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The peace process in Northern Ireland has been a failure. It has certainly been a success internally, to a very considerable extent, in removing death and destruction from the North itself. But it has been a signal failure in that the lessons learnt are presumed to apply only within Northern Ireland - and sometimes even here in a limited way - and not more generally regarding the world at large. It can also be argued that while lessons have been learnt regarding the recent Troubles, these have also not been extrapolated to what is needed to avoid the possibility of such conflict again in the future.
What are the lessons of Northern Ireland? Many and numerous, they include that equal rights for all are essential, that repression stores up problems and compounds injustice, that supposed enemies are potential friends and colleagues, that violence drives people apart and makes solutions more difficult, and that there are non-violent solutions to pressing problems and issues and working on these solutions should involve everyone. Why should these lessons only pertain to Northern Ireland, if these have been learnt at all?
The ‘peace process’ has been used by the British state, and those supporting the British state, as a way to normalise external violence. Belfast City Council recently flew a flag at Belfast City Hall for a week supporting Armed Forces Day. Thus were all the citizens of Belfast co-opted into symbolically supporting the British armed forces and the military escapades they have been engaged in such as the Iraq and Afghan wars. This is the first time Belfast City Council was asked to fly this flag and they agreed, thus acting directly against the majority of Catholic and nationalist citizens (who form about half the population) as well as many Protestants and others who have no love for the British army and its international role. It is noticeable that the nationalist-controlled Derry City Council was not even asked to fly the flag because the answer would have been obvious. Meanwhile ‘peace’ in Northern Ireland has been used by the British Army as a means to recruit even more young people than before.
This is an extremely sad reflection on a society which should have been learning more general lessons about violence and conflict. It is ironic that a ‘peace process’ should be used to actually increase support for militarisation but this has been what has been happening through the British state trying to ‘normalise’ itself in Northern Ireland. Because Northern Ireland remains constitutionally within the United Kingdom it is seen by the British state as an opportunity to extend its interests in this regard. This shows a sad disregard for peace, and a sad disregard for all the people of Northern Ireland.
But the Republic should not congratulate itself in this area. Cooperation with NATO through involvement in various ways, without actually being a member, and in particular the no-conditions use of Shannon Airport for the US military in its nefarious wars, is also part of normalising violence and war. Even when the Irish government had an ‘out’ on US use of Shannon – following nonviolent direct action there – it refused to take it and insisted on continuing to back the warmongering of the world’s biggest superpower. To describe this decision as spineless hardly begins to describe such a betrayal of Irish neutrality – a policy which has, it its best, been very creative. Meanwhile the ongoing militarisation of the EU continues, slowly; though economic issues currently hold the attention, economic standardisation may prove to be a precursor to further attempts to consolidate policy, e.g. on foreign policy and military matters.
While it is also right to remember the dead in all wars, how this is done is vital. We have now got to the point where in the Republic all who have died in war can be remembered. In the North, equal remembrance of everyone killed in war and violence, including the Troubles, is not possible for many. If remembering the dead in past wars is done in a way which glorifies current armies, such as the British, it thereby provides support for the fighting of recent wars as well. Thus ‘remembrance’ can be used to justify – and glorify – wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Remembering the dead should be done in a way to lament also the wars in which soldiers fought and died, and to emphasise the need to conduct policy in a way that war is avoided in future. Here again the British state and its supporters are abusing goodwill in the peace process.
For many reasons, North and Republic, there is an attachment to the ideal of peace in Ireland. Now obviously peace can mean many different things but this is nevertheless one of the factors which should make people proud. The betrayal of this ideal, and what it could mean for not just our future but as a contribution to peace on a wider plane in the world, is sad, unjust, and something which will take an enormous amount of work to reverse in order to build a positive and nonviolent alternative.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
In spite of the Rio + 20 Earth Summit being the largest environmental conference the UN has ever held, with 190 countries in attendance, it was a non-event leaving humanity without a master plan to save the world from catastrophe. This failure is a licence to governments and corporations to continue destroying the biosphere. As addiction to tobacco, alcohol or heroin eventually destroys a person’s organs leading to premature death our addiction to consumerism is destroying the earth’s ability to sustain the human race.
What a visitor from another planet would find astounding is our steadfast refusal to change how we live in order to save ourselves from harm greater than what was suffered by the Black Death, smallpox, the Spanish flu and other scourges that have afflicted humanity. They would consider our preference for glitter and gloss at the expense of well-being, equity and eco-sustainability as delusionary and self-defeating.
Unlike past generations we know precisely what we are doing to our biosphere. We know that species are becoming extinct at a rate that is 100 to 1,000 times faster than the natural extinction rate. We know that the oceans are acidifying faster than at any time in the last 300 million years and we certainly know that the earth is on a trajectory to reach 4 degrees C within the life-time of today’s children. According to the Tyndall Institute, the UK’s leading climate research centre, a rise of 4 degree C will be “absolutely catastrophic”. The red lights are flashing, the sirens are screaming, and we who consider ourselves the alpha species demand more economic growth knowing this will hasten our demise and bring the complex and beautiful bio-world to an end.
How governments are responding to the environmental crisis is in stark contrast to how they are responding to the economic recession. In order to lower public debt, much of it incurred by the tax payer bailing out the banks, governments have dramatically cut back on public expenditure which increases the hardship of the most vulnerable members of society. The rationale is that we have a moral obligation not to burden the next generation with the debts we incurred. Government ministers tell us that we need to suffer now in order to secure a more prosperous future.
This ethos is not applied to the environmental crisis. We absolutely refuse to be subject to the inconvenience that might be caused by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. We refuse to change our modes of transport, our meat-based diet, our addiction to regularly updating out technological devices. We even refuse to purchase food wisely, throwing one carrier bag’s worth into the bin out of every three we buy. Our political passivity allows government to spend eye-watering amounts on weapons while leaving towns and cities unable to cope with heavy rainfall.
Our collective inability to make connections, to realise for example that there can be no economy without ecology, that money spent on a fighter jet is money not spent on flood prevention, is in all probability due to the failure of our education system to educate for critical reflection. The emphasis of the mandatory 14-years of schooling is on employability within the capitalist construct. We are not educated to consider more equitable life-enhancing alternatives or taught self-reliance skills. The widespread adulation of the Queen, who personifies our unequal society and the sanctification of militarism, speaks of how thoroughly many of the citizens of these islands have internalised the dominant paradigm.
The day after his Belfast home was flooded a caller to Radio Ulster said that ordinary citizens need to become self-reliant as we cannot rely on the State to aid us when in need. Community self-reliance, once the norm in rural Ireland, is needed more than ever in the 21st century. As governments, corporations and banks will not elect to address our environmental problems and structural inequalities we will have to do it through the democratic processes of persuasion, nonviolent action and self-reliance.