibrant rainforests and coral reefs, pollution free oceans, productive soils, predictable rainfall patterns and much more.
Aside from healthy ecosystems we need an economy based on fair-trade, fair wages and healthy working and living conditions. If we don’t have these economies are undermined by corruption, poor quality of work and social unrest. This is one reason why so many countries in Africa and Asia are not meeting the basic needs of their people.
In our super-market based way of life, such as we increasingly have in Ireland, it is easy to forget our dependency on the environment. It is therefore important that educational bodies, the various faiths, local councils, statutory and voluntary organisations, and the mass media continually educate the public about the link between economics – our way of life and the natural world.
It is simple. Societies cannot thrive on new consumer products, financial speculation and tourism if there is no food on breakfast tables, poor air quality and reliable sources of clean water. We may think that as a rich country we are not dependent on the health of local ecosystems as we can import food from all over the globe. However, prolonged droughts or soil degradation in the major food producing areas of the world will eventually mean that there is no food for sale in the first place.
In consideration of our dependency on the natural environment it is not too late to put on our New Year resolutions list to celebrate 2008 as the Year of Planet Earth. This means respecting the Earth while thoroughly enjoying all that it offers. An immediate result of this can be the fulfilment of the resolution, if we have made it, to increase our physical fitness, improve our self-esteem and have a more positive outlook. Taking care of the environment effectively means taking care of ourselves.
Once we accept the evidence of climate change our view of our place in the world is forever changed as we can never again think of the Earth as an unresponsive lifeless rock spinning in space, a mere means for human gratification and spiritual salvation. Accepting the reality of climate change is nothing less that the 21st century’s equivalent of Adam and Eve leaving The Garden of Eden in that we can never return to the state of ignorance about the impact our way of life has on the planet.
Our ever increasing understanding of environmental issues, of the interconnected nature of all things, creates what is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time, the necessity, for survival sake, to invent a whole new concept of what it means to be a human being. Tackling climate change is therefore as much an educational issue as a technological one as it demands that we attain a sense of meaning and purpose, and satisfies our needs and wants, in ways that do not undermine the health of the planet, and the welfare of others.
One thing this means is that we have to be sceptical of proposed grandiose technological solutions to environmental problems such as building a new generation of nuclear power stations, storing CO2 in the ground and the mass use of bio-fuels. Not only are such schemes limited in their application, and as likely to do more harm than good but they fail to address the root cause of our eco- problems, which is our culturally acquired desire to have more, to live as if there were no environmental limits.
The desire to have more that we actually need, usually to give us a sense of significance, results in absurdities such as those reported by the February issue of the Ecologist magazine. It informs us that the average UK household throws away a third of the food it buys, that UK women collectively own £73 billion worth of clothes they don’t wear, and UK households through away 30 million tonnes of waste every year. Such squander, as replicated on a similar scale by the affluent around the world, is largely responsible for the various environmental aliments that afflict the planet, including climate change.
A common view in Northern Ireland is that we live in a sensible way. This is simply not true, for if the 6.7 billion people on earth lived as we do we would need 3 planets. Another home truth is that technology will not reduce our level of wasteful consumption. What will is an understanding of ‘the good life’ to mean sufficiency, and enjoyment of activities, that have little or no reliance on the use of fossil fuels. The list of such is endless with choice dependent on temperament and circumstances.
Can this be done? Can we change our sense of identity from one centred on possessions to one based on the quality of our relationships, including with the Earth? Of course we can! It is part of our psychological makeup to follow trends, thus advertising, the fashion industry, supermarkets and the idea of being ‘cool’. You the reader can set the trend of what it means to live in an environmentally friendly way. You can become, as Mahatma Gandhi said, the change you want to see.