Loading

Previous editorials

Current editorial

July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017

December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016 (supplement)

December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015

December supplement
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014

December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013

December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012

December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011

December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010

December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009

December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008

December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007

December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006

December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005

December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004

December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003

December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
July 200
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002

December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000

16 Ravensdene Park,
Belfast BT6 0DA,
Northern Ireland.
Tel: 028 9064 7106
Fax: 028 9064 7106
Email

 

What's new

Nonviolence News July 2017

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 173: October 2009

Democratic definitions and deficits

Part 2: The role of civil society

In the last issue’s Editorial we considered some of the questions regarding voting systems and governmental accountability. In this editorial we will look primarily at the role of civil society – but this is both for its own sake, and for the relationship which it has, or should have, to governmental structures.

‘Democracy’ is not possible without a vibrant civil society which is made up of a variety of different sectors including trade unions, community groups, voluntary groups, campaigning organisations and so on. Indeed, when democracy is failing at a central, governmental level (as it did in Northern Ireland) then these are the kinds of bodies which fill in with both service and representational functions. In a divided society this is especially important because otherwise there can be a total fracture in society leading to brutal and violent conflict; the fact that the Troubles in Northern Ireland did not descend to all out warfare can be attributed in a considerable measure to the work of these bodies.

Without freedom to organise for such civil society bodies, democracy is a sham even if it includes relatively free elections. While ‘government’ may be considered the apex of the representational democracy model, the power of governments is limited by a number of factors, including the failure of electoral systems to represent people’s views, and these limiting factors can act in a positive or a negative way depending on what government is attempting to do. A healthy civil society is also an essential for democracy and should not be considered an ‘also ran’ in the democratic stakes; governments may ignore certain issues, or be relatively powerless to do anything about others, e.g. according to the political and economic system, the power over financial and multinational corporations may be limited, rightly or wrongly. It is these groups who pick up on issues and run with them, garnering support from the wider public where possible and attempting to influence governments as well, perhaps, as dealing with issues directly; e.g. trade unions act to both defend individual workers and to defend workers collectively in the economic and political melee of society.

Civil society has the right to be listened to by governments in a democracy. The extent to which governments actually listen and respond is a good indicator of the health of a democracy. Governments make the decisions at the highest level in the system, sometimes hard decisions, and they have the buck stopping on their desks, but if sensible (both morally and pragmatically to avoid later crises) they will pay attention to grass roots opinion and, where possible, make adjustments. The fact that the Irish government ploughed ahead with the planned route of motorway near Tara, and has been unable to compromise over the gas pipeline route in Mayo, does not say much for the listening and adaptability skills of certain politicians. In Northern Ireland the laudable aim of getting rid of the iniquitous and unjust “11+” exam has descended into complicated farce for a variety of reasons; strong division on the issue (reflecting the religious/political divide to some extent) is one factor but so is what would seem an inability to properly involve all concerned in searching for suitable ways out of a shambolic brick wall.

Pressure groups cannot always get their own way for a variety of reasons including lack of resources. However governments tend to be hidebound by both the limitations of their own political ideology and by taking pragmatic, minimalist responses to the issues at hand. This is where civil society comes in with vision, vision for a future which is different, which cares, and which acts as a challenge to staid governmental models. Governments tend to see the current situation and say, almost rhetorically, “What’s wrong with that?”, and think about tweaking it, whereas civil society tends to look at what’s wrong and ask how a better model can be implemented. In facing the coming ecological crisis it is the latter model which is needed, apart from any issues of social justice.

In the current situation, governments tend to want to restore the ‘status quo ante’ the financial crisis, while pressure groups are more likely to have a vision of what is needed. Financial constraints are usually cited as reasons for inaction while what is required is designing what needs to happen and then asking, “how do we get the resources to do this?”. It is a fundamentally different approach.

The clientelism so prevalent in politics in the Republic is another aspect of a failing and underdeveloped political system which makes a mockery of both party politics and citizens. ‘Clientelism’ is where citizens are dependent on party political intervention to get services to which they are entitled (or, in some cases, not entitled). State services should be provided on the basis of rights and, where it is possible that rights are denied, by appeal to an independent body which has no party political makeup. Party politicians should have no role in assisting their constituents to get services; where there are gross infringements of citizen’s rights they should certainly be entitled to take up issues at a parliamentary or council level, and at a parliamentary level have the wider ability to reframe policy. Failure to grasp this nettle has led to many of the planning and other scandals which have emerged over recent years in the Republic.

Civil society is not elected and sometimes not electable, for a variety of reasons. But the idea that democracy resides only in voting every few years is a nineteenth century concept which is well beyond its sell by date. Democracy is in the air we breathe (literally – Is it polluted?). Democracy is in the decisions we make as citizens and consumers. Democracy is in the time we invest as volunteers and change agents. Democracy is in how we are treated in work (or unemployment), and what we work on. Civil society may not generally have the power that governments do but it is an inseparable part of a functioning democracy, and it should be valued as such.

The health of civil society, and the interaction between it and government are a good marker of how democratic a particular society is. Both Northern Ireland and the Republic have vibrant community and voluntary sectors. But if we take as a measuring stick how much attention the respective governments pay to these, both North and South have a long and probably winding road to travel.

- - - - - -

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Learning from Disasters

If you watched the September documentary on Channel 4 about the attack by Al-Qaida on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 you may like me have been captivated by the drama and disturbed by the huge death toll and the anguish that would have been felt by the family and friends of those who died.

The New Yorkers watching the tragedy unfold were in a state of fear and shock. What I found instructive was that even in the face of the fire and smoke, the wail of sirens, the live accounts given by TV and radio, those in the vicinity of the towers made no effort to take evasive action. When the upper floors of the South West Tower were engulfed by fire people watching the event on the TV screen in Times Square gasped in horror, some were angry while most were confused about what to do and seemed after a pause to go about their business. The authorities did not immediately order an evacuation of the areas likely to be affected by the collapse of the towers. The consequences of this lack of foresight was apparent when the South West Tower collapsed sending mountainous clouds of poisonous smoke, inevitably containing human tissue, gushing through the city. This was repeated with the collapse of the second tower.

This reaction to an unfolding disaster - disbelief, confusion, inaction and attempted recourse to normalcy - accurately reflects our response to climate change. Like the smoke and fire billowing out of the Twin Towers, climate change, as a direct result of human activity, is fact. Millions of people are already suffering from climate change. Witness the severe drought in Kenya and other East African countries. The long-term consequences of inaction are clear. If the temperature of our planet rises above 2 degree Celsius as against pre-industrial levels eco-systems will collapse bringing the downfall of industrial civilization. The point we have yet to grasp, including government officials preparing for the all important UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, is that we are at the point where radical and decisive action concerning how we live can no longer be delayed.

The question, like that faced by New Yorkers who watched the Twin Towers burn, is what should we do? When we witness a disaster of enormous magnitude people are inclined to feel powerless and either turn away or look on in fascination. What the witnesses to the attack on the Twin Towers should have done is move as far away from them as quickly as possible rather than stand within close distance of the inferno gazing with a mixture of horror and awe.

With regard to climate change, the worst disaster of all-time, we should not watch passively as it unfolds but act to reduce the rate at which the planet is warming. One way we can do this is by joining the Guardian sponsored 10:10 campaign, which asks individuals, businesses and organisations such as schools and Local Councils to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010 [ see http://www.1010uk.org].

Behaviour is value-based. This means that if we are to act to safe-guard our home planet Earth we have to expand our circumference of empathy to include people we don’t personally know as well as non-human beings. Our sense of care and responsibility has to be inclusive. We are not islands as we are socialised to believe but part of an intricate web of social, economic and environmental inter-dependences.

Copyright INNATE 2014