‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
The Alternatives to Violence Project is an important input to living life nonviolently at a personal level. It defines itself as “a training programme enabling participants to deal with potentially violent situations in new and creative ways.”
As well as some workshops and other meetings in the community, it works in a wide variety of prisons in the Republic. Efforts to get it established in Northern Ireland have as yet not succeeded but hopefully they will in due course. Courses are facilitated by trained people, inside or outside prison, in a format which is engaging and interactive, and it has, literally, changed many people’s lives for the better. It works in many different countries and began originally through Quaker efforts in the USA – it is not a ‘Quaker Project’ although in many places it has strong links with Quakers.
Further information can be obtained online at avpireland.ie (where you can also sign up to their monthly mailing list) and avp.international It is always looking for more people to train as facilitators.
Previous coverage of AVP in these pages includes:
Information about an Impact Report:
Report on the AVP International conference at Maynooth, 2014:
A general overview of AVP:
Two mini-posters on AVP are available for home printing at
In this short piece, two women reflect on AVP work in the women’s prison in Dublin (and thanks to AVP Ireland for permission to use these accounts).
Claire, a facilitator with AVP writes about her experience of running workshops in the Dóchas (women's prison in Dublin) in the past year.
"AVP resumed offering workshops in the Dóchas in July 2017 after a few years hiatus. I began AVP workshops at Dóchas in April 2018 and I was very privileged to be asked by Dorothée to co-facilitate this workshop with her. There were no inside facilitators at that stage, there were a number of women who had taken part in a Basic Workshop in 2017 or recently in Limerick Prison. The weekend was a Second Level Workshop and it was very noticeable to both Dorothée and I after it that we were full of energy on the Monday morning!
I have co-facilitated three more workshops at Dóchas (a T4F in October 2018, a Basic Level in February 2019 and a Second Level in April 2019). Each time, I have been hugely energised by connecting and working with a group of awe-inspiring women over a weekend. Oh, I have felt tired on each Saturday evening – and slept really well each Saturday night. But I have been buzzing every Sunday and Monday! I am beginning to realise that I experience the Dóchas workshops as a good healthy dose of psychic, emotional and spiritual energy that lasts me longer and longer each time I take part in a workshop there.
Why is this, I wonder? I have found that women working together in the supportive, respectful and caring way that is the AVP process is simply a joy to experience. The need that the inside women have for an experience of safety, respect and community is profound. Every woman’s (myself included!) need for affirmation and self-esteem is also acute and to get that affirmation from women is hugely nourishing and healing. And maybe one of the biggest contributors to my energisation process is the absolutely wonderful fun we have on these workshops! I have found that I spend lot of time on these weekends laughing, sometimes so hard I can’t catch my breath and tears stream down my face. I honestly don’t know any other context (outside my home) where I laugh like the way I laugh when I am doing an AVP workshop at Dóchas. "
An AVP team member in the Dóchas Centre responded in writing. This is a short extract but a fair reflection of the whole meaning of the letter:
'Your continual courses have had such a massive effect on my way of thinking and I have found l've gradually used more and more of the skills in my daily life and I feel so much better about so many aspects (...) I was always the kind that firmly believed in getting revenge, so as much as I wanted certain people in my life, I wanted to hurt them back (...) But now I can't even explain how much that mind-frame has changed (...)
Spending time considering what is behind people's action and realising that when somebody hurts us it doesn't always mean they are out to get us but that factors in their life might have led to it has helped me a lot. In the same way, realising how my actions which I might have before thought were nobody else's business have really affected others. Stepping back and looking at things in a different perspective has been enlightening (...) In other situations I've felt able to take that step in deciding to forgive (...) Even so far it has helped me build better connections...'
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Introduction: Gold may have had its uses but today it is a ‘useless’ metal, valued for being valued. The cost of extraction, in terms of despoilation of countryside, chemical use, and effects on local people, is horrific, most especially in poorer countries where environmental, ecological and human concerns are simply ignored. Here Miriam Turley writes about gold mining in the Sperrins, and a visit there in early 2019. It was first published in ‘The Land’ www.thelandmagazine.org.uk (this is a very slightly edited version). Today opposition continues despite the company concerned (being forced into) saying they would not use cyanide in extraction locally; and this may simply mean such toxic chemicals are used elsewhere, putting others at risk.
Gold mining in the Sperrins: There’s resistance in them thar hills
By Miriam Turley
One brilliant, snow covered morning in February, my friend Catherine and I headed west on a bus from Belfast. We had a plan to hitchhike 20 miles from Maghera to Greencastle in the Sperrin mountains, Co Tyrone, to visit a caravan on the site of a proposed mine and processing plant where a popular protest gathers. If it goes ahead, the development will change the face of the Sperrins, destroy a community and their culture, and open up the whole of the island of Ireland to exploitative extractive industries.
A Canadian company called Dalradian has its sights on the area for what would potentially be the largest gold mine in Europe, and a processing plant, which would receive rock from other mines in Ireland and the UK.
Dalradian CEO Patrick Anderson, is quoted in a 2015 Financial Times interview as saying “We are not just looking at a single gold mine here… We think we are looking at a gold camp — a gold-mining district.”
We had heard about the goldmine through Facebook, but there seems to be so many things going on that it had taken the guts of a year to get the visit together. I had £120 donations that we had raised in my pocket, a copy of The Land and a three-legged Brigid’s cross for the protesters for luck.
I’d walked the Glenelley valley before, as the Ulster Way runs the length of it, and knew it was friendly country, so I had a feeling it would be easy to catch a ride. I also knew we were chancing it, as it is a trek with no public transport links, so we were throwing ourselves on people’s kindness if things didn’t go smoothly. It made us laugh when we hadn’t even left the bus stop or stuck out our thumb before a lady had rolled down her window and asked where we were going and if we needed a lift. She told us about her day, how she was taking her recently bereaved sister out for dinner that evening. We told her about our visit to Greencastle, and she seemed reluctant to express an opinion, though she said she knew she lives in a beautiful area, and that sometimes you stop seeing it or appreciating it so much when you live in it.
She dropped us in Draperstown, and after a fry and a cup of tea we got back on the road. The next ride was a farmer who also works as a carpenter and lived closer to the proposed mine site. He told us that a neighbour was working for the mining company and had arranged a visit for him to an existing mine near Omagh. We were to learn later that this was a tactic of Dalraidian: they recruit local people, who carry more credibility, and use them to convince their neighbours. This is important in an area like this where people are proud, and know each other, and have deep respect for their neighbours.
We were starting to get higher, the roads narrower and the snow deeper as we neared Greencastle. Spanning 40 miles, the Sperrins mountain range is the largest in Ireland, and often records the coldest temperatures in the UK. The Sperrins is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and has complex geology. The proposed site is located between the Owenkillew and Owenreagh rivers, which are part of the River Foyle Special Area of Conservation that supports significant populations of Atlantic salmon and otter. The Owenkillew River also features the largest population of freshwater pearl mussels in NI, a critically endangered European species. The area is stunningly beautiful.
Our final lift was from a gentleman who works in the construction industry, who was towing bags of coal from town back to his house. He told us how all his workmates were against the mine, but that the issue had divided his neighbours. He pointed out the houses of friends who had argued bitterly about it, and were no longer friends. He dropped us outside the community centre on the Mullydoo Road. We removed jumpers as we trudged up the hill, enjoying the pink and blue light and the sense of space. As we walk, my friend talks about how it’s easier to understand people extracting gas and oil, resources people use for work and comfort, than gold, which doesn’t seem to merit destroying such beautiful country. We were happy to come across the famous GPO caravan (the name Greencastle People’s Office is a humorous play on words referencing the 1916 Easter rising), and as no one was in we made ourselves comfortable, boiled the kettle and made a snowman; we were soon surrounded by warm people eager to welcome us and share their story.
The caravan has been there since February 2018, and protesters had celebrated the first birthday party of the camp the night before. As the leftover cake was passed around we were told that in one year the campaign has grown in size and reach, despite divisive tactics employed by Dalradian and their PR company.
Save Our Sperrins, one of several community groups that now oppose the project had submitted an objection to Dalraidan’s consultation process, which they claim was flawed. Indeed, the company admitted that it hadn’t finalised its plans when consulting as it hadn’t finished its assessments, resulting in significant differences. The objection was considered at a judicial review but was dismissed. It was deemed that planning laws do not require the developer to publish and consult on a finalised scheme at that stage, and the planning applicant was only required to conduct a public engagement exercise, which gives the community "a fair and reasonable opportunity to express its views relating to the general terms of the project then in contemplation".
One of the people at the caravan told us about how the initial information evenings the company ran seemed innocuous enough, showing just information about the mine and not the processing plant. Local people went mostly because of interest in jobs. When they did become aware of the processing plant, the company fed different information to neighbouring villages, already causing division and confusion:
“At the start there was just a handful of us against it. They had slick PR companies come out. They’d pick a local person and get them onside. Then they’d get them to have these ‘table talks’, inviting neighbours into their homes to convince them, so they were using our trust and relationships against us. I wouldn’t go. If you were silly enough and didn’t do your research you’d think it was the best thing coming.”
“They pick people off. First they got to a local man in Greencastle, he owns the shop and the pub and is the undertaker, he is respected. Then they got to another man who does a lot of charity events, gave him a job going round telling everyone how great it was.”
People were shocked to discover the true nature of the mine and processing plant, including the health and environmental impacts. The company has permitted development rights which allows exploratory drilling. These licences are granted at council level and do not require planning permission. Local people argue that there are so many exploratory licences granted in the area (25% of the land in NI is covered by such a licence, and they cost only £750 each), that planning permission should be required for drills to happen, as they happen close together, and have a significant impact on the land. Locals have recorded nearly 20 incidents of contaminated drilling water leaching into the ground, which will end up in the Owenkillen River. Videos of these incidents are available on facebook, yet the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, (which is located within our Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and therefore can’t be seen as independent) is failing to enforce sufficient penalties to stop this pollution happening.
At the moment the proposed gold mine in the area is the smaller of two problems. Ore mined in Ireland currently has to be transported to the States for processing. A huge processing plant is planned for the area which will use cyanide to extract gold from the lower quality ore of the Sperrins. It will not only process local extraction, but will make mines across Ireland economically viable. Irish politicians are currently doing the rounds at mining investment conferences telling potential investors that Ireland is “open for business”, explaining how they have streamlined the process for companies to access exploratory licences. Two activists travelled last year to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto to read out an uninvited statement from the floor. A moving and rousing speech which warned the company that they had underestimated the strength and resolution of local people. Sinéad Ní Mhearnóg told them:
“We are here to tell those present and the wider mining community that Ireland is certainly not open for the type of toxic gold mining business that Dalradian and Conroy have plans for. While they may stand here today and say that everything is going swimmingly we are here to tell you that there is another side to this story.
There is a growing anti-goldmining community in Ireland and while Dalradian for example would have you believe that the Curraginalt area only has sheep farmers and bog and are crying out for jobs we can tell you the real story that we are sheep farmers but we are also solicitors, teachers, doctors, engineers and more, we are well educated, we are tech savvy and we have an army of people ready to take you on and stop your plans. Do not underestimate us and prospective investors, do not believe everything you are being told by these companies.“
The people in the GPO told us this is a change from the earlier years of the campaign, when people openly opposing the mine were few and far between. “If you live here, everyone knows everyone. So at the start we didn’t want to annoy our neighbours, so we kept quiet. But they don’t care about us or our children. The pollution won’t go away, (dust from the processing plant) goes in the air and will blow straight down to the school. The dust is so fine that it lodges in your lungs. There is so much danger.”
Fortunately, as sometimes happens, adversity had largely brought this community closer together. One lady told us about how the protest camp has changed her life beyond recognition in the last year. “You know I used to have the cleanest house, today you would think a bomb hit it. I’ve no time to go on holidays anymore. But when you come here to the GPO it’s back to the way it used to be years ago: no internet, children playing around the field, playing imaginative games, fairies and the like.
Older people sitting talking about history, with the children listening. Here when someone dies we hand dig the grave together for them, in the snow, in the rain, and people stand out and direct traffic to the wake house. But we were close to losing that. We were in our own wee world before, watching Coronation Street and Emmerdale. You’d only be in touch with someone with an ache. Now in the summer here it’s all full, it’s going back to what it used to be. I’ve made new friends who’ve always lived here but who I never socialised with. Now we are close and open, we can ask for what we need. Some people had a baby they brought to a party, and everyone was fighting each other to get nursing this baby, he was passed all round the room. That’s how close we are. Here if someone’s child falls someone will pick them up, and they’ll climb on anyone’s lap to fall asleep. The campaign has brought everyone closer.”
Protectors have had to familiarise themselves with the moves of a huge company with plenty of time to waste: “They’ve split the planning application into 6 or 7 proposals, and you have to object to them all, the waste management, the water and then the plant. They pass the smaller ones because they are easier, and then when they get to the plant they have to pass it because otherwise what was the point of the others?”
Save Our Sperrins are gathering objections to the company’s suite of planning applications. To date there have been over 10,000 objections to the main proposal, which is in technical language and 10,000 pages long. As well as countering the development within the existing legal framework, these objections have a broader effect of growing support for the campaign. Each objection represents a conversation that has happened, and support that has been secured.
There have also been 3,000 letters of support, but we were told that the company pays for these letters: “They buy people over. There is the Dalradian community fund, they give out grants, to the Gaelic football club, the choir, the bicycle club. But you have to sign a letter of support to get the money.”
The next stage of the part of the campaign is to request a public enquiry into the flawed consultation process. Because the planning application is of regional significance it sits with the Department of Infrastructure, but as we have no sitting government for over a year no action can be taken.
Local political support for the campaign has started to turn, in the run up to the council elections coming in May 2019. The Fermanagh and Omagh District Council passed a motion to ban gold mining in the area, but are experiencing internal conflict, as the planning department of the council has not applied this ban to the Dalriadan licences as yet. Two other local councils passed similar bans in the past few months. In this area, where politics have followed green and orange (nationalist vs unionist) lines for as long as anyone can remember, the opposition to the mine is opening up a new political paradigm, which is exciting for local people. The activists are well aware of potential divide and conquer tactics, and are working closely with an anti-mine campaign in Omagh, crossing usual community and political lines and building working relationships and friendships with their neighbours. People are running as independent candidates, with the support of the campaigners. Friends of the Earth are networking the campaigners with worldwide campaigns, and have organised networking meetings for campaigners who have resisted gold mining in Greece, Romania, Honduras and Spain, and a visitor from Standing Rock promised to raise an army of warriors when the people of Tyrone needed it.
There are always more people coming on board, and the Sperrins activists are working closely with other Northern Irish groups facing mining threats (for example a group protecting SlieveGallion), and indeed are able to share their experience with new groups, training and mentoring them to hit the ground running with their campaign. The interconnectedness of this campaign is vital and powerful.
In other exciting developments NI activists are recognizing that the existing structure of law ensures that people cannot govern their own communities and act as stewards of the environment, while protecting corporate “rights” and interests over those of communities and nature.
The Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund (CELDF) works with communities around the world facing a range of threats, from fracking, pipelines, factory farms, and other threats. Rather than trying to challenge development within the existing legal structure, ‘the box of allowable activism’, the CELDF is working to adapt the legal system to provide rights for humans and nature over the systems that control them. Earlier this year Friends of the Earth hosted a visit from CELDF, when they were able to speak to local communities about the threats they are facing and frame them in this new legal context. Working with people to acknowledge that they do know best for the land, and they have the right to protects it is powerful and inspiring work.This is a new way of looking at activism: establishing legal rights for nature and community rights that allow local people to protect the environment that affects lives.
The GPO activists are skilled communicators, celebrating successes and displaying positivity in the face of setbacks. They publish daily facebook updates on activities in the camp. In a particularly nice touch last year they reported on the mysterious appearance of a statue of the Virgin Mary at a Mass rock near the caravan, who seems to dare anyone to remove her: “We’ve had so much luck since that statue arrived, everything goes our way.”, they say. “The council’s named the old Green Road a right of way and the politicians are coming out against the mine now. No one knows how she arrived, it was a snowy night and there were no tracks… There’s talk maybe it was a helicopter… People came and said rosaries. But it wasn’t us. “
Campaigners currently feel that the Department of Infrastructure will eventually grant planning permission, as the planning system is currently designed to facilitate Dalradian and companies like them. They also feel that the community will not let the development go ahead, and that this campaign will therefore be won by nonviolent direct action, and people are ready for it. I know I’ll be there.
Greencastle People’s Office: www.facebook.com
Save Our Sperrins:
(And you can watch a video of - Sinéad’s speech at) nogoldmininginsperrins.wordpress.com
Cooperate Against Mining in Omagh (CAMIO): www.facebook.com/CAMIO2018/
Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund:
An article on international solidarity published on the website Yes to Life, No to Mining: