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Editorials: The North: Inclusion in an era of exclusion
There are doubtless people who will read this who rejoice in the schadenfreude, discomforture, of the DUP following their being shafted by Boris Johnston and right wing Tories in Britain in their search for the elusive and exclusive land of Brexit. Given the way that the DUP touted their influence over the last couple of years, due to Westminster parliamentary arithmetic, this is understandable. But it may also be misplaced.
The influence of the DUP was an accident which happened through the UK’s very unjust electoral system (first past the post) for parliamentary elections. The extent of their influence was not mitigated by the fact Sinn Féin do not take their seats and thus the only other voice in Westminster from Northern Ireland was Sylvia Hermon as an independent unionist. The DUP is not likely to wield such influence again, as when they destroyed Theresa May’s initial backstop deal, unless the December UK general election is similarly ‘hung’ (evenly divided) to the last one.
But any way forward for Northern Ireland has to be inclusive. The DUP were not, proclaiming that they represented ‘Northern Ireland’ when clearly they only represented themselves and an arithmetic majority in the North voted for ‘stay’. But this does not mean that they do not need to be involved, or their thinking to be considered. They are the largest political party in the North. And there are also other loyalists ‘waiting in the wings’, perhaps without the power to wreak havoc to the same extent as in the past but, nevertheless, with some people and fire power should they decide to use it. The problem is how to be ‘inclusive’ on a divisive issue like Brexit; one answer is not to start from here...
The DUP backed totally the wrong horse. On Brexit they went with an emotional heart and not with an analytical head. Most people in Northern Ireland were relatively happy with the post-2007 powersharing; even if it failed to deal with a variety of issues, it was up and running. The DUP played an instrumental role in the narrow victory for leaving the EU in the 2016 UK referendum on the issue; it is this which has put the future of Northern Ireland up in the air in a very real way, and led to such divisions since. In unionist terms, Brexit destabilised Northern Ireland.
It would seem that the Ulster Unionist Party is, under new leadership, likely to revert to ‘Remain’. Whether the DUP could do the same might be a difficult proposition and, unlikely as it is, it could perhaps be justified on the basis that it is better than the deal on the table ‘for the Union’. Politicians can find ways to do u-turns if they are so minded. But in any case it may be too little, too late, to stop Boris Johnston achieving Brexit, a costly one for Britain and one which has yet to be fully spelt out for Northern Ireland and the Republic (and the latter may depend on what trade deal is eventually done between the EU and UK). We await the results of the December general election and its aftermath.
The recent DUP annual conference spoke about an inclusive unionism. We have to see what this means in practice, and not just an Irish Language Act in the North. We have argued often enough before for unionism to see the demographic Writing On The Wall of a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland in the forseeable future. They should be bending over backwards, within what is possible in Northern Ireland, to take nationalist views into account and also getting every possible human right copperfastened (partly through a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland) so that, as unionists become a minority, their rights are protected – and everyone else’s as well.
Of course the possibility of a united Ireland is not going to go away, whatever happens, and it is incumbent on nationalists, and the Irish government, to give serious thought, and form, to what a new state might look like. Some unionists may see this as threatening but it is rather to be realistic and prudent, and it must be done in as inclusive and friendly a way as possible. The people of Northern Ireland can then, in due course, decide what future they want, with options which are at least reasonable clear.
In the mean time there is much work to be done on the legacy of Brexit, whatever the outcome. Perhaps with the Brexit decision ‘out of the way’ in one way or another, whenever that is (though repercussions will continue for years), and the RHI report out and fading into the distance, powersharing can again be attempted in the North. Decision making in the North is in abeyance. Direct rule from Britain is inadequate and unpopular. Northern Ireland continues in a woeful state on many issues. The power of a Stormont government may be limited and there will continue to be severe disagreements on certain issues but it needs to at least be up and trying to deal with the problems of the North while a longer term future is explored and eventually hammered out.
People trafficking and world justice
The terrible consequences of people trafficking gone wrong revealed themselves in the recent deaths of 39 people in a refrigerated container lorry in Essex in England. The situation seems to have considerable Irish/island of Ireland involvement, as part of a wider international network. We can rightly throw up our hands in horror at what happened. However we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility.
We live in an unequal world. We are part of the rich world. We live behind barriers. Some people will always move to try to better their situation; while the number of ‘Irish illegals’ in the USA dating back to the 1980s may have been overestimated, many Irish did go, illegally, to seek a better life. So ‘we’ are not any different. There are both push and pull factors in migration, including illegal migration. ‘Push’ factors are violence, war, instability, poverty and the effects of global heating. ‘Pull’ factors are the lure of a more comfortable life and being better able to support family and dependents.
With the barriers which now exist, getting into richer countries is difficult. Into this situation step people who seek to make money from moving people illegally - traffickers. Of course human trafficking for the purposes of enslavement, be it work enslavement or sexual enslavement, is totally reprehensible. And some traffickers are not at all concerned what happens to their customers or passengers once they have received their payment; leaky and totally overloaded boats unsuitable for a crossing of the Mediterranean are a recipe for disaster, and in this case there was a lorry unable to sustain human life.
But the existence of traffickers is a response to demand by people who are often desperate for a better life, and with such desperation they can easily be charged a fortune – as were some of the Vietnamese who died in the Essex lorry disaster. You can try to tighten borders all you want. It will then cost would be migrants more to try to get in, with more likely dangers.
The only long term and just solution to the issue of trafficking is establishing a more equal and peaceful world. This is not a short term solution but it is the only viable one. Some people will always want to go to the greener side of the mountain and try their luck elsewhere. But people should be free to have an acceptable life ‘at home’, close to their loved ones, and not feel obliged or have to move thousands of miles, at very considerable cost and risk, to get a better start in life.
There therefore needs to be a reordering of world priorities. We should have enough for everyone’s need and not limitless Western – or any other - greed. This is an enormous undertaking. Part of it has to be ditching the concept of economic ‘growth’ in already rich societies and, while the ‘zero growth’ concept has been around it has not yet really permeated popular consciousness. The corollary of this is, of course, making the distribution of the economic pie much more equal and understanding how to have a better and more fulfilling life without conventional resource-led economic growth. This needs an economic, social and community revolution.
That is a big day’s work – but there is no other way. However there is one factor which may lead to even more desperation on the part of innumerable would be migrants - global heating will be a very significant ‘push’ factor that we have not even begun to comprehend properly while the rich world seeks to build bigger barriers around itself.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column
Extinction Rebellion thinks that the world economy should become carbon neutral by 2025. The 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change informed us that we have until 2030 to become carbon neutral. The Conservative party is committed to the UK becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Most climatologists think the 2050 date for carbon neutrality is far too late as by then, if there is no significant reduction in carbon emissions over the next few years most of the landmass of the major coastal towns and cities of the world will be under water. Michael Le Page in the autumn 2019 edition of New Scientist, The Collection, informs us that:
“Antarctica is already losing ice much faster than expected, and a 2016 study based on a computer model of its ice sheets suggests the seas could rise by up to 3 meters by 2100.”
This rise in sea level will mean, as Jonathan Watts reports in The Guardian, 30 October 2019 that 300 million people will experience floods at least one a year by 2050. In addition to serious flooding, which will undermine national economies, prolonged droughts, devastating storms and forest fires, such as those presently burning in California, can only but be more frequent. The rising temperature could in the near future make outdoor life for hundreds of millions of people all but impossible. Tord Kjellstorm reports in The Guardian, 21 October 2019 that high temperatures in the southern hemisphere is causing the premature deaths of thousands of people doing outdoor manual labour. If sustained this will have a negative impact on food production, leading in turn to mass migration which brings its own problems including civil unrest. Another little considered consequence of global warming is that it will lead to a sharp increase in the spread of deadly diseases including malaria and Ebola.
Climate breakdown is only one of many ecological catastrophes facing life on Earth. Most worrying is the deliberate extinction of biodiversity as testified by the innumerable fires presently turning rainforests in South America, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere to ash along with incinerating the rich array of life within them. Another catastrophe is air pollution. Even as you read this the air in cities is causing fatalities. Fiona Harvey in an article in The Guardian, 21 October 2019, on the affect air pollution has on our health quotes Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, as follows:
“air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks, so it is clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency.”
Extinction Rebellion, along with many other environmental groups and commentators, hold that what is needed in addressing the global environmental calamity is a swift and radical restructuring of the international economy on the basis of equality and ecological sustainability. Technological innovations that minimise our harm to the environment are welcome, but many, such as home insulation, are beyond the means of the working poor. Carbon taxes, unless finely tuned, will make life more difficult and stressful for the poorest without affecting the levels of consumption of the higher income groups.
The challenge is not only getting the most economically well-off to pay the greater amount to heal and restore ecosystems but changing the centuries old embedded view that underpins the thoughtless manner we treat nonhuman nature. This is that nonhuman life is incidental to our sense of ourselves, comfort, happiness and what it means to live a meaningful life. This outlook, sometimes called the Aristotelian view, holds that humans are superior to the rest of nature, that we are exceptional. An offset of this is our inclination to see things in isolation rather than in relationship. Thus the accumulation of material wealth and the life-style opportunities this brings is widely thought to epitomize a well-lived life, albeit, one that ignores the horrendous damage wrecked on nonhuman nature and vulnerable peoples.
A major impediment to a wholescale restructuring of society is the fact that we don’t like change, even minor change. We resist it. Note how we like to sit in the same chair at meal time, sleep on the same side of the bed and watch the same news channel. Being prepared to change, even when we know it will benefit ourselves, family, friends and community is one of the challenges of the environmental emergency.
That said progressive change does happen. Reflect on the major changes in thinking, and how our public bodies function, that have taken place in Ireland over the past fifty-years, changes the elderly never thought would occur. Educational institutions, media outlets and religious authorities can hurry-along the changes necessary to create an equitable, nonviolent, ecologically sustainable society through instituting programmes aimed at teaching and encouraging critical thinking, a love of nonhuman nature and show-casing successful forms of eco-living.
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Rob Fairmichael reports on the international conference of World Beyond War which took place from 5th to 6th October –
Coming to Ireland for their conference and in particular trying to shine a light on US military use of Shannon Airport was a very welcome move. I am not a conspiracy theorist but I do believe there is an implicit conspiracy - through omission rather than commission - by the main media to avoid reporting on what is a totally egregious example of Irish (the Republic’s) negation of neutrality and of facilitating US military aggression. This media inactivity – and perhaps cowardice - plays into the hands of the political parties who favour not only getting into bed with NATO and EU militarism but moving in with them permanently.
The conference was very efficiently organised by World Beyond War (WBW). Seldom do proceedings at such an event go as close to the announced timings as in this case. It was actually quite short; all day Saturday and Sunday morning, with Sunday afternoon devoted to a demonstration at Shannon Warport. Perhaps it went more smoothly as the numbers were probably smaller than you might expect at such an international conference – but then this was the first they had held their big conference outside of north America, and just their fourth annual conference.
One question is – is there room for another international body opposing war? To which the response should probably be – there is always room for another body opposing war! That is, so long as it seen in the context of cooperation with others where appropriate. But starting from a US base has advantages and disadvantages; US culture is such a dominant force in the world that it can lead to misunderstandings and misapprehensions, and to cultural imperialism of a minor sort. I am not accusing WBW of this but what I am saying is that there can be a danger – just as there can also be a danger of an international organisation being too Eurocentric or northern hemisphere too. So in building an international movement there are lots of pitfalls.
The message from WBW about the conference said “We are marking the 18th year of the endless war on Afghanistan, as well as the 150th birthday of Mohandas Gandhi. We are sharpening our skills for creative activism, nonviolent civil resistance, youth activism, divestment, base closure, and much more.” The sessions included two on Ireland – one on Irish neutrality, one on Shannon. There were sessions on nonviolence (as the foundation of peace), human and environmental rights, demilitarising security, and activism to abolish war. There was a choice of workshops. I will record a few details here but videos of the speakers are available on the WBW website, reference below.
The first session had WBW organisers speaking about their work, in north America and elsewhere. Mairead Maguire spoke both days; her first talk was an inspirational and energising one on nonviolence where she quoted St Patrick as a pacifist – “In Christ there is no killing”. “Peace is the only way to our survival” she said. Vijay Mehta’s talk on departments for peace is carried and covered elsewhere in this issue of Nonviolent News. Clare Daly couldn’t travel due to a bad back but she gave a typically excellent analysis by video of where ‘we’ are at (watch it on and the others on the WBY website). Roger Cole gave his strong analysis of Irish neutrality and concluded that there would be a world without war or no world at all.
John Maguire spoke of the military grooming of adults and children and the thrall which the public can be held in to the mystique of the military – and thus the need to overcome this in order to overcome militarism. It was something which others referred to, including Dave Webb the next day. Foad Izadi gave Iran-USA relations a good going over, starting with the 1953 coup, engineered by the CIA, which overthrew a democratically elected government because it had dared to nationalise the oil industry. Thereby hangs a theme which has repeated itself in US military history in the period since. Oh how different and more peaceful the world might have been without US imperialism or neo-imperialism... but then, as Shannon shows, many others are willing to play ball with such aggression.
A fascinating contributor was Hakim Young, a Singaporean working for a long time in Afghanistan. www.ourjourneytosmile.com He shared how one of the street kids he worked with in Afghanistan was drowned crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. “The global refugee crisis is the largest nonviolent movement in history” he stated. Regarding Afghanistan, he felt making contact (and undertstanding) was the most important thing people could do.
Workshops are almost always too little and too short at such conferences. There was a choice of half a dozen for just over one hour and I attended one on divestment led by Greta Zarro of WBW and Aine O’Gorman, (successful) Irish green campaigner. They achieved a good combination of the worlds of antimilitarism and green issues in their input, and we looked at the characteristics of a possible divestment campaign. It was short but sweet – longer would have preferable but it was a short conference.
The speaker who conveyed the information most unknown to me was Dave Webb, chair of UK CND. His coverage of the arms race in space was excellent. Keep Space for Peace campaign www.space4peace.org/ seeks to do what it says on the tin. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 only covers WMD, not weapons in general or ones journeying through space. Hypersonic missiles, which are difficult to respond to, are being developed by the USA, Russia and China. Weapons are sold to politicians as a dream, he said, and then developed. He asked us to include space in our work for peace. Ah yes, space, the ‘last – latest - frontier’ ......for militarism. Not content with militarising the world they want space to be part of it too.
An interesting comment from John Reuwer, which included coverage of civilian unarmed peacekeeping, is that Bernie Sanders is a supporter of the US military and of basing F35 jet fighters in Vermont - John Reuwer covered a campaign on this issue. Chris Nineham referred to Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader in Britain, as being an anti-war leader rather than leader of an anti-war party, a point which may be comprehended by those familiar with politics in Britain.
Kristine Karch said 75% of global military spending is by NATO countries. A NATO summit is coming up in London in November and there will be protests; a 30th November demonstration and 3rd December protest at the conference.
Barry Sweeney began by speaking of the need to instil love. As for the issue of ‘jobs’ being the No.1 reason for supporting US militarism through Shannon he pointed out that Irish exports, which were substantial, e.g. of beef, to Iraq are now nil. In other words, war destroys far more than the arms industry creates in the way of jobs. He also mentioned the fact that the US offered to withdraw from Shannon but the Irish government said ‘no’, not wanting protesters to know they had won. His most interesting suggestion was developing a peace module for students in Transition year (the optional year after finishing the Junior Cert and before the two years of studying for the Leaving Cert in the Republic).
John Lannon’s talk included how the government breaks lots of laws – regarding refugees and on neutrality. “Offence and insecurity” is the (real) EU policy, not “Defence and Security”. Shannonwatch www.shannonwatch.org has been monitoring planes coming in to Shannon Airport since 2008. He spoke of its work, and of the direct action which has taken place there but as he said “It comes at a price” (of lengthy and draining legal processes and possible imprisonment).
Afri’s film on Shannon and the US military featuring war resisters Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff, was shown to the conference. Other videos of them are on the same site.
Ed Horgan focused on children affected and killed by wars in the Middle East, and the Naming the Children project to name and remember them [See news item this issue]. Ed Horgan continued: ”Usually at Shannon our regular peace vigils are both non-violent and avoid damage to property....On other occasions some of us do what we call arrestable actions. There is a sort of double think in these arrestable actions. The police think they are dragging us through the courts but in reality we are dragging the police and the state through the courts to expose gross wrong doing. Such arrestable actions are not for the faint hearted, and we do not expect everyone to do them, although there is no reason why all of you could not do so. If Margaretta D’Arcy in her 80s could negotiate the barricades and bring the airport to a standstill on two occasions by going on the runway, anyone can do it – but not today.”
“Right now we have 6 peace activists before the courts who are dragging the state through the courts, including Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers, Dave Donnellan and Colm Roddy, Dan Dowling and a guy called Horgan. Some of us are accused of the heinous crime of writing graffiti on the engine of a US war plane. Can you imagine who would do such a terrible thing??? “
And during the demo at Shannon Airport on Sunday afternoon Ed Horgan challenged the gardaí present to uphold the law and ignore the orders of their superiors not to search US warplanes at Shannon. A number of people spoke and the demonstration stayed on the road for about an hour. I brought a couple of posters, one saying “Shannon à l’armée américaine”...
The conference also wrote a letter of support to Julian Assange: ”......It is outrageous that you are behind bars for exposing actions far more serious than a recent phone call between Donald Trump and the President of Ukraine, which has political opponents of Trump suddenly claiming to support whistleblowers.......We are concerned for your well being and believe you should be immediately freed..... We believe that if U.S. courts were to get busy prosecuting the crimes exposed by WikiLeaks, rather than trying to turn the act of revealing them into some sort of crime, they would simply not have time for the latter.....”
One discovery for me at the conference was the art of Tom Weld which was displayed in the main conference hall (online reference below). This almost instantly connected with me; it is composed of faux ‘satellite imagery’ on which he superimposes details of borders, violence and expropriation. I felt it a brilliant method of exposing the inhumanity and barbarity of violence and injustice and its haphazard nature – haphazard in the sense that I may be on one, safe, side of a border but an accident of history or geography could have placed me in the epicentre of violence – and those at this epicentre could have been ‘safe’ like me. I am not saying everyone will connect with it as I did but it deserves to be seen.
I enjoyed and benefitted from this WBW conference and, as always, the usefulness of the opportunity to network can’t be overestimated. There is a world beyond war, and if there is to be a world worth living in, the war habit has to go.
WBW website and reports are available at: worldbeyondwar.org and photos and videos of the Limerick conference can be found at worldbeyondwar.org/nowar2019/ (the conference was livestreamed)
INNATE’s photo coverage, including the demonstration at Shannon Airport.
INNATE’s coverage of Tom Weld’s artwork, shown at the conference,.
We hope to review WBW’s keymark book, “A Global Security System: An Alternative to War” (PDF version available for a minimum of $2 on the WBW website) in a future edition of Nonviolent News.