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produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
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Editorials: A Stormont once again, and a new Dáil
The North’s political parties made a good start to being ‘back at school’ after three years off. Issues of transparency, accountability, and regulating special advisors (SPADs) have been well handled, and also the issue of extra pay for themselves and the dispute over nurses’ pay. There has been a good commitment to cooperation. Whether the five largest parties being in ‘grand coalition’ (the Executive) is a good idea or not, there has at least been a willingness to work together.
Obviously this is a honeymoon period. This time it is “A New Decade, A New Approach”; the last restart was a ‘Fresh Start’ that was anything but that, and how long ‘a new approach’ will last cannot be said. It is clear there will not be as much money coming from the British exchequer as many hoped and it won’t be long before the lack of money makes itself felt. The problems faced are very numerous. Not least are the problems to be faced with Brexit, with Northern Irish firms facing considerable bureaucracy exporting to, or importing from, Britain – the regulatory document governing this is reputed to be impenetrable.
Even if their preferred options vary, the parties are at least united in opposition to Boris Johnston’s deal but it is unlikely to make any difference, given the size of his Tory parliamentary majority at Westminster. Possibly the only difference that protesting may make is to get a few bob to help meet costs of form filling. Boris Johnston has consistently lied about the implications of the deal for Northern Ireland.
The health service in the North is in a very poor state, with waiting lists of four years for some specialisms which is beyond ridiculous. How cooperation goes may depend on the attitudes of the DUP and Sinn Féin. It was the arrogance of the DUP in particular which led to the downfall of the previous power-sharing government, but Sinn Féin was not always too far behind. Both largest parties suffered (losing 5% and 6% respectively) in the British general election which was one very good reason they wanted to get back into Stormont rather than face another Assembly election. If that arrogance re-emerges then there will be trouble ahead.
But there will be trouble ahead anyway when difficult decisions need to be made. While there seems to be agreement about reform of the use of ‘petitions of concern’ (a method to safeguard both ‘sides’ in decision making) there is no way that the current system is able to fairly make decisions on issues where there are considerable differences across the unionist/nationalist divide. Decisions on education, for example, have depended on who the minister in charge was rather than thrashing out an educational policy which puts the educational needs to all children and young people to the fore. How decisions are made needs to be revised.
However the death of Seamus Mallon reminded us that there have been nonsectarian politicians around in the North who, while maintaining their own views were prepared to go anywhere and do anything to support their community, in the widest sense, and peace. There may not have been many but they existed. Let’s hope we get more.
Seamus Mallon was in the news last year with his call for a ‘double majority’ (Catholic and Protestant) for a united Ireland before it took place. This will obviously seem unfair to nationalists when all it takes is 50% plus 1 to retain the status quo in Northern Ireland – and all that is currently stipulated the other way is also “50% + 1”. However, “50% + 1” thinking on any side is pretty disastrous. The matter could be partly resolved if a decision in favour of a united Ireland was seen as the start of a process and not seen as an event. If this was the start of a serious discussion for a process on moving that direction - not that there should not be any discussion now - then that could be a positive. Doubtless we will return many times to this area of discussion; the more discussion and positive exploration of different options the better.
Meanwhile in the Republic we await the people’s decision on who will be in power in government after the election on 8th February. At the time of writing it seems that there is a desire for change, if undefined, and Fine Gael’s failure on the issue of housing in the Dublin area, and other social and health issues, is far outweighing any feeling that Leo and Simon played a blinder on Brexit.
Some vigour was put into the contest a week before voting with an Irish Times poll which showed Sinn Féin 1% above Fianna Fáil, and 6% above Fine Gael – the first time such a poll has shown Sinn Féin on top. However for a number of reasons including fielding fewer candidates than Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and the tendency for the actual vote share of Sinn Féin to be less than polls show, they are not likely to emerge the largest party.
The two largest parties remain centrist conservative ones, and their questionable refusal (in the light of what they expect in the North) to look at coalition or cooperation with Sinn Féin - if maintained after an election – could create difficulties in the creation of a coalition government. Whatever about Sinn Féin’s past associations with the IRA (and there are relevant issues outstanding), and whatever you think of their policies in general, they are streets ahead of the other two largest parties in relation to Irish neutrality and an Irish commitment to a peaceful world as opposed to buying into US and EU militarism. Only the Greens, also doing relatively well, and smaller socialists and a few independents would be likewise minded in supporting a meaningful Irish neutrality.
Whether any smaller coalition partners or participants in some other deal can have enough influence to make some of the radical changes needed on global warming and other issues remains dubious, and how the maths will stack up remains in the lap of the electorate. You can expect the back rooms of the political parties to be extremely busy after the election as a deal or deals are hammered out.
A violent world
We live, unfortunately, in a violent world which is getting more violent at state level. 2020 did not start of well with the assassination by the USA of Iranian military and state officials (including Qassem Suleimani), risking all out war. But a variety of threats are growing.
Drone warfare is becoming a norm more and more – and the USA and UK are among those who act with impunity. This long distance control, or even automation, of weaponry makes for great dangers of many kinds. ‘Killer robots’, automated killing machines will be the way to wage war on the ground for rich countries unless they are banned. This ‘cost free’ warfare (in terms of not risking a country’s soldiers) will be far from cost free for receiving countries (in the case of civil war the same country) and their civilian population. And if something is perceived as ‘cost free’ then the incidence of war may escalate.
Space is the source of new militarisation; Donald Trump has been trumpeting his new ‘space force’ which he launched in December; “Space is the world’s new war-fighting domain” he said. So much for an international treaty ban on warfare in space. Russia has launched its hypersonic missiles; the USA and China are coming up with variations of the same weapons which can strike while you are still, metaphorically, stirring, and at the moment with nothing to counter an attack. Russia’s Zircon missiles can travel at 6,138 miles an hour and are likely to be deployed within a year or two. New low yield nuclear weapons are being deployed or are now in ‘service’ with the US navy, creating a greater risk of them being used. All these factors make the world a more dangerous place.
The EU is also feeding into this with PESCO and its massive support for arms industries. This is not something ‘out there’. It is a reality which we have a hand in. Do not believe EU efforts are benign. Look at where the weapons produced go. And even if something might be projected as benign it can develop into something extremely malignant; if there are resource wars later this century, where will the EU be???? And even if the UK is withdrawing from the EU it remains a key player in NATO which has also been involved in military escalation, so no change for the UK. However involvement in PESCO marks military escalation for Ireland.
But real security does not come from behind the barrel of a gun or a missile or drone; that only creates insecurity for everyone. You get rid of enemies by making them friends; the only other way is stand off or extermination and we know where that took the 20th century and the 21st century to date.
Peace and conflict organisations have a huge task on their hands to grapple with all these diabolical (sic) developments. But the banning of landmines and cluster weapons show that progress can be made against those who prefer might to right. Given the current developments in militarism and militarist technology there are great difficulties ahead. But nonviolent intervention and mediation methodologies exist; the problem is to get countries to sign up for this approach, which requires both vision and courage.
Being armed to the teeth may suit the greedy and powerful but it is a recipe for disaster because what people have they want to justify and use, perhaps in pursuit of power through perpetual warfare as a reason to stamp on intra-state dissension and ramp up jingoistic support for themselves. There are many knock on effects of the warfare state and a warlike world. This includes a massive contribution by the military to global warming as well as the impoverishment of whole populations in wasted money and resources and resultant ill health, disease, famine and misery.
There is a climate emergency which needs all the resources that can be used to avert its worst effects. Further militarisation is a nail in the coffin for humanity which global heating represents.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
“The name of the future is Australia –
These words come from it, and they may be your tomorrow: P2 masks, evacuation orders, climate refugees, ochre skies, warning sirens, ember storms, blood suns, fear, air purifiers and communities reduced to third-world camps.
Billions of dead animals and birds bloating and rotting. Hundreds of Indigenous cultural and spiritual sites damaged or destroyed by bush fires, so many black Notre Dames.” - Richard Flanagan, New York Times, 25 January 2020
While we in Ireland are experiencing a wet mild winter, Australia is enduring the hottest and driest summer on record relieved with some heavy rain in late January. Climatologists have linked the forest fires in Australia, whose scale and intensity have been described as apocalyptic, with global warming. (Graham Readfearn, The Guardian, 2 January 2020) As of the 26 January the fires have burnt 186,000 square kilometres or 72,000 square miles. This is an area more than twice the size of the island of Ireland, which covers an area of 32,600 square miles. The fires have burned over 6,000 buildings including homes, schools, health centres, and businesses, closed major roads, led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, has cost over $100 billion Australian dollars (more than US $68 billion) and will have long-term health consequences for the millions of people exposed to the smoke on an almost continual basis for weeks on-end.
Thirty-two people are known to have been killed. The fires also killed an estimated 1.3 billion mammals, birds, reptiles and fish causing some species of fauna and flora to become extinct. The fires burnt through the oldest rainforests in the world, which until recent years have been too wet to burn. The destruction and deaths are expected to rise as the hot season normally lasts until the beginning of April. Fires of this nature are likely to become a common event in Australia.
One of the things the fires tell us is that no matter how technologically advanced a country is, how financially wealthy, democratic, and educated, its people still have an umbilical cord-like connection with the biosphere. The link is not that of a recipient, as in the case of a child in the womb, or the extractive industries, rather it is interactive.
How we live has a discernible effect on the biosphere, which if negative, as it is, has in turn a substantive negative effect on us. This can be seen in the warming of the atmosphere, which among other things, has resulted in severe weather conditions and the altering of the seasons. The latter is causing the breakdown of symbiotic relations in the natural world. Unfortunately the dominant mindset is not disposed to acknowledge this. An important reason is because it holds that our relationship with the biosphere has been fixed in place by an all-knowing, all-powerful God and that we, diminutive in comparison, can’t undo the fundamentals of Its handiwork. The paradigm holds that in exploiting the biosphere for the exclusive benefit of our species we are only living out the word of God as revealed in the Bible. This is not an ancient understanding. The homily in the Sunday Message, 19 January 2020, St Michael’s Parish, Enniskillen & Lisbellaw, tells parishioners that:
“The Gospel readings are not extracts from a biography of Jesus: they are the living Word of God addressed to us today.”
In Genesis 1:28 the reading tells us that the mission of humankind is to subdue the Earth, “to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the foul of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
This credo aligns with the teaching that Jesus, God incarnate, came for the benefit of only one species, humankind, who whilst urging us to love one another said virtually nothing about loving nonhuman nature. Given the centuries this view of our relationship with the rest of nature has had to imbed itself in the collective conscience it is not surprising that a large section of society hold that we have no moral responsibility towards other life-forms.
Another reason why the dominant mindset remains unchanged in spite of the protests of the likes of Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion, the passionate science-based arguments of Greta Thunberg and many of her generation, and the accumulating peer-reviewed scientific evidence is because the fossil fuel industries, their supportive financial institutions and commercial enterprises have trillions of hard currency invested in the fossil-fuel based throw-away economy. Damian Carrington in The Guardian, 10 January 2020, provides us with some figures;
“Since the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the world’s largest investment banks have provided more than $700bn (£535bn) to fossil fuel companies to develop new projects, with the total investment estimated to be trillions of dollars. …
Subsidies for fossil fuels also remain high despite a G20 pledge in 2009 to eliminate them. The IMF estimates such subsidies run at $10m a minute, or $5.2tn a year.”
If the financially and politically powerful were to act on the science they would have to forfeit their investments, not only of money, but their life-long held view of the nature of things. As psychological research shows, and personal experience verifies, change is not easily accomplished, especially change concerning identity, sense of meaning and one’s place in the order of things. Political and economic power is mainly in the hands of the older generation and as their horizon extends to no more than a decade or two into the future their imperative is to live according to the norms and views which have given them a comfortable life. The fact that these cause others to suffer, including future generations, is they say not their concern but God’s.