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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 2013: October 2013

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Well, the last redcurrant of summer is departed and gone, though it know the taste of it still. I don’t think redcurrants translate very well to jam (blackcurrants do) but I really like them fresh and since I discovered a few years ago that they last on the bush for a couple of months when ripe if protected from the birds (they like them too), they have been my companion for summer and early autumn. Alas, now all departed and gone. [You have talked about redcurrants staying on the bush before, it hardly counts as currant affairs – Ed]

I’ll mention at this point that I’m quite partial to imaginative graffiti, while boring and sectarian graffiti is a waste of space. In Norn Iron there are some well known ploys, such as adapting ‘UVF’ to spell ‘LOVE’. Well, there is a new one from Strabane I hadn’t seen before where ‘JOIN THE IRA’ was changed to ‘JOIN THE LIBRARY’. See here. Well, that would certainly be better for everyone. But then there are others who have been trying to bring the IRA to book for years......

A bridge over troubled decision making
There was quite a bit of controversy for some months about the naming of the new Dublin bridge over the Liffey at Malborough Street which will, among other things, take LUAS trams. The fact that the ‘Abbey’ after the theatre didn’t make it to the last five was controversial for some, as was the omission of other names. The final shortlist was an eclectic one but only one could hack it: “Camogie legend Kay Mills was runner-up in the vote, followed by Alone founder Willie Bermingham, DraculacreatorBram Stoker, and the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff.” (as recorded by the RTE website). But the winner was....Rosie Hackett, a trade unionist who co-founded the Irish Women Workers’ Union, was very involved in the 1913 lockout and dismissed from Jacob’s over her trade union role, and she was a member of the Irish Citizen’s army (out in 1916). She died in 1976. This bridge will be the first over the Liffey to be named after a woman – despite ‘Anna Livia’, the personification of the Liffey (‘Abhainn na Life’ in Irish).

Whatever about the process that led to the shortlist, the voting on the final result from the shortlist was as fair as fair can be, with Dublin City Council using a kind of Modified Borda Count: “Each councillor was given a ballot paper and asked to rank the names from 1 to 5. Each number one ranking received 5 points, number two ranking received 4 points, all the way down to number 5-ranked names which received 1 point.” ( Good to see a sensible decision making system being used and let’s hope it catches on. For more info on such electoral systems see the de Borda institute website at – it’s de-borda-ring on the ridiculous that it’s not used more.

Van driver of harmony
It’s not often that the city fathers and mothers in Belfast City Council are unanimous, except unanimous in disagreement across the divides, sectarian and party. However when it came in September to granting the freedom of Belfast to Van Morrison, all was sweetness and light. Have I told you lately how gloria it would be to have days like this?

There are a number of reasons for it. He remembers and to a considerable extent celebrates the city he grew up in (Cyprus Avenue doesn’t have many other claims to fame), and with which he is most identified. He has been a prolific artist - just check out his discography - and he hasn’t stuck his toes in politics. And for nationalists he has been a resident of Doubling’s fair city for a considerable time – the two cities are closer geographically than psychologically. I would say personally his apolitical nature is not necessarily in his favour (I would prefer if he was bpolitical) but it does mean he is acceptable across divides. Much as I enjoy his music I certainly recognise he can be a curmudgeonly performer. (I)Van the Man will play a free concert in the Ulster Hall in November to mark the ‘Freedom’ of his Lagan love award, maybe he’ll smile a bit more this time.

Time to switch from nuclear weapons
Meanwhile we have learnt that the USA came very, very close to nuking itself, which would have been a humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions and the worst ‘own goal’ of modern warfare. It was 1961 in North Carolina and the result would have been 260 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

What happened was two hydrogen bombs fell to earth from a B-52 bomber which broke up in mid-air. Each bomb carried the equivalent of four million tons of TNT: “in the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that "one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe". The safety controls on the bomb were inadequate and the switch could easily have shorted, leading to a nuclear explosion which would have threatened as far away as New York. Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser found “700 ‘significant’ accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone.”

Oh yes, we can sleep tightly knowing that nuclear weapons are keeping us all safe. What rubbish. They are totally wasteful without one being used in anger, they are an important and iniquitous aspect of the arms race or struggle around the world, and they are immoral and unethical. It is also nonsense to imagine that systems are so sophisticated today that nothing can go wrong. The lesson or the moral is that if something can go wrong it will, eventually, and that something is quite possibly a factor which has not been foreseen, or not foreseen in the right way. Take the comparison with nuclear power; Japan might be thought the safest of nations when it comes to technology but it is still struggling (and really struggling) to get on top of the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the tsunami there. Even jellyfish can cause a problem for nuclear plants, see here.

The October 2013 issue of Peace News in Britain also has a good piece analysing the effect of nuclear weapons in the world context by Milan Rai, see here. As he rightly points out, “British nuclear policy does not centre on the defence of Britain’s homeland, but on the defence of Britain’s ‘vital interests’.” He explores the way US nuclear weapons have been used continuously as a threat – and sometimes almost for real. Both Britain and the USA “have been committed to first use of nuclear weapons since at least 1967, when the NATO military alliance first adopted ‘flexible response’; ‘a flexible and balanced range of appropriate responses, conventional and nuclear, to all levels of aggression or threats of aggression.’ “

Ban the bomb (and other weapons besides).

Not the Best
There was a somewhat sad example of beating metaphorical ploughshares into swords the last month with the news that a mural (or Muriel) in Belfast of that great footballer and alcoholic, George Best, in Sydenham had been overpainted with a UVF mural depicting a gunman with the Martin Luther King quote that “Freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”. The irony of an MLK quote accompanying a gunman seemed to be lost on those erecting it but it was pointed out by different people including Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle who said it was “perverse beyond belief” (Newsletter, 23/9/13). The Best mural was put up with public money, only 3 years ago, and members of his family were present for the unveiling.

I am not a fan of the yuppification of some murals. The ‘cultural’ replacements for paramilitary murals in Norn Iron may not be stridently violent and they can still be one-sided and sectarian. But despite his faults, George Best was a famous son of Belfast and people remember him fondly so it is a sad reflection on affairs that after such a brief tenure on the wall he should be sent off. He even kicked with the right foot for the area in question. Maybe it will prove to be an own goal for the UVF. [Does your title to this item refer to your sense of humour in the last few sentences? – Ed]

- - - - -

Meanwhile we await the result of the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad in the Republic (and the creation of a court of appeal). I note a statement by a number of peace activists in favour of retaining the Seanad, one argument being that its abolition will make it easier for government to implement decisions over the heads of the wishes of Irish people (with implications for peace and neutrality). Being sold on cost grounds – the proposal would never have got this far without the deep recession – it feels to me, much in need of reform as it has been and with all its eccentricities (and I’m not even talking about David Norris here), a stab against an important democratic institution without any meaningful plan – or any plan – to combat the democratic deficit and increase government-citizen interaction. Sad.

That’s me for now, I hope the autumn/winter schedules are treating you well and you’re pacing yourself. I’ve been busy getting back into things but did visit the Lyric in Belfast for a show that you might think should never have been put together. However “Pride and Prejudice – the Musical” (adaptation by Richard Croxford and Mark Dougherty) works well though at three hours on stage (not counting the interval) it’s a long haul for the cast who carried it very well. Perhaps there aren’t any show-stopping tunes but it was enjoyable and seemed only to take reasonable liberties with Jane Austen’s original. So there we go, what will you do that’s different? See you soon, 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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