Billy King: Rites Again – 303

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Airy ferry notions

I would have thought that at this stage 90% of people would have realised that air travel is much more damaging, environment wise, that any other form of transport, even comparing it to a car carrying a single person. But a recent discussion in the extended family about travel to a family gathering generated the assertion, and this from someone relatively young, that air travel is no more harmful than any other form of travel. This is plainly and simply wrong, and I am having to resist putting ‘wrong’ in capitals to emphasise how wrong it is. [THANK YOU for sparing us that……… – Ed]

You can look at a wide variety of websites to check out the facts. These are just a few of them:

Figures may vary slightly but the message is quite clear; don’t fly for relatively short distances if you can avoid it, and don’t fly at all if you can avoid it. Of course this does not obviate the need for us to exercise responsibility in what other forms of transport we use on land. And for most of us, in terms of local transport, buses, trains or bicycles beckon though this is less possible in the countryside than towns and cities, however park and ride options exist in places (or we can drive to a bus or train station if we have to).

What can we say about the comparisons between different modes of transport? There are many variations, and, for example, considering the number of passengers in a car makes a considerable difference (having 4 or 5 passengers in a car as opposed to one makes a journey much less polluting per head). There can also be considerable variations in coach or train travel too according to the fuel used, numbers travelling etc. However as a general rule we can say that on land train is best though depending on fuels a completely full car might rival it, or if the car is electric. Short haul/domestic flights are worst of all (because of the energy used in lift off compared to the distance) and flights also have a higher pollution factor because of where the emissions take place and the slower rate for that pollution to disappear than at ground level. Ferry emissions per foot passenger are very small, relatively speaking. You can of course easily find the appropriate figures for yourself or use an emissions calculator though the ‘pollute and offset the result’ model is now much discredited.

I have referred to the fact before, even if it is completely obvious, that overland travel out of the island of Ireland is impossible. So sea or air travel is necessary. The fact that air travel anywhere, say to Britain, can be much cheaper than sea and train or coach is a nonsense, environment-wise. ‘Rail and sail’ type connections are poor and governments and government agencies should be ensuring that over-sea-and-land connections are much less complicated, better connected, and, indeed, cheaper than air travel. It is certainly not rocket science (thankfully for the environment) but it needs done if people are to be weaned off air travel. And this should extend to all of western Europe, i.e. making it easy for people anywhere in Ireland to book sea and rail or coach travel anywhere within a thousand kilometres or so.

Just remember, there are ferries at the bottom of our garden (metaphorically at least). And history goes in (on?) cycles while here is life beyond the infernal combustion engine. [Ferry funny Billy, maybe you should head for the hills – on your bicycle – Ed] [If they reintroduce sails on ships, as likely, you can go plane sailing…. – Billy]

Card carrying members

When a card is needed, for birthdays, anniversaries, bereavements and achievements, it is always good to have one that is suitable and carefully picked – or handmade (I explored making pressed flower cards some time back, in NN 289, and it is quite easy and certainly demonstrates that you have put in time and effort). However, most of the time we may buy our cards and generally the selection is incredibly poor. If you want twee verging on sickly, well, you can have it in bucketloads. If you want crude, well, you can get that in bucketloads too – sexual innuendo may not be what you want for the person in question or the occasion, nor advice about how to drink alcohol to excess. I like humorous cards but finding ones that are genuinely funny can be next to impossible, at least ones that are funny and not rude and crude.

This is where, obviously, making your own designed card comes in using a commercial firm that will print it for you, and probably post it too. But you can do a good job yourself. The easiest thing is probably to design your card as A6 (folding A5 in half) but print on A4 – the standard size for home printers – then just cut it to size, using the other, blank, half for a handmade non-printed card. This saves the possibly tricky or awkward operation of adjusting your printer to take A5.

However in terms of ‘off the shelf’ you can come across some beautiful cards in the likes of craft shops although often at expense. I will mention two places which are worth exploring anyway. Draíocht art and craft shop, in Station Road, Adare, Co Limerick, has some great paintings, pottery and carvings, at a price, but has some less expensive products including recently acquired – and lovely – marbled ink cards, blank inside, which sell at €3 each; this is a bargain in my book in that you can pay more than that for a standard printed card. And the EPIC shop at Custom House Quay in Dublin has wonderful 3D (foldout design) cards from Paperbear, which sell at €5 each; not cheap but they are really well designed and made, and with a wide variety. Concerning the latter we bought a few and mainly went for different flower designs but there are birds and local scenes, balloons and cakes among many other designs.

The English English-language term for someone being ‘a bit of a card’ – presumably deriving from a playing card reference – I think only refers to men and implies they are a bit of a chancer or certainly a character, is archaic and possibly not used at all now. But we can all be a bit of a card maker or a bit of a careful card selector, cairde.

War on our doorstep

Almost eight months on, it is still difficult to believe that a full scale war is being fought in Europe, even if many Ukrainian refugees have come here, as far as they can within the continent, to Ireland – and even to Tory Island. The fact that the war is constantly in the news can become, for some, simply a background noise that is taking place ‘over there’ on the far side of our continent.

It is intriguing to watch the reactions to what is, and has been, a hugely serious and cataclysmic event. Ukraine and Ukrainians deserve all the attention they get, and more, but I can’t help wondering about all the other victims of war and violence washed up, usually metaphorically as we are not close to the mainland of Europe, on our shores, Are they deserving of being thrown into Direct Provision, or, in the case of the North, possibly deported to Britain via Larne House to enter the also atrocious asylum system there.

The theme of Naomi Klein’s book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ is how capitalism can use crises to sledgehammer existing social supports and carve out new territory for itself. The Irish government and political establishment has been doing something similar in trying to destroy Irish neutrality – a hidden goal for many for a long time – through the shock to the system provided by the Russian war on Ukraine.

Invasions and wars conducted by western powers over the last couple of decades received scant criticism from an Irish establishment keen to ingratiate itself with the powers that be. Despicably, the Irish government has gone so far as to facilitate US neo-imperialism through giving it near carte blanche use of Shannon Airport for its military escapades. No, it is meant to be troops without weapons but as planes are never, ever, inspected – as trials of activists have clearly shown – anything can go through Shannon (including ‘renditioned’ prisoners). Russia has not been the only aggressor around.

The Ukraine war is a challenge to those who believe in peace in perhaps a similar way to the way the Spanish Civil War was in the 1930s [It looks like you remember it well – Ed]. Was military resistance the only possible response? We don’t believe so and an alternative case has been made in these pages. And I am so sad – something also dealt with in an editorial in this issue – that Ireland has had the opportunity to play a constructive role in looking for ways out of war but has been content to play a bit part in the hollering for Russian blood. And that Russian blood is largely the blood of young, poor, and ethnic minority members of the Russian Federation.

Making sense of, and after, the Norn Iron census

Quite a lot of printers’ ink and e-words have been expended on the first results from last year’s Northern Ireland census. You can read plenty of detail online so I won’t go on about it too long. There is nothing that can be taken for granted but it is clear that unionists will have to up their game if they want the UK to continue to consist of GB&NI given that the very basis the statelet of Northern Ireland was set up on – the largest area that would give a Protestant and Unionist majority in perpetuity – no longer applies.

The results of the census are complex in terms of identity. Simple ‘British only’ identity has been declining but ‘Irish only’ identity has not been advancing rapidly. ‘Northern Irish’ and multiple, overlayering, identities has been increasing. And of course there are the 6% of people in the North who are newcomers from ‘elsewhere’ (only half the figure in the Republic but still significant). Old certainties are out the window but there are as yet no ‘new certainties’.

It is the ‘middle ground’, as we have oft stated before, that will have the casting vote if it comes to a referendum on a united Ireland, deciding between the options. Some unionists were getting perturbed when Peter Kyle, Labour shadow secretary for the North, said he would set out his criteria for calling a referendum – this isn’t prescribed in the Good Friday Agreement. To these unionists this looked like treachery whereas it is simply common sense. The more clarity the better. The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum to be called by the Secretary of State if he/she feels that a vote for a united Ireland would succeed. Being clear on what criteria would be used to make that decision would be good so it is a mystery to no one. A Lucid Talk poll has shown 57% of 18–24-year-olds would vote for a united Ireland; this ‘united Ireland’ majority disappears at the next age cohort up but it is still a straw in the wind.

A non sequitur (wishful thinking by some unionists perhaps) is that those identifying as ‘Northern Irish’ will necessarily vote for the continuation of the UK as opposed to a united Ireland. This cannot be assumed. It would seem more Catholics than Protestants proclaim themselves as ‘Northern Irish’. But in any case, if you are ‘Northern Irish’ you can be ‘Northern Irish’ in the UK or, potentially, in a united Ireland which would, sensibly, allow the continuation of some Northern Irish identity or devolved government. This has all to be defined and efforts to explore what the nature of a ‘united Ireland’ would be are welcome so that people can decide on as factual a basis as possible rather than simple identity politics. And, as we have said before, any vote for a united Ireland, should it come, needs to be the start or continuation of a process not a sudden fait accompli.

Unionism in Norn Iron previously existed through being set up as a majority and proclaiming majority rule; it is no longer a majority but then neither is nationalism. Let’s hope that both get their acts together to try to appeal outside their core base so that future debates can take place with as much reason, and as as little vituperation and hate, as possible. Discussions organised by Ireland’s Future group are grappling with different issues of a possible united Ireland, and there should be separate Irish government action and discussion on the same theme,. It is possible that Together UK, associated with Arlene Foster, to be launched in November, may do something similar on the unionist side; it will hopefully go way beyond civic campaigning for the UK link and the simple statement from Foster that a united Ireland would be an economic ‘nightmare’. It needs to compare actualities and real possibilities on both sides, from a unionist perspective..

Of course comparing current realities (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where it is currently and where it can go) with potentialities (of a united Ireland) are rather different tasks. But let us hope that all sides – the ‘muddle in the middle’ too – can exercise their imagination and thought processes to the fullest so that what we get is not flag waving but concrete analysis and careful planning, whatever the future of the wee North holds. People deserve no less. I certainly won’t object if the concentration on symbols like flegs flags but that is left blowing in the wind. And we don’t want more flags to be flying at half mast.

Beautiful questions

I’m not a Quaker though sometimes people who see I am into peace think I must be one (!). However I did have a Quaker great-great-great-grandmother from Westmeath – maybe she was great – and at the time ‘marrying out’ (mid-19th century) she would have been cast out from the Religious Society of Friends – a not very friendly action perhaps which is part explanation for the small numbers of Quakers in Ireland today. Anyway, that’s a preface to mentioning the lecture at Quaker Irish Yearly Meeting this summer was given by Lynn Finnegan on the topic Embodying the Quaker Testimonies in Service of a Living Planet: The Challenge of Asking Beautiful Questions’ and it can be found at If you are into Quaker-style spirituality and action, environmentalism and justice, you might want to give it a look cos it has lots to ponder.

As we have undoubtedly said in these pages before, the history of peace action in Ireland would be a lot shorter without the members of the Religious Society of Friends who have been fiendishly or friendishly dedicated to justice and peace, and have been at times able to initiate positive earth-quakes. Interestingly, they share initials, RSF, with Republican Sinn Féin. [Is this your Useless Fact of the Month? – Ed]

The winter is coming in, unfortunately for those who will struggle to heat their homes and eat as well. The cycle of life continues and there will be a spring, literal and metaphorical, even if both may be a long way away. Until we meet again, take care of yourself, take care of others, Billy.