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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 161: July 2008

Also in this editorial:

Democracy on trial and found guilty

The June referendum result in the Republic on the Lisbon treaty dealt a severe blow to many EU planners who thought it was all systems go for a blueprint which had already been rejected in other countries when it was an ‘EU constitution’. The result (53.4% voting ‘no’), and its aftermath, raises many questions about democracy as well as about the nature of the EU and the direction it is heading. We wanted to focus primarily on aspects to do with democracy though we are extremely concerned about the increased militarisation of the EU and the ongoing undermining of Irish neutrality, such as it is (see Afri and PANA pamphlets mentioned in NN 159)..

We live, in the EU, in ‘representative democracies’, that is, representatives are elected periodically to a parliament. There is much about this which is positive though governments can still do the bidding of business or other elites. But this is only a small part of what democracy is about. Democracy is also about civil society, the work and pressures of NGOs and the campaigning groups who seek to influence governments and get different decisions made. Under the system of representative democracy, governments are elected to make decisions and sometimes make difficult decisions; if the decisions they make are unpopular, and/or people mobilise against them, they can find themselves either changing policies or rejected at the next election. But given that it is usually the next election before people can exercise their decision on the government, the system is somewhat imprecise and lagging in when judgement day comes.

It would also be foolish to say that ‘the majority is always right’. But there have been ample number of occasions when the majority has been right and the government has been clearly wrong – take Tony Blair’s backing of George Bush in the current Iraq war. Governments, if they are to govern wisely, need to take the majority of people with them. This, also, is a fundamental of democracy; on important issues, governments have to bring enough people with them and/or persuade waverers subsequently that they were right. Clearly the majority of people in the EU are not being taken along with Lisbon treaty plans and numerous countries would reject it were it put to a popular vote. To imagine that the Lisbon process is therefore ‘democratic’ in any meaningful sense is therefore nonsense; it might be legal, it might be backed by most countries’ governments, but that does not make it democratic. And the EU has a very particular form of democratic deficit. Proponents of the Lisbon treaty argued that it would have made the EU more accountable but it would also have made it more centralised and, as it happened, it was rejected in Ireland just as the EU constitution had been rejected elsewhere, in France and the Netherlands.

Ireland is a small country in the EU and world arena. It is partly its smallness which allows the architects of the Lisbon treaty to think they can continue almost regardless. What is even more remarkable about the Irish ‘no’ is that the Republic is one of the most pro-EU countries going, based on Eurobarometer figures. This makes the referendum judgement even more dramatic; it was not a ‘no’ by people who are generally disenchanted and fed up with the EU, it was a ‘no’ by people who have been supportive of it and have also benefitted from it economically.

There are some countries who use a referendum model of decision making on certain important issues, or, as in the case of the Republic, issues which affect the constitution. The yes/no referendum is a very imprecise and blunt instrument; the only options you have are to vote yes, vote no, spoil your ballot paper, or not vote at all, and the last two options, while indicating something, do not count in the actual decision. That said, the fact that it exists, for example, prevented Fianna Fail in the 1950s and 1960s from introducing the ‘first past the post’ electoral system and doing away with the Irish use of Proportional Representation; the proposed change would have benefitted Fianna Fail massively, as the largest political party, and further underrepresented smaller parties, but the people rejected it decisively in the second referendum on the issue.

There are, however, ways to have a more precise picture of where people stand, and, as importantly, what compromises they are prepared to accept. The modified Borda count or preferendum (see ) is an excellent way to identify the option which gains most support across the board with the democratic advantage that all options are included. Democratic debate would be fostered by such a voting procedure. Of course it would be more difficult for a government to engineer the result it wants, which is certainly an advantage – but then, as the recent referendum showed, it can also backfire on them.

Democracy has been tried in the Republic and found wanting by EU planners who wish to carry on regardless. The EU faces the danger of not only ending up with a militaristic, neo-liberal state with fortress borders but of being singularly out of touch with its peoples who then would become subject peoples. A fundamental rethink is necessary of where the EU part of Europe is going. The Irish ‘no’ should act as a catalyst for that rethink and not be regarded simply as a bump in the road that has already been mapped out. The Republic may have been the only country to have had a vote but it spoke for many people of many political shades. Anything less than a complete rethink is simply undemocratic.

Raytheon 9; a famous victory

The trail of six of the Raytheon 9, and their acquittal in Belfast, is an important victory for those who wish to build a peaceful Northern Ireland in a broad sense – one not exploiting the opportunity to gain jobs and earn money through the arms trade and international exploitation and violence. The trial was transferred from Derry to Belfast because the state wanted to have them found guilty – the chance of that happening in Derry was negligible – and still they prevailed with their defence that an action which might otherwise be a crime, in order to prevent a greater crime, is not a crime. Their action was taken at the time of Israeli military action in Lebanon, including the massacre at Qana.

The legal outcome of such an action is always uncertain, and a pending trial like this is very draining. There has been considerable duplicity regarding the work done by Raytheon in Derry – including from politicians, but the action and trial, despite an amazing lack of media coverage, has helped throw at least some broader light on the murky world of Raytheon. The defendants have now been found not guilty by a jury of their Belfast peers and this is good news for the struggle against Raytheon’s presence in Derry and good news for nonviolent direct action in general. Along with the acquittal of the Shannon Catholic Worker Five for damaging a US warplane, it provides important evidence that both North and South, damage to war-related property in nonviolent direct action may not be considered a crime when the men and women of the jury get to consider the evidence.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

The Need for Self-Sufficiency

People who live in the rich world, which is the world in which the average household throws one bag of food out of every three they buy into the bin, are inclined think that climate change is something for future generations to deal with. However, an international report on the effects of climate change (The Guardian, 15 May) informs us that climate change is affecting ecosystems on every continent, and is responsible for 90% of environmental damage. Cynthia Rosenzweig, one of the authors of the report, is of the view that climate change “is already changing the way the world works.”

The change in the way the world works is evident in our daily lives. From April 2007 to April 2008 the price of oil in the UK rose by 17%, the price of food by 6.9%, and the price of electricity in Northern Ireland rose by 14% on the 1st July, with another rise promised later in the year. The price of heating oil is 84% higher than a year ago. What will the situation be like for the average household if, as widely expected, the price of oil rises to $200 a barrel sometime in 2009?

Not only is Ireland, north and south, one of the most oil-depended countries in the world, we are also heavily depended on the import of food, raw materials and manufactured goods.

If you want to gauge our level of dependency on the rest of the world read the labels on the things in your home and place of work to see where they were produced. Your tea is likely to be from Sri Lanka, your coffee from Kenya, bananas from Central America, and strawberries from California. The list of the countries we depend on for food, juices, wines, herbs, oils and flavours would fill the pages of a book. With regards manufactured goods, 80% are made in China. In addition, our high standard of living in large part rests on slave labour in the poor world. Think of clothes. (See: The Observer, 22.6.08)

Our dependencies mean that we on this small island are in a very vulnerable position. If a small number of eco / economic systems that provide us with key produce were too simultaneously collapse we would very quickly face starvation. Another reason why we would face starvation is because ‘the just in time’ delivery service the supermarkets rely on leaves every town and city in the British Isles with only 3 days supply of food in stock.

In consideration of the thin-ice on which the edifice of modern society stands we would be wise to completely rethink how we organise the business of living and what we image the future will be like. Since the industrial revolution the idea of the future that almost everyone subscribed to is that of material progress, leading to improvements in the quality of life. This has largely been true for people in the rich world, and was made possible by cheap oil.

The days of cheap oil are over. This is something politicians are reluctant to acknowledge as seen by President Bush and Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently asking Saudi Arabia to increase its output of oil, and as always, talking about what can be done to increase economic growth in their respective countries. Denial does not change reality.

The only way to ensure that our basic needs will be met in the coming years is to become self-sufficient, environmentally sensitive, and to let go of desires to have ever more things, including overseas holidays. We need to learn how to grow and process food, mend and share, and live without reliance on private fossil-fuel vehicles. The urgency of our situation requires that we begin the transition to self-reliance and environmental care without delay.

Clampdown in Belfast when Bush comes to town

by Mark Chapman

Monday 16th June saw a useful day of witnessing and protesting against Bush’s presence in Belfast with a well-attended rally at the City Hall which closed down Donegall Square North for a couple of hours, a few of us delivered Citizen’s Complaints to the PSNI outlining some of Bush’s war crimes and requesting his immediate arrest, and then another rally closing down the main Stormont gates so that Bush had to scuttle in the side entrance to glad hand the obsequious few there.

It had been announced in advance that Bush had been invited to Loughview Integrated Primary School later in the afternoon so Ciaron and I went along too to provide an antidote to this malaise. We were on motorbike and all traffic was being stopped on the road to the school and within minutes all traffic was cleared off the main Ballygowan Road. We were told to park up and were trying to pick a good vantage point to hold our banner when we were told by a police officer that we would not be allowed to hold the banner and to hand it over. We refused and walked off and shortly a PSNI landrover pulled up and 4 riot police (Tactical Support Group) came over. Two of them came up to me and said I was going to be searched under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

The use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has become increasingly controversial. It bestows exceptional powers on the police to stop and search at random, once a particular geographical area has been designated by a chief officer as one that might be targeted by terrorists, and authorised as such by the Home Secretary. (Times, 3/10/2005).

We were held by these TSG, Ciaron on the ground and me against a fence, until Bush’s convoy had passed by. We then continued walking towards the school, along Church Road and were stopped about 200 yards from the school.

We had been joined by Ann and Phil and some TSG agreed to us holding the banner on the footpath there. Soon more senior TSG officers arrived and started frogmarching us down Church Road again towards Ballygowan Road. I soon got tired of being pushed and cajoled like this and sat down. I was then carried by the officers into a residential side road and told that I was being arrested and would be charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction and resisting arrest. I tried to use my phone but this was taken off me and I was handcuffed. A local resident came by and asked me if she could phone anybody for me and she was told to go into her house by the officers.

Ann, Ciaron and Phil were also corralled away from Church Road while the convoy came back down from the school although Ciaron managed to show his opposition and as he reported on…

The cops weren't going to let us stand at the side of the road and began frog marching me and the two others across the road. As I reached the other side I attempted to fling the replica coffin back on the road where Bush would pass. These new cops got pretty excited and a whole bunch of them landed on me and went into restraint holds. I tried speaking to them calmly, reassuring them it was a wooden replica wooden coffin not an IED.

From the bottom of the human pile I told them who Casey Sheehan had been and about meeting his mother and of all the other folks American, British and Iraq who had lost loved ones in Bush's war. I saw a glimpse of the Presidential convoy pass. They got off me, detained me, eventually released me and that's the last I think I'll ever see of George W Bush. He never came to Europe before he was President and I can't see him coming again.

I was taken to the PSNI station and released at about 8pm after being informed I would be reported to the PPS for their decision on prosecution. I don’t expect to hear anymore about it but intend to report it to the appropriate organisations and follow up on their advice.

In response to me reporting these events on local radio the following morning, the local resident who had tried to help while I was handcuffed had also been witnessing against Bush with her son on Church Road. She came on the radio to say that that a placard on which was written ‘No to all Bush wars’ was ripped out of her hands by a police officer. When asked why he’d taken it, he replied , ‘They don’t want that kind of thing here’! So much for civil liberties and the right to protest!

Dialogue for Peaceful Change programme in Zimbabwe

Colin Craig writes about applying TIDES’ learning from Northern Ireland in Zimbabwe -

From just about every perspective the current situation in Zimbabwe is disastrous for just about all of the population. The entire political, social and economic infrastructure is under severe duress. Inflation is running at around 7000%. Human Rights across their entire spectrum have been violated and eroded. With the debacle of the current political situation, there is a deep fear that inter-community and inter-tribal violence in the face of such political corruption may become inevitable.

In Spring of 2004, following a consultation within Oikosnet, which is the umbrella structure for the global ecumenical Christian movement, Colin Craig of TIDES Training, Northern Ireland, was asked to help design a skills based conflict management programme. The programme that was developed is entitled Dialogue for Peaceful Change [DPC]. The programme developed was built off the Conflict Management training programmes that we had been developing in TIDES Training, in Northern Ireland, for the previous four years. From the outset the programme operated in close collaboration with a Dutch based NGO called Oikos that focuses primarily on informing the Dutch public on Development Aid issues.

In late 2006, Mr Langton Kuveya, the current President of the African Council of Lay Centres and Academies [ACCLA] who is also the Training Director of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches [ZCC] asked could we look at bringing the DPC training to Zimbabwe.

It was agreed that the programme would bring together a collaboration of the ZCC as the co-ordinating group for the main Protestant Church denominations, the Zimbabwe Catholics Bishops Conference [ZCBC] and the Zimbabwe Evangelical Alliance [ZEA].

In the current situation the Churches, are one of the few remaining and functioning expressions of civil society. Ironically given our own Northern history here in Zimbabwe the Churches have been able to put aside their doctrinal differences and have built and active coalition to work together to collective make some impact on this socio-political crisis.

In June of 2007 we ran a pilot Training of Facilitators programme [ToF] at Victoria Falls.

This pilot programme would have four distinct learning objectives:

Understanding the nature of conflict that enables participants consider their own understanding of their cultural and personal experience of conflict.

Develop an enhanced conceptual framework that provides the participants with new models through which to deepen their understanding of conflict, peace and social transformation.

Provide a new Tool Kit that adds to the participants knowledge and skill sets in order to enhance their work in conflict situations within the community, their family and their church

Build confidence in the models and tools through application and practice through scenario work based on a balance of conflict scenarios from both an international and Zimbabwean context.

In the end we had 28 participants from across the inter-church partnership. Eight of the group were involved at a senior level of their Churches, 14 were part of either the ZCC, ZEA or the ZCBC programme officer staff and 6 were parish based pastors.

Clearly and critical to the development of any future programme was whether the DPC methodology would translate across into the Zimbabwean political and cultural context. DPC had already piloted a programme in Ghana in November of 2006 that had been very strongly endorsed but given the current “melt-down” of normal society in relation to economics, health and education this could not be presumed.

Any concerns we may have had were dispelled fairly quickly as the programme rolled out. A number of points emerged from the participant’s evaluation.

Carrying the endorsement of the Church Leadership was critical.

The leadership not only had to assess it to be a credible programme but had to experience it directly to fully endorse the programme

It was important to draw extensively on local experiences through scenarios to build up the practical understanding of how to apply the programme

It was important to shape the scenario groups to give some emphasis towards practitioners and Church Leaders respectively

It was important for the training team to draw directly on their experiences of using the methodology for us also to be credible. It doesn’t matter as much that the material is strong conceptually [although this is obviously important] but it is through the Trainers ability to not only deliver the material in a accessible and interesting way but that they most also be able to evidence using it. Do as I say and not as I do, does not work.

Following the pilot programme that had established the validity of the programme to support the combined coalition of the ZCC, ZCBC and the ZEA seeking to become agents of learning we needed to then work with the partnerships groups to establish a number of key learning targets.

Together with the ZCC now acting as the agreed Zimbabwean co-ordinator we agreed that the core aims of the project are: -

To develop capacity within the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and partnering Churches and organisations using DPC as a proven method for Peacebuilding and Conflict Management

Over the life of the project to recruit and train 480 facilitators from across all the Churches in Zimbabwe and other Civil Society NGO’s in the methodology, skills and practise of Dialogue for Peaceful Change

To provide clear and transparent pathways for committed facilitators to apply to become a trainer in the methodology

Over the life of the project to recruit and train 20 trainers in the methodology, skills and practise of Dialogue for Peaceful Change

To develop core training materials which can be easily accessed, translated, reproduced and used by Facilitators and Trainers to support the training

To develop and encourage partnerships between ZCC and other DPC hub centres working in the field of Peace building and Conflict Transformation across the world

To develop ZCC as a centres of excellence in Zimbabwe which can operate as a ‘hub’ centre for Dialogue for Peaceful Change for this region of Africa

The journey to come to this agreement and plan was more than two years in the making. Such is the nature of all of us who work for practical peacebuilding, it takes sometimes only a little time to set back such effort and commitments.

Ironically as I write this article in Northern Ireland, the DPC team should actually have been in Zimbabwe training on a ToF programme. The current political crisis has made that impossible and we have rescheduled our next training for September 2008. Their situation is desperate, with most people working on perhaps one meal per day. The people, we have met from across the political parties, do not want more violence. They know in their hearts the deeper pain and destruction this will visit on them all. Their resilience against turning to civil violence has been remarkable. However the crushing economic reality cannot be sustained and it is time for the African Union to be more interventionist in their approach. Zimbabwe needs our help.

We have been set back but all of those we are working with in Zimbabwe remain determined to see this programme become a living, breathing reality. They know deeply of the place that resilience and hope lives undiminished. This remains a journey with lots of surprises and uncertainties yet to unfold. Then, I suppose we all know something of that in Northern Ireland too.

The New Cluster Munitions Treaty: Gains, Concerns, Prospects

Soliman M. Santos, Jr, Coordinator of the non-governmental Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL) attended the Dublin Cluster Bomb treaty conference. In this 8-page article he gives a comprehensive overview of the conference, treaty, and the way ahead.

PDF format (121 kb)

Rich Text Format (104 kb)

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