Readings in Nonviolence: It doesn’t say in the papers

by Rob Fairmichael

All media have a bias – Nonviolent News certainly does, and saying you are ‘unbiased’ is a bit like saying you don’t have an accent; as Oscar Wilde said, ‘Vulgarity is the conduct of other people’. Of course you can be unbiased between particular options but that is also a position. In the same way, Irish neutrality is a position, at its best a strong stand against militarism and for peaceful approaches to conflict.

In putting together these letters sent to The Irish Times, mainly from the INNATE email account as coordinator of INNATE (except where marked as from a personal account) this collection serves as a commentary not just on what appeared in said paper but also on issues in relation to Ukraine, militarism and neutrality. It can be seen as a reflection on what countercultural views can make it into mainstream media; letters were unpublished except as noted.

Most of the points made in these unpublished letters were not made by anyone else, and in some cases no critical comments were published in relation to editorial content referred to. Anyone interested can follow up with searches on The Irish Times website (which permits a limited number of reads before going behind a paywall).

The Irish Times is regarded as the nearest thing to an Irish ‘paper of record’. There can of course be hundreds of reasons why letters are not published; irrelevance, incoherence, repetition, being considered ‘off the wall’ (though one person’s ‘wall’ can be part of another person’s ‘home’), and practical reasons concerning lack of space. Being perceived to be ‘self serving’ (having a narrow personal or vested interest) can also be a factor though arguably all ‘letters to the editor’ are ‘self serving’ in some way.

There are a number of ‘regular correspondents’ published and it cannot be said that the newspaper in question does not publish letters from this correspondent – four were published in the time frame represented here. However, whatever editorial or sub-editorial policies are in place, publication or non-publication can make a difference as to whether letters and accepted (or commissioned) articles are seen as as being definitive or controversial.

Peace movements (e.g. in the USA) and their viewpoints can be invisible to the general public not because they don’t exist but because their work and positions are not easily accessible in the mass media – and this invisibility can be true even in this era of social media where you can’t see the wood for the trees unless you make a conscious effort. However coverage in ‘social media’, as with the publication of these letters, can be a slight antidote to the lack of representation of alternative views in the mainstream. But it also represents the struggle which alternative views have to go through to get their voice heard.

The layout of letters published may vary from what was sent.

l13/12/21 from personal email a/c

Helen Haughton asks is anyone interested in Ireland being an Island of Peace. Yes is the answer but you would not know it from the political parties or media.

On 7th December there was the start of a major peace initiative relating to both sides of the border, the Downpatrick Declaration, with the launch including Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. There was a stunning lack of coverage in the national media. Meanwhile when two men forcefully stop a bus in Newtownards, threaten the driver and burn the bus, it receives blanket coverage.

Some contradiction here?

[No responses to Helen Haughton’s letter were published]

l10/2/22 Published 12/2/22 [with last sentence/question omitted]

We have now had the report from the Commission on the Defence Forces. It is to be hoped we will soon have a Commission on Peacemaking to examine how Ireland can contribute, and in what meaningful ways, to peace in the world given Article 29 of Bunreacht na hÉireann which commits Ireland to peace and the pacific resolution of international disputes. And if not, why not?


There is an anti-war movement in Ireland (Owen Jones, 2nd March) consisting of a wide variety of different groups. The fact that this is not very visible is not the fault of said groups, and, like the anti-war movement in the USA, tends to be ignored by the media.


Nonviolent resistance to invasion and repression is also possible. Military action and NATO are not the only game in town. If we don’t realise this and learn about it then we do the people of Ukraine – and ourselves – a great disservice, especially as Russia tries to bomb Ukraine and its people out of existence.

l7/3/22 Published 8/4/22

Seamus Murphy is quite right (7th March) that Irish neutrality, as practised by Irish governments in recent times, has been immoral. To back the USA’s warmaking in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the massive loss of life and destruction involved, through the US military use of Shannon Airport is unforgivable. Ireland should be much more active in developing a positive neutrality and, perhaps, if a guarantee of neutrality by Ukraine had been made then Putin would not have felt he had enough of an excuse to launch his murderous invasion of that country.

While many are rushing in a militarist direction, there is a need for cool heads and work to head off violent conflict in the future. That is a positive role for Irish neutrality which polls have consistently shown as by far the preferred option by citizens; it needs developed considerably, not cast aside.


Fintan O’Toole (15th March) is simply wrong to state that “There is no viable immediate response to the violence unleashed by Putin that does not include the counter-violence of Ukrainians resisting the annihilation of their country.” The longer this war goes on the more of the country’s people and infrastructure will be annihilated by Putin’s orders. Nonviolent resistance to invasion and oppression is not easy but it is possible, in such circumstances, in many different ways including disguised disobedience. That is a lesson that Ireland, in looking at its strategic defence, should also consider.

Nonviolent resistance tends to happen spontaneously, and has been taking place in areas already taken by Russian forces. How much more effective might it be if prepared for? Yes, the Russians could take the territory but Ukrainians could remain unbowed and live to struggle for their freedom. Military forces and their commanders, including macho militarist Putin, do not know how to deal with nonviolent resistance which research has shown to be more effective than violence in resistance campaigns.


Elizabeth Cullen’s suggestion of an Irish centre for the non-violent resolution of conflict (16th March) is an excellent suggestion which would be fully in accord with the constitution and its spirit. However I would suggest that such a centre could go further, beyond anything stipulated in Bunreacht na hÉireann, to explore the possibilities of nonviolent resistance.

There are a myriad of possibilities for the latter, including for the purposes of resistance to invasion, and this would also add to the chances of the ‘pacific settlement of international disputes’. Research shows that nonviolent resistance in campaigns is more effective that violent.


At last someone has uttered the word ‘non-violence’ (or nonviolence) in your pages (Breda O’Brien, 19th March). All that those who believe in nonviolence and nonviolent resistance ask is that it is judged equally with violent resistance and the Stephan and Chenoweth study that Breda O’Brien refers to does that. There are others beyond the late Gene Sharp who have been developing both the study of concrete historical examples and the outlining of possibilities for the future. Gene Sharp came up with a listing of 198 varieties of nonviolent tactics; it could be 19,800.

In the case of Ireland there is much that we can learn from all this in terms of our security. While I would personally go for a totally nonviolent defence, if we collectively continue to believe in ‘non-offensive defence’ then we could actually combine major elements of nonviolent defence in the mix.


Ronan McGreevy (2nd April) points to the danger of nuclear war but makes the hoary old ‘popular wisdom’ statement that nuclear weapons and the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction “have done more to keep the peace” since WW2. Than what? And what about the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Iran-Iraq war, and in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or now Ukraine? A balance of terror does not, and did not, make for ‘peace’ or prevent wars.

Furthermore nuclear weapons are illegal in international law since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into effect early in 2021 – although this has been ignored by nuclear-armed states (including our neighbours Britain and France) and their fellow travellers, not least in NATO.


Pat Leahy (9th April) speaks of the Government being likely to argue for an “evolution” of neutrality. “Evolution” in this context might be understood as the same kind of thing as when the asteroid hit earth and wiped out the dinosaurs, i.e. annihilation. And Pat Leahy does not do justice to the possibilities of a fearless and positive neutrality as a force for peace on the world stage; we need an exploration of this to put alongside cosying up to NATO and its divisiveness.

l20/4/22 Published 23/4/22

While public opinion remains steadfastly in favour of Irish neutrality, we have not even begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities of a positive neutrality policy in relation to peace in the world. NATO is in the business of military confrontation, including the nuclear option (now illegal in international law), whereas Ireland could, and should, be doing so much more for peace internationally.

Government policy for decades has been to whittle away at neutrality in the hope that it could finally be ditched. What is needed is rapid progress in the opposite direction. A citizens’ assembly on the issue might be the opportunity to explore all these possibilities but it can be expected that, given current public opinion, even at a time of such belligerence in Europe, the government will now shy away from that option because it knows it would not get the result it wants.


Edward Horgan is quite right (22nd April) to make a strong connection between the EU and NATO and it can be argued that the EU is becoming the European wing of NATO. But what is a shocking new departure for the EU is its active support for the violent and corrupt arms trade – a field in which the government supports Irish firms getting involved. Ireland is a case study in a recent report Fanning the Flames: How the European Union is fuelling a new arms race” through its European Defence Fund.

Thales arms company in Belfast proudly proclaims its equipment being used by Ukraine; it is less keen to publicise that its equipment is also used in Russian war planes and tanks, illustrating that the arms trade will make profits wherever it can. Meanwhile Ireland has not even begun to explore the peacemaking possibilities of active neutrality.


There are many practical as well as ethical issues about the arms trade; just one is that it is an extremely poor producer of jobs for the investment involved (compared to other sectors). But to take a contemporary issue, the big French owned arms company Thales, which has a major arms production plant in Belfast, is fighting on both sides in the Ukraine war. Thales has components in Russian war planes and tanks as well as equipping Ukraine with anti-tank weapons but perhaps that is the arms trade definition of success, making ‘a killing’ from both sides. And a purchaser is not necessarily the end point for arms; it is notoriously difficult to control where arms go once sold.

Conor Gallagher (25th April) mentioned the existence of an arms trade industry body, IDSA, but he did not mention the existence of an all-island network opposing the involvement of Ireland in the arms trade, StoP/Swords to Ploughshares. And in the light of the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the pain and suffering involved, surely it is evident that Ireland needs the arms trade like it needs a hole in the head.


There is more than one way to stop a tank despite Rebecca Crowley stating (27th April) that “the only thing which can stop an advancing tank is an anti-tank missile”. How about not producing them to begin with (and Russian tanks have western components including from Thales which has an arms production plant in Belfast), or ensuring demilitarisation on the part of our perceived ‘enemies’ through arms reduction? And if that doesn’t work then nonviolent resistance, of many kinds, including the likes of Prague in 1968.

Nazi generals interrogated after the Second World War were clearly at a loss as to how they could deal with nonviolent resistance, as British officer Basil Liddell Hart attested. It is wholly understandable that Ukraine chose to resist Russian aggression militarily. But while those believing in nonviolent resistance are sometimes categorised as naive or simplistic, as the war goes on perhaps it is those who believe in violent resistance against superior (if in the case of Russia, poorly organised) forces that are being simplistic as the horrifying human cost of the war continues to mount.


Derek Scally (18th May) is highly insulting to the majority of the population of this island in saying that “those in Ireland who oppose investment in defence are peace squanderers.” It happens that those who want to develop Irish neutrality in a positive direction have a very different vision of what peace should entail and how we should achieve it. Nonviolent civilian defence is ideally suited to the Irish situation while billions could (will?) be spent on the Irish military and not make Ireland one jot safer.

What Russia is doing in Ukraine is beyond reprehensible. But the idea that Ireland is under military threat from Russia, or anyone else, is ludicrous and the Russians cannot even inflict defeat on their neighbours in Ukraine let alone think about military escapades elsewhere in Europe. Ireland can play a very different and extremely constructive role on the European and world stages but only if it avoids both NATO and EU militarisation – it is the latter which is stealthily gaining ground. And Ireland’s role just became more important as Finland and Sweden join NATO.


Again correspondents that you publish (23rd May) assume that the only international security protection Ireland can have is military. This is quite false. Adopting a fearless policy of proper neutrality and standing up for justice and against repression will make many friends and it would establish Ireland as a country which does not adhere to misguided doctrines of peace through military strength.

A competent and sophisticated policy of nonviolent civilian defence is possible which would mean that an erstwhile invader would know that any invasion would be a pyrrhic victory. It would make any possible invader (and who might that be?) think twice. The Nazi generals interrogated at the end of World War II did not know how to deal with nonviolent resistance. Ireland is ideally placed geographically to undertake such a policy and avoid the trap of military escalation which contributes to an international armed insecurity race.

l25/522 From personal email a/c

It is perhaps ironic that Tom Hogan (25th May) should accuse proponents of Irish military non-alignment of a lack of imagination. Surely it is those who would support joining NATO or favour EU military developments who are entering an imagination straitjacket and accepting military confrontation and the severe curtailing of a positive role for Ireland in contributing to peace. And regarding Irish security the lack of exploration of nonviolent civilian defence portrays a lack of imagination and vision.

Irish neutrality could be developed in so many imaginative and positive ways. This could include: Monitoring teams for conflict hotspots and ‘early warning’ purposes, support for or promotion of accompaniment organisations such as Peace Brigades International and other ‘early intervention’ organisations, building up international mediation teams, education work nationally and internationally on nonviolent organising and struggle (which Stephan and Chenoweth found so effective compared to violent resistance), the development of facilitation and dialogue at a diplomatic level, work on causes of injustice and violence, and so on.

All such possibilities are effectively dependent on Ireland being neutral. And everything mentioned above could be done for a small fraction of the cost it looks like will go on military developments.


Stephen Collins is quite right in stating (27th May) that there is an issue about what role Ireland should play in EU defence. However his assumption that this should necessarily be military is a non sequitur as Ireland could play an important role in mediation and facilitation in the cause of peace as a non-aligned country (and many other tasks for peace as well). Of course something like protecting against cyber attacks comes in to this. However defence can be non-military, including nonviolent civilian defence, and ‘human security’ is more important than military security (we were not prepared for Covid, we are not prepared to deal with global warming).

Unfortunately Stephen Collins could not resist an attack on the defenders of Irish neutrality which was unfair and unjust. To try to tar those who believe in neutrality as supporters of Putin is far from the truth, even if he only accuses “some of the most vociferous defenders” of neutrality. Also, the injustice and brutality of the Russian attack on Ukraine should not blind us to the fact that while NATO and ‘the West’ have invaded no one (at least not in this particular case and time) they contributed to Russian insecurity and isolation.

l30/6/22 Published 1/7/22

We do need a new vocabulary about security, as David O’Sullivan envisages (Opinion, 30th June). The most effective term in relation to this is the concept of ‘human security’ – what do we need to be secure in our lives? O’Sullivan refers to many different factors but none – including the Russian invasion of Ukraine – necessitate a more militarist approach by Ireland; of course we should offer appropriate support to Ukraine but the idea that Russia is a military threat here is risible, and the contribution we can make to peace in Europe could best be done in non-violent ways.

Runaway climate change is the greatest threat we face and after the effects of Covid-19 we cannot consider pandemics to be something to be ignored. Militarism contributes considerably to global warming and medical rather than military bodies are the most appropriate for dealing with pandemics.

In relation to NATO and EU militarisation, why is geographical security only thought about in military terms? There are other ways to ensure security and nonviolent civilian defence is one which is eminently suitable for Ireland but has not been explored at all. We should be looking to build structures for peace not military confrontation.