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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Readings in Nonviolence

‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).

A recent direct action in NI: An interview with Jim Keys

Interview by Roberta Bacic, edited by Clem McCartney

Readings in Nonviolence has ranged all over the world but this month we want to highlight a story from Ireland. It is an incident like many others that make a difference but the central person, Jim Keys, has reflected on what happened to him during a nonviolent protest on Friday 8th August 2008 and gives us a number of important insights. The story with photos and the subsequent interesting discussion can be found on the Indymedia website at

Jim is a member of the Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign or FEIC. Incidentally ‘Feic‘ is the Irish verb 'to see' – a nice coincidence. The group has been going since 1999. It grew out of a conference to look at victims of the arms trade, organised by Afri and Derry organisation Children in Crossfire. At the time of the conference it had just been announced that the arms company Raytheon Systems Ltd were to set up a facility in Derry. The local paper carried the headline “Peace dividend comes to Derry with the arrival of Raytheon” The company representative said that they could not imagine coming if it was not for the peace process. This seemed a terrible contradiction - that the peace dividend would mean Derry would be making software for weapons to be used to kill people in other parts of the world. A session was included in the conference for a debate around the issue. Invites were issued to both the company and the politicians involved in bringing them here. Neither group turned up. Nevertheless a discussion took place out of which the group which was later to become known as FEIC was born.

The group describes itself as pro-peace rather than anti-war. Its project is to extend the peace process into the local economy by raising awareness of the importance of ethical investment and as such is against investment in the arms production. So, for the last nine years, it has been raising awareness of the contradiction of Raythoen to our peace process so that the people of Derry make it clear to local business and political leaders that Raytheon and companies like it take the city in the wrong direction - towards a war orientation rather than a peace orientation.

It is no coincidence that the campaign has taken off in Derry, unlike Belfast, which also has companies such as Thales and Bombardier contributing to the arms trade. Derry has been more subject to Britain’s war machine, than part of it. The group believes Derry should be profiled as a centre of the peace industry, not just another outpost of the war industry. The city already has an international profile as a centre of conflict, it could now become a city recognised as a centre of peace. Derry is small enough for people to feel personally affected by such a company in their community and it is easier to gather people together for something important.

The group has about 10 core members plus some hundreds of active friends and supporters. They have done numerous creative interventions designed to raise the debate about the presence of Raytheon and highlighting the contradiction it poses for the peace process. After the killings in Fallujah they dug a symbolic grave near the factory which is tended on an ongoing basis. Jim commented: “How can you undig a grave?”

The Black Shamrock has become an important symbol associated with the campaign around Raytheon as well as, of course, the broader peace movement in Ireland. The symbol was created around 2004 by a member of the Derry Anti-War Coalition which has also protested at the presence of the factory. On the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, FEIC and the Derry Anti-War Coalition wondered how they could acknowledge the aggression and find a way to make the resistance to the war within Ireland visible and also draw attention to the presence of companies such as Raytheon which are engaged in the arms trade. The interest was also to highlight the erosion of Ireland’s neutrality with the presence of such companies and the military use of Shannon. The Black Shamrock logo was designed and 10,000 badges emblazoned with the logo were ordered. FEIC and the Anti War Coalition have sold some 50,000 since then.

FEIC maintains a vigil outside the factory on the second Friday of the month at 5pm. Often only a few people turn up but they use the vigil to contemplate and chat and sometimes come up with new ideas. There is a Black Shamrock on the ground which could easily be removed but the group makes the statement that it cannot be removed while Raytheon is present. After each vigil they leave some flowers on the shamrock and grave, together with a marker - a stone or piece of wood at the head of the grave stating the issue they particularly want to mark on the month. The police recognise that the vigil is discreet and peaceful. While there has on a number of occasions been a police presence, no one had ever been arrested – until now.

Last month the message on the grave marker was ‘Peace 2008’. The vigil focused especially on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it being the 63rd anniversary. They left paper cranes too. Jim Keys was one of the participants in the vigil and he had a tin of spray paint with him to touch up the shamrock. As a result he was arrested and charged with criminal damage. He has shared with us the experience and the way he responded from a nonviolent orientation.

When the first two police officers, a man and a woman, arrived he did not expect to be arrested on the grounds of criminal damage to the pavement and made a point of being courteous but playful. After some uncertainty and discussions with their superior over their radios, they suddenly arrested Jim and put him in their car. He accepted that but he makes the point that he had not been prepared for this to happen as he did not see any big difference between this particular vigil and what had happened in the past. He pointed out to the police that his arrest was a waste of resources and that the footpath was still capable of being walked on. Jim asked one of the other protestors to take a photo of the shamrock and one of the police officers said ‘you cannot do that as it is glorifying a crime.’

Other members of the group pointed out the absurd irony of Jim being arrested for producing a piece of public art while Raytheon continued their war work unhindered. Four more police officers arrived and they too seemed to think the situation was crazy. One of them asked if he had drawn it freehand and said he must have a steady hand. Even the first two officers seemed to relax, but they were still getting instructions over their radios. The most senior officer on the scene was at pains to point out that he was taking a side role in the proceedings and that a number of the constables present believed there was no case to answer.

At the police station Jim was still protesting that his arrest was a waste of resources and he could not be convicted of criminal damage. But the big shock was that they wanted to take his fingerprints and DNA. The officers themselves were almost apologetic and said they knew he would not like it. Instantly Jim realised he could not go along with this demand so he said in turn “You will not like this but I am going to resist nonviolently. This is a criminal infringement of my civil liberties.” They responded that in that case they would take the sample by force if he resisted. Jim replied “I will stop talking to you and while you do what you have to do I will concentrate on what I have to do, which is to resist.” They carried him across the room, put him in a chair and lifted his hand for the finger printing. Jim held his arm back sufficiently to show his resistance but did not struggle. The police officers then discussed doing a swab by force for the DNA but one of the officers said to Jim that it would be easier for him if they took ten strands of his hair and proceeded to do so. While this was happening Jim began to repeat “You are now participating in an infringement of my civil liberties.” This part of the arrest continues to be very troubling for Jim, not least because he is now on the DNA register and can be checked against any crime. At the same time he recognised that he was torn between resisting the police action forcefully and putting the officer in the position where he was using force. Jim explained this to the officer afterwards.

Jim felt that by now he had established some rapport with the police officers and one of them told him he could complain to the duty office and another said that he should not be afraid to say what he thought. A woman officer came and Jim explained that the arrest was unnecessary and in particular it was wrong that the officers on the scene were being instructed by an officer who was not aware of the situation on the ground. He referred to the opinions expressed by David Davis when he resigned his parliamentary seat and stood in the subsequent bi-election to highlight the issue of the increasing infringement of civil liberties by the state. It was further shock to discover that the person interviewing him was, in fact, the same person who had been giving the orders. She said that in these circumstances she should not really be interviewing him and said also that she had more important things she should be doing. She tried to leave and when Jim protested that he still had his complaint to make she said he could complain through the Ombudsman and when he said he wanted to do that, she then sat down and took the complaint . It struck Jim that the more senior woman officer had no sense that she had abused the power she was entrusted with, while all the others had some human communication with him and thought the reaction to the incident to be unnecessary and disproportionate. Nonetheless when she left and said “Good night Mr Keys” without looking at him, his immediate thought was “you are not my enemy” and as a result he felt his response to the situation was a good one. Jim was arrested at 6.55 pm and eventually left the police station at 9.30 pm

A few days later the Ombudsman rang and said they would be in touch. Jim also wants to write to the relevant members of parliament. There are important points of principle in his situation, especially that instructions were being given by someone not on the scene. And he is concerned about the inclusion of his DNA on the register.

What happens now? Well Jim has his next bail hearing set for 3rd October. But before that on 12th September FEIC will have its next vigil. The police said they had no problem with the protest and chalk drawings but if paint is used then it is criminal damage. So the slogan on Friday 12th September will be “Chalk Against the Arms Trade” and they hope to use as much chalk as they can. All offers of help will be gratefully received on the Buncrana Road in Derry outside the Science Park from 5pm.

Copyright INNATE 2016