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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 170: June 2009

[Return to the related issue of Nonviolent News]

Well, there was me spouting last month about May having been the best month of ‘summer’ the last couple of years – and what did we get – a miserable, cold, and sometimes very wet month.  That is of course apart from the heat wave at the very end when stepping outside was like being on a summer visit to France or Italy.  I think I’ll refrain from making any further weather predictions except to hope that we do get some sunny periods so we can feel we have had something approaching a ‘summer’ to look back on.

Dreary steep hills*

When it comes to Norn Iron, we have to get our laughs where we can. Either that or we’d still be crying. Here’s just a couple of snippets from the last month. Journalist Suzanne Breen of the ‘Sunday Tribune’ was being put through it in the courts over her, very sensible, refusal to hand over materials relating to interviews with the Real IRA; naturally enough she was protecting her sources and warning of the danger she would be in if she did hand over material.  The Belfast recorder said that he was “provisionally minded” to compel Breen to hand over the material – ‘provisionally minded’, ho, ho, ho……

Meanwhile the Ulster Unionists’ one MP at Westminster, Sylvia Herman, who often votes with Labour, was resisting her party being linked with the British Conservative Party, and getting stick for doing so during the European election campaign. The Belly Tele (‘Belfast Telegraph’) reported on 14/5/09 that “It is understood that a feeling the Conservatives have little understanding of Ulster issues, compounded by discussions with one senior Tory who repeatedly referred to “Irish MPs” and Mr Cameron’s decision to wear a green tie to a unionist event, has not lessened over time.”   Hermon is actually one of the more sensible of Norn Iron’s MPs but the very idea that the colour of someone’s tie could still be a tie-breaker (boom, boom) strikes me as beyond ludicrous. They’re all fit to be tied.

* deliberately misquoted from Winston Churchill, who, after the First World War, said that “as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm that has swept the world. That says a lot for the persistency with which Irishmen on the one side or the other are able to pursue their controversies.”  Not alone was Churchill wrong about its relative uniqueness, he also demonstrates his patronising tone from a country which, more than any other, had created this Irish ‘quarrel’ , not to mention its (England’s) persistency in not dealing adequately with the issues arising. So maybe you could say Churchill had bats in his belfry or refused to go on a steep(le) learning curve.

Rossport/Shell to Sea, panics and conflict

‘Moral panics’ are an interesting phenomenon from a sociological point of view, that is where the media – and by extrapolation ‘society’, no matter what individual people actually think – are seen to be in a panic about some ‘threat’, and people are made to feel that the very future of Our Civilisation is at stake.  If you think back to the 1970s or 1980s [Some people weren’t around then to think back to there! –Ed] [I’m totally aware of that, not everyone is of the same vintage as myself, it was a figure of speech – Billy] a good example would have been the so-called ‘Screamers’, Atlantis community based in Burtonport, Co Donegal, and later on a nearby island. They were called the ‘Screamers’ because initially they were into Arthur Janov-type primal therapy (you can look it up on the net) but it was a typical ‘moral panic’ label; one aspect of their behaviour  and involvements was taken and distorted to give a ‘loony’ image.

‘Shell to Sea’ (using that term loosely) and the opposition to Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline in Co Mayo is an excellent example of a current moral panic. Those protesting against the current pipeline route are portrayed as malignant n’er-do-wells, ‘anarchists’ (whether they are of that political persuasion or not), republicans and other malcontents. They are portrayed as being against progress, employment, rational development and so on, and hell bent on the destruction of life as we know it.

But – what would you do if an explosive pipeline of untested technology was to go close to the door of your home?  I am absolutely certain that you would oppose the development with every fibre of your being.  This is the truth about the current dispute.  Local opponents, supported by all those protesting, have suggested a totally rational alternative route which would be a threat to no one.  The state and Shell have allowed a divisive dispute to continue when there is an alternative readily available.  Of course there are other concerns, including the selling off of such fossil fuel resources at knockdown prices, but that is another issue.

It is interesting to look at this theoretically from a conflict resolution point of view.  There are various features and stages of a developing conflict but increased intransigence, bullying, lack of communication and stereotyping are typical features.  These are all exhibited by the powerholders (Shell and the state). Meanwhile the eminently sensible local alternative solution gets ignored because, once a certain stage in a conflict has been reached, those involved, particularly the powerful, are unwilling to backtrack and think rationally. They are blinkered by the conflict and the history of the conflict to date. Of course the alternative would cost some money but Shell is not exactly in penury and why was an alternative not expedited years ago? The longer the conflict goes on, the greater the cost in the long run (both in ‘dealing with’ the conflict and eventually developing the alternative).

What is absolutely amazing is that the state and a major multinational (Shell), with all the resources they have to hand,  can be so ill-informed on conflict and the ways to resolve such a conflict.  The mind boggles at their total lack of cop on (their answer, apparently is not to cop on but send in more cops, whose behaviour I believe to be less than exemplary and on occasions brutal). How can people be so ill-informed? I suppose because they are powerholders and local people are meant to roll over and say ‘thank you’, and saying ‘no thank you, we have a better and safer idea’ is considered unacceptable.  A basic concept of community development is working with local people, so even if you come at it from that point of view you’d still arrive at the same conclusion. 

Amazing. When will they ever learn? It is difficult to believe this is the 21st century when Shell and the Irish state can behave in this way.

By the way, there’s a good piece about the whole issue, and media coverage of it, in the June issue of ‘Village’ magazine (and yes, surprise, surprise, it mentions Kevin Myers….)

Céad Míle Fáilte my r’s

I don’t usually use what is colloquially known as ‘bad’ language in this Colm because I consider it unnecessary.  But the title of this piece is actually adapted from the lyrics of a song by Christy Moore – ‘The Siren’s Song’ (‘Traveller’ album, 1999), about a woman from Somalia who hears of the ‘céad míle fáilte’ and Ireland’s reputation, and what happens when she comes to Ireland. It should be well known that the proportion of people given asylum in the Republic from a given place of origin compares badly with the numbers in other European countries.

But let’s look at citizenship applications, in figures provided by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (Press release 7th May 2009). Obviously, when we are talking about citizenship we are talking about people who have been around in Ireland and potentially qualify and meet the necessary criteria. Fewer than 11,000 applications were received in 2008 and of these only 5,912 were actually processed and decided upon; 3,117 certificates of naturalisation were granted and 2,795 denied – a refusal rate of 47%.  The comparative percentage refusal rates were around 9% in the UK and in Australia, and only 3% in Canada.  The average processing time in Ireland is 23 months – far higher than in the other countries.

Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) senior solicitor Catherine Cosgrave said:

“One of our clients was refused citizenship through naturalisation on the grounds that a traffic offence eight years ago, for which he was fined €100 and had his licence endorsed with two points, was sufficient grounds for refusal. Another client, a single mother of a young child, had her application refused because she accessed social welfare.  She was unemployed for six months in 2004 and, as she works part-time, is in receipt of family income supplement.

There is no avenue of appeal of these decisions, so both clients’ only option is to consider whether to re-apply and wait another two years to see if the decision will be different next time.”

As the ICI points out, Ireland needs an independent appeals procedure, independent of the Minister who currently has absolute discretion in the matter, and people be given citizenship if they meet stated criteria.  ICI didn’t use these words but Ireland badly needs to pull its socks up – such new citizens are a great resource to the country and this shabby treatment is nearer a hundred thousand rejections than a hundred thousand welcomes.

Armed and dangerous

There remains one most dangerous armed group in Northern Ireland, partly responsible over the last number of years for far more deaths, and involvement in grossly illegal activities according to international law, then all the other remaining armed groups combined. It is acting blatantly and recruiting much more openly than in the bad days of the Troubles and continues to involve even young teenagers in its activities. It is, of course, the British Army, that tool of Blair – and Bush, Brown, and possibly soon to move on from B to C in the alphabet with David Cameron and the Con-servatives.

With the current recession recruiting is a lot easier. They are raising their annual recruitment goal of people from North and South to 500 from the previous 300. Gail Walker, a columnist in the Belfast Telegraph (2nd June 2009) lambasted the “anti-American pro-Iranian anti-Afghan Government lobby”  in talking about the British Army but certainly she is right that it is annoying that they are nearing full strength for the first time in years…….because this makes British foreign military action more possible. As to being ‘anti-American’, I certainly am opposed to some US foreign and military policies, and indeed to some British, and even some Irish foreign and military policies – does the last make me ‘anti-Irish’?  A bit difficult that seeing it’s my nationality and identity.  Columnists like this seem to take a delight in setting up aunt sallys – false targets which are easily knocked down.  I haven’t recently been accused of being pro the Iranian government, and I don’t think I’m likely to fall into that camp in the near future for a variety of reasons.  I do think the Afghan military adventure was based on false premises from the start and, given the history of such military excursions over the centuries (sic) unlikely to bear much fruit; I was never a fan of the Taliban unlike the USA which armed them and made them the force they became. The violence in Afghanistan is getting worse, admits NATO’s deputy (I made a typo there and put ‘depity’!) commander in Afghanistan.

Gail Walker reckons it’s “the very chance of being deployed in the frontline which is the big incentive for recruits”.  If this is true – which I think is generally not the case - then it is a sad reflection on young people’s analysis of their invulnerability and in being willing to be put in the way of becoming cannon fodder in dubious causes. She speaks of bravery, loyalty etc.  Of course there is such a thing as military bravery but whether the cause is justified is another question.  And there are many other, quieter, forms of bravery which tend to get ignored; those working against sectarianism or racism, often with explicit or implicit threats hanging over them, those working day in and day out for peace and international understanding, those struggling for justice and human rights in atrociously difficult situations.  The equation of ‘bravery’ to military bravery is a sad distortion.

Gail Walker also comments that fewer people are leaving the military – this is hardly surprising given the recession which means ordinary jobs are very difficult to come by. However military promises of training in skills and trades doesn’t always add up to what is promised and to something that soldiers can use to get a job when they leave, or if you get ‘employment-enhancing’ training it can effect your right to leave – up to the age of forty or until you’ve done 22 years service!!!.  Even if you’re under 18 years old when you sign up, unless you take very specific actions within a short time frame, then you can be stuck. The news section of this issue has information on At Ease which offers confidential information to British armed forces personnel in their issues with the British Army.

Well, with the recent heat wave which I referred to at the start, it does feel like summer is here. But not the holliers just yet. We have one more issue before a month off for good behaviour and we have now hit the 170 issues mark (or should I say, ‘Mark’ with a capital M, seeing we have two ‘Mark’s involved in INNATE).  Doesn’t time fly when you’re thinking desperately about what to write.  I jest – somewhat.  Until the July issue then, and I hope everything in your personal garden is rosy –

Yours ever, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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