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Nonviolent News 287, March 2021

CAIN able to continue

CAIN, Conflict Archive on the Internet, has received sufficient funding from Initiatives of Change to continue operating for the next couple of years and to use new technology in the archive – although it still seeks further funding. The most used online resource on the conflict in Northern Ireland, it has been under threat of being mothballed (the site become static but still being online) and funding was urgently required. The three staff involved will continue to be based at Ulster University’s Magee campus – it is a project of UU.

On UK’s commitment to ‘no diminution’ of rights in NI

The UK made a commitment that there will be ‘no diminution’ of a number of rights set out in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) as a result of Brexit and it has committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland’s laws keep pace with future changes to certain EU human rights and equality laws. An article by Robyn Scott, Communications and Equality Coalition Coordinator, CAJ, in (page 9 of) the February issue of ‘Just News’, the publication of CAJ/Committee on the Administration of Justice, looks at this area and identifies six different potential breaches of the ‘no diminution’ commitment which it outlines. ‘Just News’ is available on the CAJ website at and go to Publications.

Talk by Chris Cole on drones

Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK will be giving a talk at 7.30pm on Tuesday 16th March on ‘Drone Wars 2021: The growing use of drones on the battlefield and the home-front’. John Maguire will give a short response, filling in some Irish context, followed by discussion. The platform will be Zoom; it is an open meeting organised by the new network on the arms trade in Ireland; contact to receive an invitation. The next business meeting of the network on the arms trade is one week previous to this, 7.30pm on Tuesday 9th March and contact the same address for inclusion.

Letter issued by groups on Belfast armed drone development

Nobel Peace Laureate Máiread Maguire and eleven civil society groups or organisations signed a recent letter to the media (and to the appropriate ministers) expressing concern on the development by Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast (formerly Bombardier) of an armed fighter drone for the British Ministry of Defence. They stated “The Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ risks becoming a Northern Ireland ‘war process’ “ and “ It is sad that the UK should be investing in this war technology, and doubly sad that it is being done in the city of Belfast which deserves better.” See full letter at

Gaza bikes appeal

Stephen Wood has a crowdfunding appeal out to send second hand bikes to a youth project in Gaza. They are for the Palestinian Youth Corps (PYC) which is a Gaza based volunteer organisation committed to community development, freedom and human rights. See for details.

Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) European conference

A 3-day European conference in February, organised by Nonviolent Peaceforce, looked at Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP – including monitoring, accompaniment, being present and working with people at risk etc). Originally scheduled as a face-to-face gathering and the final leg of a worldwide project operating for some years, the European event was ‘caught by Covid’ and took place online. Previous sessions had been held in Manila (December 2017), Beirut, Nairobi, Paynesville (North America), and Bogota (January 2020). Reports from these conferences are available at and the European report should join the rest by autumn 2021. Northern Ireland, the Western Balkans and Kosovo featured in one of the sessions. See also See report later in this issue

Covid control breaches by US military at Shannon

Shannonwatch have called for the cessation of US military and military contracted flights landing and refuelling at Shannon Airport following a series of Covid breaches where US military personnel stayed overnight in local hotels, contrary to regulations, and without any tests.

Corrymeela podcasts on Irishness and Britishness

Corrymeela has started a series of weekly podcasts on questions of Irishness and Britishness, for this year when the centenary of partition is marked, as well as the first year of the Brexit regulations. Hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama, there are some very well known and fascinating speakers. See The main Corrymeela website is at

Síolta Chroí

The vision of Síolta Chroí (Seeds of the Heart) is a more connected world where ecosystems are restored and thriving, humans are working in cooperation with wider nature and one another and everyone has the opportunity to explore their full human potential. Given Covid restrictions, how some courses (communication, food growing, permaculture, yoga and foodgrowing) will take place is uncertain but details can be found at Síolta Chroí, Aghcloghan, Carrickmacross, Monaghan, ph 087 9018581.

Dates slip by on data control

ICCL, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, continues to be active on data issues. They state that there is growing concern that the DPC/Irish Data Protection Commission is not up to the task of regulating the big tech companies headquartered in Dublin. It is the chief regulator of these companies under the GDPR. Recently, an opinion from the European Court of Justice pointedly described “persistent administrative inertia”, and EU’s Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), is calling for an infringement procedure against Ireland for failing to enforce the GDPR. Go to and click on ‘Digital & Data”.

World Beyond War Ireland series videos

Go to to see the videos from the series A World Beyond War – Conversations on Alternatives, and other material. Speakers in the series were Denis Halliday, Clare Daly, Dave Donnellan, Suad Aldarra, Yaser Alashqar, and Ed Horgan. WBW Ireland is at See report later….

Afri’s Féile Bríde ‘Seeds of the heart’ video

Links to the video of this year’s Afri Féile Bríde can be found as follows: YouTube: and on Facebook:

QCEA launches peace mediation report

QCEA/Quaker Council on European Affairs has launched a new 72-page report called ‘Peace Mediation: from Concept to successful implementation, learning from Quaker experience’. It focuses on the implementation of the new ‘Concept on EU Peace Mediation’ which was published at the end of 2020. It advocates for learning from Quaker experience in mediation and conciliation and using the learnings for practical guidance, underlining the unique Quaker approach to mediation based on trust, independence, principled impartiality, long-term engagement as well as humility. It can be downloaded at

Church and Peace on EU security policy decisions

Church and Peace has evaluated some of the arms and security policy decisions taken under the German EU Council Presidency; Read the statement at:

Nasrin, Iran

Front Line Defenders (FLD), in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Resistance Studies is offering an at-home screening of the powerful documentary film Nasrin, followed by a panel discussion with Jeff Kauffman and Marcia Ross (director and producer of Nasrin), Mary Lawlor, (United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders), Reza Khandan (Iranian activist & husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh), and Iranian women human rights defenders (WHRDs) Mahdieh Golrou and Rezvaneh Mohammadi on Tuesday, 9th March at 7pm (GMT). Register by 5th March to see the film (you will be sent a password protected link to see the film in your own time): The discussion will be live streamed via the Front Line Defenders’ Facebook and Youtube channels; see and The main FLD website is at

FLD’s ‘Global Analysis 2020’, available on their website, lists 331 human rights defenders killed in 2020 as well as detailed analysis of issues affecting those working in this field.

Voting procedures in decision making

A recent presentation by Peter Emerson of the de Borda Institute, running for 32 minutes, on this topic can be found at See also

Feasta (and Feasta)

The annual report for 2020 from Feasta, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustaiability, can be found on their fascinating and detailed website under ‘Documents’ along with a huge amount of other material. Their ‘Theory of Change’ can be found under the ‘About’ button.

Editorials, NN 287

Northern Ireland:

Nul points’ for zero sum games – but who makes the rules?

There is a tendency to see everything in Northern Ireland in ‘zero sum’ terms; a win for them’uns is a loss for us’uns, and vice versa. In relation to Brexit there would seem to be a clear zero sum game in progress; an Irish Sea Border being seen as a defeat for unionism, an Irish border ‘border’ being a defeat for nationalism. But things are, and should be, somewhat more complicated than that.

Talking generally (before going on to look at the current situation) the complications are to do with both parity and justice. Clear victory for one side and clear defeat for the other can be very dangerous because it creates resentment and ill feeling which can then spill over into various other aspects of life. Then there is also the question – what is just? In the sectarian and heated political environment of Northern Ireland these are not easy questions to answer but it is still possible to at least try to listen to ‘the other’ and see what can be done. However sometimes what can be done to ‘even the score’ may be limited, though using ‘neutral criteria’ such as established human rights norms may help in some cases.

While it has been stated before here that some policies of the EU, in relation to neoliberal economic policies and increasing militarisation, are very unwelcome, the UK decision to pursue Brexit was part of a flawed decision making process. Yes, a majority in the UK voted for leaving the EU but a larger majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay. People in the UK knew not what they were actually voting for and that meant that any democratic mandate for it has been very shaky.

Be that as it may, the DUP/Democratic Unionist Party jumped in enthusiastically to the Brexit camp, thinking that it would make Northern Ireland more ‘British’. They seriously overplayed their hand. They could have backed Theresa May’s deal to ally the whole UK to EU standards which would have meant no ‘Irish Sea Border’. Instead they went for broke. However the reality of the power relationship between the larger EU and smaller UK, and the nature of the EU single market, meant disaster for them. While all the time denying their role in such a cock up for unionism, they initially played down the significance of the Northern Ireland Protocol until unionist opinion exerted itself and they felt they had to be more strident. Unionist and loyalist rhetoric has been ramping up.

Pretty much all of unionism is now singing from the same song sheet in demanding that the Protocol be replaced. Even senior figures got in on the act. Peter Robinson said it might come to a choice between Stormont (the Assembly) and the Protocol because of the difficulty in opposing it while being involved in the power-sharing Executive. However unionist commentator Alex Kane pointed out that each time there is a break or hiatus in government in Northern Ireland, unionism comes back weaker. David Trimble argued forcefully that the Protocol breached the Good Friday Agreement because it changed the constitutional position of Northern Ireland without the agreement of the (unionist) majority. Arlene Foster spoke about the need to heed the will of the majority, seemingly ‘heed’ as in ‘accede to’.

But to each argument there is a counter-argument. Some pointed out that ‘unionism’ is no longer ‘the majority’ in Northern Ireland (even if there is not a majority for a united Ireland). Unionists were happy, in relation to the majority in Northern Ireland voting to stay with the EU, to point to the (small) majority in the whole of the UK who voted for it; but when it came to the government of the UK making an arrangement that they did not like, they spoke about ‘the majority’ in Northern Ireland. Others said that if David Trimble considered the NI Protocol to breach the Good Friday Agreement, surely Brexit did this first (this matter is open to endless debate but Brexit has certainly affected human rights issues in Northern Ireland).

The EU has indicated it may be open to flexibility in the implementation of the Protocol but both it and the British government have indicated the Protocol is here to stay. The EU says the British need to live up to their side of the bargain (e.g. real time information sharing on trade flows) before considering liberalisation of rules. From its point of view the EU may need to protect its single market but there is nothing which stipulates there has to be the particular level of bureaucracy which interferes with a variety of aspects of previous trading patterns, and availability of products as it has in Northern Ireland, even though Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market and Britain does not. There could be a very considerable simplification of what is required through trusted trader status, analysis of trading patterns and information (as the EU have asked for) and so on.

The unionist demand for the complete replacement of the Protocol is unlikely to get much traction except in extremis. Britain – England – wants to move on. And this is where the danger comes. There is no easy alternative, and a trade border on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be even more difficult to police and would replace one set of people feeling a grievance with another (nationalists and republicans). But the longer problems are highlighted, and the slower it is to get issues sorted, the more strident voices in unionism and loyalism will get ramped up and the closer loyalist paramilitarism may get to violence. The risks to the EU single market could be protected in a much less obtrusive way.

So action is needed fast. Whether ‘the maximum’ can assuage unionism remains to be seen. Business on the other hand wants certainty and some firms in Northern Ireland importing certain goods have had major problems, others involved in exporting welcome the opportunity for freer trade with the EU than now enjoyed by Britain. The EU and British government, or indeed the Irish government, simply stating that the Protocol is here to stay is not very helpful; telling people “you have made your bed, now lie on it” is hardly conducive to de-escalation. Unionists are feeling aggrieved and need listened to carefully; however what could, or should, be done in response is another matter. It is not a matter of stringing anyone along but exploring what options exist; those may be limited but need attention and action straight away.

Unionism is not the force it once was in Northern Ireland. But those who consider themselves British need listened to carefully, just as those who consider themselves Northern Irish or Irish. When it is disturbed, ‘parity of esteem’ can turn into ‘parity of steam’ and the lid risks getting blown off. Such an explosion is not in the interest of anyone or of progress in what passes for a ‘peace process’ in Northern Ireland.

Good riddance, Direct Provision (whenever it eventually disappears….)

When the Direct Provision system was introduced in the Republic a couple of decades ago to provide shelter to refugees and asylum seekers, it was a ‘temporary’ arrangement that became semi-parmanent. It was also a very large and distinct blot on Ireland’s record on human rights and treating people fairly. With direct provision centres often located in out of the way locations, and crowded conditions with no choice as to whom you associated with (or even shared a room with), and no choice of food or opportunity to cook for yourself (to name just a few issues), it heaped insult on injury for people who had already been through so much. It has been kicking people while they were down. Mental health and self esteem suffered. The opportunity for integration suffered. Eventually people gained the right to work after six months in the country but the whole system was unfit for purpose.

Agencies or groups working in the field such as MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland ) and Doras (in Limerick, ) have welcomed the announced government plans in its White Paper, with some reservations, but it is clear they are not ‘holding their breath’. Plans are largely in line with the proposals in the Catherine Day report of the October 2020. Doras say“We are concerned to see that there is no clear plan to deal with the large backlog in International Protection cases…….. we would like to see the closure of centres beginning this year, instead of 2022, as stated in the White Paper. Conditions in many direct provision centres are currently below acceptable standards, and the daily experiences of international protection applicants are far from acceptable.”

MASI say “The White Paper is ambitious in some areas and lacks imagination in others……. MASI is appalled by the decision not to provide supports for asylum seekers to live independently in the community if they do not avail of 4 months of Direct Provision (whatever name the government calls it) after lodging their asylum claim…..While the White Paper has some positive changes including the end of shared living spaces for families and supports for children, it does have problematic areas that make it difficult to hold the State accountable without putting the provision of accommodation and other supports for asylum seekers on a statutory footing…..”

If “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” there is a long way to go yet. The crazy thing about Direct Provision (with accommodation provided by commercial enterprises) – beyond its considerable human rights abuses – is that it is, as the Day report indicated, more expensive in financial terms than the proposed alternatives. Speedy change is needed and putting services on a statutory basis so that any breaches can be adequately and swiftly addressed.


Let’s celebrate

International Women’s Day……

………and honour the Spirit of the feminine in our shared history today.

By Miriam Ryan

A spirited Cork woman known as Mother Jones, dedicated her life in the U.S. 1860s, to upholding justice and fearlessly supported labour rights, and mining communities and children’s right to be just kids, with her dignified socialist ideas, and trade union activism. Having suffered much tragedy in her personal life, she stood against the abuse perpetrated by a powerful patriarchy, on those people who actually helped create their obscene profits. Intimidation, mocking and jail terms never dimmed her clear seeing and understanding of where terror and injustice was rooted. She is remembered in song by the talented Lisa O Neill, using Mother Jones’s refrain as the chorus of the song, “Pray for the dead. And fight like hell for the living”.

Let’s celebrate Margaret MacCurtain/Sr. Benvenuta, Lecturer and Historian who saw fit to rewrite women back into history. ‘Herstory’, a series of talks held in the National Gallery in the 1990s by Sinead McCoole who recently  wrote the whole story of the Gifford Sisters’ life and their sacrifices and love of freedom. And Grace Gifford who married her lover Joseph Mary Plunkett at midnight, in Kilmainham jail in 1916, and who later that day ‘forgave’ the very young courageous British soldier, who sobbed at her door, ashamed that he had been part of the firing squad, who had shot her husband. And Dorothy Macardle, writer playwright, activist and historian, whose book ‘The Irish Republic’ (1973), is regarded as one of the most influential accounts of the Irish War of Independence.

We honour the present Raging Grannies, and the ‘Guantanamo Granny’ Margaretta D’Arcy for their love of people and human rights and their abhorrence of the cruelty of injustice.

In pre Celtic times, a body of just and sophisticated Laws were enacted by the people for the people. This rich code of laws created the most enlightened , humane legal structure in all of Europe. They were based on restitution and compensation, with no call whatsoever for the death penalty. These laws dealt with every aspect of daily life, for example land disputes, theft, violence, marriage, divorce and no forced marriage was tolerated. And the care of animals and trees, and birds and bees, was taken very seriously. Sadly they were lost in time through invasion and Christianity. Our language was forbidden and placenames, in which so much traditional knowledge was stored, were almost lost. Love of learning and poetry and music is still central to our character, as a culture. It is said that those in power write the history but those who suffer write the songs and poetry and music. The artist Sinéad Smith was part of the “Name the children project” remembering all the children who died in war.

Claire Sands that ‘fearless, feisty, fiddler’ wailing out her songs from a deeply spiritual, raw, ancestral depth to honour Mother Nature and the human spirit.

Tolu Mackey and her Lyrics “Togetherness” digging deep into her soul for such richness.

Ruth Anne, Karen Casey, Angel with her Gospel singing, and of course Denise Chaila with “Anseo”, all wonderful poets and musicians who reveal to us who we are.

And the writer Dervla Murphy who cycled around India, Africa, Russia, and Europe opening up a wider world to an insulated 1970s Ireland, with the diaries of her courageous solo travels. The wonderful writer Edna O’Brien’s novels and Sinéad Bourke’s “Tilting the Lens”, all educators.

And Ann Lovett who tragically lost her life alone as she gave birth, teaching us how essential us human beings are to each other, and how essential it is we face ourselves, and our past. We honour Joanna Hayes, and the recent official apology she and her family received for such cruel disregard of the truth, in the 1980s Kerry Baby case. And Nell McCafferty, writer and journalist and author of ‘In the Eyes of the Law’, who garnered support exposing this miscarriage of justice, and on the patriarchal justice system. Nell’s “Good night Sisters” refrain to us all, from her RTE series, in 1980s, spreading great hope of a more enlightened Éire.

And all those women in the Mother and Baby homes, who suffered so much, while a patriarchal system continued to inflict on society, a warped way of looking at the world. And the sheer honesty of Sinéad O’Connor’s wonderful voice, calling out abuse, perpetrated by institutional patriarchy. And Dolores O Riordan’s who rocked the music world with her song “Zombie”, awakening a consciousness of peace against war profiteers, and demanding all of this be done peacefully. As Kathy Kelly with her Irish roots, speaks about the past where ‘weapons were created for war, but war nowadays is created so as to sell weapons’, and obscene profit made out of the creation of human misery. And our former President Mary McAleese, for her fearless practical peaceful, insightful support for genuine human rights.

History should be about classes and events and stories and not about individuals, so Anna Parnell wrote in 1880s. Her book”‘Notes from the Ladies’ Cage” is a record of women’s participation in the Land League, and her pioneering campaigning for housing rights for the urban poor, yet she was perceived as a threat to both the Fenians, the Republicans, and the Church authorities.

We honour Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, the youngest MP ever, with her astute mind and deep sense of a just society, aware of the class war, perpetrated in Northern Ireland against the whole community. And Mairead Maguire, the Nobel Peace Laureate in 1976, who instigated a call for cross community support to end the Troubles, and Inez McCormack trade unionist and human rights activist. All peaceful revolutionaries from the depth of the heart of the human Spirit, under the guidance of our Goddess Brigid and our insightful, enlightened Brehon Laws, when we understood the meaning of the necessity for social justice, before empire tried to trample our Spirit. In Jo Kerrigan’s book on the Brehon Laws she wonders why today these enlightened laws are not implemented, which would create for us all ‘a World beyond War’. This is a celebration of the feminine, which is found deeply in all of us human beings.

International Women’s Day is on 8th March. The Northern Ireland programme (starting 3rd March) can be found at but for the Republic you may have to look out locally and search.

– – – – –

Meeting/Conference reports:

by Rob Fairmichael


In reporting on the World Beyond War (WBW) meeting series in Ireland, and the Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) conference in Europe, I am deliberately focusing on particular points of interest that I found and not attempting a comprehensive summary. In any case the videos of the WBW series are available online, with other material, and the report on the UCP conference will in due course join the other ones on the Nonviolent Peaceforce website from the other continental conferences.

1. A World Beyond War?

Conversations on Alternatives

– Meeting series

The World Beyond War chapter (they use the US terminology) in Ireland organised this excellent series of well attended speaker meetings in January and February 2021, accessible to anyone online. All the sessions, and more, are available at

There was a chime between the first and last contributions in relation to the United Nations. Denis Halliday, as a former Assistant General-Secretary, obviously knows his way around the UN. He sees the General Assembly as representative, but spoke of how the powerful countries wanted to control it from the start – which they do through permanent membership, with veto, of the UN Security Council; they are the people who start the wars. The USA, France, China, Russia and the UK have veto power. However he contrasted the work of the forty of so specialised UN agencies. Ed Horgan spoke of how these powerful countries put themselves above international law and readily use their veto to block any sanctions or action against them, e.g. in the invasion of Afghanistan which was in breach of the UN Charter. Ed Horgan identified the US, Britain and France as the main offenders in this context. He suggested taking matters to the UN General Assembly as the only way around this issue, and that military peacekeeping should be removed from the UN Security council and given to the General Assembly (where there is no veto).

Denis Halliday comes from a Quaker family and his father was very involved with the Irish Pacifist Movement He saw racism and colonialism at work in Africa. In his work in and on Iraq in 1997-8 he saw how sanctions punish the poor, and how Madeline Albright thought half a million children dead as a result was ‘worth it’. He worked to increase the impact of the ‘oil for food’ programme. He spoke about the devastating effect of DU/Depleted Uranium in the ammunition used by the USA in Iraq. He identified white Christian Europeans (i.e. Europeans or people of European origin) as the most dangerous people. He resigned from his post as UN Assistant General-Secretary to work to expose what was being done to Iraq at the time of Kofi Annan.

In answer to a final question from Peadar King about whether he saw the current time as more or less volatile than in his young days, Denis Halliday readily identified today as more volatile, frightening and dangerous. And this is itself frightening.

Clare Daly grew up in a family that was both military (her father was in the Irish army) and religious. But her opinions developed; indeed there can’t be too many parliamentarians who have been arrested and charged in their own country for a nonviolent action ‘walk on’ at an airport to protest against government policies, as she has over Shannon airport. Being neutral is more than not starting wars, she stated simply but cogently.

Clare Daly spoke about growing EU militarisation and the move towards an EU ‘European’ army, and the seismic shift to direct funding of militarism. There was an attempt to justify this through the creation of a ‘common enemy’ which doesn’t exist. There is now a uniformed EU border force with a massively increased budget. And the military budget has increased dramatically, much more than is spent on something like combatting Covid. Ireland has a global standing beyond our size, she said, which could be used for peaceful resolution. Some parliamentarians are well disposed to neutrality and peace but are unwilling to stand up to their party. She spoke in favour of peace and open borders, as well as ensuring people had the proper assistance to live in their own countries, and tackling climate change.

Dave Donnellan, who was the next speaker, is also a graduate of the Shannon Airport College of Walk Ons (it took him four and a half years to graduate to freedom), and began, in relation to a question about military destruction of the environment, pointing out that the Pentagon is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet. He spoke about the thirty court appearances involved in his (and Colm Roddy’s) Shannon action and how this process itself was a punishment. He spoke about how trees take care of each other, ‘mother’ trees, and so should we…. In relation to a question about how we get environmentalists to take peace seriously, and peace activists to take environmentalism seriously, he spoke of relationships and our relation to the planet and cosmos as opposed to ‘whole spectrum dominance’ which is about dominance, control and subjugation. He had spoken movingly about his attachment to Pakistan from living there and the night time grandeur of the stars, infinite and beautiful, and feeling on the inside of that.

Suad Aldarra and Yaser Alashqar, respectively from Syria and Palestine, now live in Ireland. They spoke about human displacement as a consequence of war. The 70 million displaced people today may be the highest ever. When the war came to her home, Suad Aldarra had fled first to Egypt but with the coup and chaos there, and the banning of Syrian refugees, was forced to flee again; she spoke of being torn between different worlds, an identity crisis, and the difficulty in knowing who she is. However she is a data scientist, a storyteller and writing a book on the Syrian diaspora.

Yaser Alashqar spoke about the siege of Gaza, where he comes from. People cannot leave Gaza, they are trapped; Israel may justify attacks by referring to Hamas but they bomb civilian homes. And the vast majority of people in Gaza are refugees to begin with, i.e. coming from or their families coming from other parts of Israel and Palestine. Yaser Alashqar is now an adjunct professor of Peace Studies at TCD. While recognising a certain amount of popular support in Ireland for Palestine he said there is not so much at governmental level; there is arms trade with Israel and involvement with training, universities and research; “Ireland could do better”. Palestine was dropped from the FF-FG programme for Government. Ireland complains about refugee numbers but doesn’t support conflict resolution and human rights internationally. Both Suad and Yaser have had good experiences of welcome in Ireland as well as more negative or open ones.

Ed Horgan, with very significant experience of peacekeeping with the Irish army, spoke on whether militaries are the most appropriate peacekeepers. He spoke of how some UN peacekeeping missions were not allowed succeed by the five veto powers who, as mentioned above, placed themselves above international law. Success is claimed in East Timor, 1999-2000, he said, but it failed to stop genocide there for the 25 years previously; successful operations he pinpointed were Sierra Leone and the Sinai. He argued strongly that Ireland should only be involved with UN peacekeeping operations, not with the EU or anyone else. He spoke about a variety of other peacekeeping operations and lessons from them.

In relation to a question as to whether the military are suitable peacekeepers, he felt in the early stages (of conflict or emerging from conflict) it is useful to have people with military skills and military vehicles for protection. However he stated strongly that aggressive powers should not be involved in such operations. He went on to speak about the failure of the UN peacekeeping operation in Rwanda; permission to intervene was refused by Boutros Boutros Ghali. He also spoke about the crimes against humanity of the big powers.

2. Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP)

European conference organised by Nonviolent Peaceforce

UCP’, unarmed civilian protection, includes monitoring, accompaniment, being present and working with people at risk in many different ways and contexts. This European event was the final regional or continental conference in a worldwide process which has been proceeding for some years to establish good practice, and ‘what works’.

Organising a conference online while maximising participation requires a high degree of organisation and thankfully this was fully delivered. While a participant in such an event is likely to miss the opportunity to catch up with old and new friends in breaks over coffee or evening conviviality, and the chance to grab someone for further elucidation or points of networking, the ‘chat’ facility online can provide a way for slightly less formal interaction, either with the whole gathering or ‘privately’ to an individual. It is still not the same thing and the online pace can be frenetic. And I couldn’t make Irish coffee for people (with neat, vegan or non-alcoholic options)….

See photo and some other info at

The reports from conferences on ‘the other’ continents on this topic can be found at

The conference was organised in 6 sessions; introductions to each other and the topic, four ‘subject’ sessions and a closing session which provided report back and chance for further reflection. The ‘subject’ sessions were on ‘Working for the rights and security of refugees’, ‘Monitoring, observing and protecting against violence by police and other state agencies’, ‘Working with tensions in communities to prevent or reduce violence’, and ‘Unarmed civilian protection in contexts of war and violent conflict’. Discussion and themes overlapped considerably between the subject sessions so my comments are not necessarily defined by the session. This conference was about ‘UCP’ work in Europe, not about Europeans being involved in projects like Peace Brigades International (PBI) elsewhere (many moons ago PBI did have an assessment done by Lynne Shivers on a possible project in Northern Ireland)

The opening session included a quick intro to the concept of unarmed civilian protection by Christine Schweitzer. As she pointed out there are lots of different terminologies used (and different ones in different languages). In English, ‘protective accompaniment’ and ‘civilian peacekeeping’ would be part of it. However there are other models which weren’t covered in the weekend including the kind of long term mediation presence which Quakers are often involved in (e.g. Quaker House in Belfast) – though Quakers did get mentioned by Christine. As she pointed out it is alsoa practice of activists developing their own strategies of self-protection, collectively or individually.”

In one slide Christine Schweitzer identified the following types of work in this field:

Longer-term projects with protection as part of the mandate, with the Cyprus Resettlement project, Balkan Peace Team and the monitoring work in Northern Ireland as perhaps the main NGO projects, and with missions by the European Union and OSCE as governmental missions;

– Short-term inter-positioning projects during the wars in the Balkans, and shorter-term peace team activities, for example in Germany (Gorleben) and Turkey.

– Situational protection against violence, with protection of refugees in the early 1990s the prime example.

– Protection activities by projects that were about other objectives but who took a role in protection when the situation warranted it;

– Non-cooperation and public protest in case of fighting the Mafia.”

I missed the session ‘Working on the rights and security of refugees’ which is not an area I am involved in but would have been interested to learn more, not least because in the European and EU situation it is a vital area of concern. However a summary was provided in the final session (and ‘post it’ type notes provided for each session). Points included creating space for refugees, building trust and relationships; concrete realistic goals; precise observation; having experience of different cultures; looking for allies (‘feeding angels not monsters’), including local small businesses; and looking outside the box. The tension between documenting what is taking place and respecting people’s dignity and privacy was one of the areas of concern; blurring people’s faces in photos and video was one possibility mentioned. Obviously the context is of tightly closed borders and increasing criminalisation of solidarity and humanitarian work.

There were different experiences in different environments, for example in relating to police or building relationships with them – where possible this was certainly considered important. One comment on a country from the former Yugoslavia was it depended on the individual police commander what was possible. The use of mobile phone cameras to document police and other behaviour also varied greatly, with seemingly important use in Belarus and Palestine but in France there is an attempt by the authorities to criminalise such practice. And the extent to which this might be considered antagonistic behaviour also varied, and in addition there was a warning about GDPR issues in the EU, as well as issues to do with encryption. So awareness of issues and possibilities is vital but it may be impossible to generalise what someone should do in a given situation.

The final session showed some demand to hear more about people’s practice, and this may happen, because apart from the session on ‘Unarmed civilian protection in contexts of war and violence’ – which had four short talks – sessions were ‘sharing and discussing’ so we got some context but not a huge amount about most. This model went straight to discussion of issues rather than going through description of practice first.

The speakers at the session on ‘Unarmed civilian protection in contexts of war and violence’ were Ann Patterson and someone called Rob Fairmichael, both on Northern Ireland; Goran Bozicevic on the Western Balkans, and Giulia Zurlini on Kosovo. Ann Patterson showed a short video on the formation of the Peace People (produced for their 40th anniversary) and spoke about some of the early Troubles peace activities, including standing between soldiers and civilians. I covered monitoring by INNATE, CAJ/Committee on the Administration of Justice, and MNI/Mediation Northern Ireland, in relation to the latter particularly a three-year project in an urban interface area of Belfast. The INNATE ‘Monitoring/Observing’ checklist which featured as a backdrop in one of my slides received some attention

Goran Bozicevic spoke of work in Pakrac, the Balkan Peace Team, and the importance of practical solidarity work during the turbulent period of war and conflict. Giulia Zurlini spoke of standing with both communities in Kosovo, staying when there were threats, speaking their languages, listening to the stories of those suffering but rehumanising ‘the enemy’, as well as providing practical help to people.

The importance of socialising with local people, in various ways including drinking or smoking, came up. And also the fact that it can be easier to work with women and young people than men – and I think it was Goran who said, when questioned about working with young people, that he was working with the peacemakers of twenty years’ time. Knowing limitations was also something covered, in relation to two erstwhile antagonistic ethnic groups living side by side in a German city; they cooperate well together and can deal with commonalities and issues arising – but discussing the issues between their homelands is a step too far.

As stated, this is not a comprehensive coverage of the conference, just some issues that come to mind. The link to the other continental material is worth following up (given near the start of this piece)….and the European report will join those, most likely autumn 2021, before a final pulling together of experience from this very worthwhile global project.

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 287

Art and Peace Series

In praise of gentle disorientation:

An interview with Paul Hutchinson

Interviewer: Stefania Gualberti

Paul Hutchinson is the founder/director of Imagined Spaces, (specialising in creative community relations) and a former Centre Director of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation.

He is a mediator and educator (including Visiting Professor at Dalhousie University and the Atlantic School of Theology), and an award–winning documentary filmmaker and writer. 

Between the Bells”, his book from 2019, recounts the varied experiences of many whose lives have been changed by their visit to Corrymeela.

Waiting and Silence”  his film from 2015 explored a particular Quaker Meeting to ask some universal questions about the role and function of silence and contemplation in our society.

Stefania – How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and peacebuilding?

Paul – That is such a great question because when do you start believing that you are creative and that imagination shapes the world? When you are a child you don’t say this is my future career. You say I don’t understand this, I do understand this.

Both my parents left school at age 14. My mom hated to read, she is dyslexic and left-handed and they frowned on you if you were left handled, so she was shouted at twice (for being left-handed and dyslexic) and she thought she was stupid, which she isn’t. From her, I think, I got the power of movement because she was a dancer. She had a physical intelligence, and so in our house she would be preparing for a class and she would be putting on music and trying to count it out 1234 2234 while we sat watching her in the living room. So that helped me to think to about the mechanisms behind music, behind dance – she was unpicking it before my eyes.

My dad loves books and loves telling stories and he features in lots of my stories. Libraries were a big deal and a love for me. It was a bonding between this macho man of action who liked to read, and me as a child. For me books, libraries and reading, are about connections and windows to other worlds.

I suppose, growing up then music was what really showed me that you needed very little skill to be creative (and skill also helps creativity.) I’m old enough to have been around when punk music came to Northern Ireland and so I formed a band, and we were noisy and awful, and it just gave me confidence to go: “I need to find my voice”. And you start off by sounding like other people and sounding distorted and eventually you might find your own voice, but you certainly develop a voice through pretending to be other people.

I always loved going to the cinema. At first with my Dad – Kung Fu movies, war movies, westerns, blockbusters. And then I fell in love with French cinema (Godard, Louis Malle) and then lots of other countries opened up to me via their films. For example, Iran was a country I knew so little about – it was a cardboard villain kind of knowledge. And then I saw a film from Iran and it was extraordinary – A Moment of Innocence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. And then that took me to all sorts of places.

So, music, dance, books, films. Poetry was always there. English was probably my best subject. Then going to University doing undergrad, postgrad on Psychology, I became a therapist.

I worked at a mental health centre, when I was 26 (and what did I know at that age?) It was a day centre for people with a range of mental health issues and I suppose I brought my therapeutic practice, my creative practice, into the space to say how do we do things that are holistic? To try and let people know that they were more than their illness, more than their label. So, storytelling classes, art classes, massage classes, dance classes, film clubs. I formed the first youth group for people with mental health problems in Northern Ireland many years ago, like 1992. It was based around creativity, based around mostly not talking about their illness and it was about trying to say: “you are more than your illness, you are more than your pain” and creativity was really helpful.

I then did more post grad stuff in drama therapy and I thought how can I do creative stuff? I realised that: “We get stuck when we can’t imagine alternatives and pain sometimes keeps us stuck, routines, habits, culture… what I saw was imagination could expand our horizons, imagination could show us that we could be contradictory, complex, that we could have five feelings at once.”

I retrained in the early 90s to be a mediator, I had been doing lots of volunteer peace activism in different places and locations and I needed some theory. I did my foundation training with Mediation Northern Ireland and the two main trainers were John and Naomi Lederach (parents of the world-renowned John Paul Lederach). I didn’t realise until later how profound that first training was for me, and as soon as I finished it, I designed something to address mental health and conflict. I was just so excited by having a theory which could help me understand my intuitions.

The therapeutic, peacebuilding, mediation and the artistic are all a part of me so I wanted to use it all. I don’t have a hierarchy on talking is bad, dancing is good, stories are good, and theory is bad. To me it was: “How can I help people find their voice? How can we find our voice to give people lots of possibilities?”

Stefania – What do you feel is special about art to facilitate conflict transformation?

Paul – Symbol will allow two or three things alive in the same space (without competing), so ruling out a binary right and wrong, it allows the possibility of multiple ideas and perspectives not at war in the same space; or in dissonance and yet still part of it, and I just adore that – that there is all that possibility. Empathy is built when we use the arts. You get to jump into another person’s head or feet or smell or language and that seemed to be foundational for conflict transformation. It’s about the nature and quality of relationships; Who are we to each other? What is the multitudes of who we are? I think creativity can give so many languages, so many ways that are not hierarchical. I think creativity allows for the possibility of there being lots of truths.

It is not one or the other. I can do the straight therapeutic “tell me about your childhood” and I can say “let’s create a metaphor” or I can say “let’s watch this movie, what do you see?” or I can tell a story and see if it touches your story. Stories breed other stories – we see and hear and understand through stories so I think art at its best can offer the possibility of a polyphonic inclusive space.

I think art at its worst can be propaganda so it can say: there is only one way (obviously examples of certain propaganda films during the Second World War on both sides were saying there’s only one way). They can be beautiful AND manipulative. Every film is trying to shape us.

Stefania – You are an artist. You create poetry, photography, movies, stories, images and metaphors, movement and drama. Is there an art form closest to your heart? What, or what combination, is most effective with groups and with what groups?

Paul – I don’t know if there is an art form that’s closest to my heart. I think I’m better at some than others, technically. Technically I know that I have more range in words that I do in music or I’m probably more technically gifted in film making than dancing these days, and so that’s about technique and ability to use the medium.

If I take films, movies, they have got movement, they have got words, they have got sound, they have got dance, if you wanted. Everything is in there, however it’s also the most expensive medium so I can’t say I love it more than others. I adore movies, I am a real geek. I think movies have shown me different worlds. In all the mediums, I think there’s a distinction between what I love and what I’m technically good at.

It also depends on the group and what you are there to do with them. Is it just for fun or to learn something?

I remember working with Jonny McEwan, Derick Wilson, Libby Keys, Karen Eyben (what a group of people!) and they had got this amazing piece of research money to look at creativity and growing a learning society. There was a Shared Future document, this is many years ago, where they got to asking people what sort of future do you want? We were invited to eavesdrop, to sit in on all these conversations and then to make art. I mean, it was lovely because people were giving you permission.

There was a group of artists called “Think bucket” which Johnny McEwan founded, which was really looking at how can art help reframe, re-lens, re-language, peace and reconciliation. I do remember though we went to Stormont and we had been given two rooms and then all the civil servants came in to see all this art and there was a complete mismatch. I had created T-shirts with slogans that people had said they wanted the future police to wear (Muslim, Gay, I bleed etc); I remember a civil servant saying “you couldn’t fit that into a filing cabinet”. We hadn’t done enough work between one language and the other, (civil servant and artistic) so I think people thought we were freakish. Sometimes you need to have a form that people can get, other times you need to disorient them out of their language into that new learning space. Now, if it’s too weird people just give up or feel defeated.

So, I guess I’m always looking at: “What’s the point of the session? How much time do I have? What relationship is there?” and then I build something from that.

One example that comes to mind is where I was asked to do ‘something creative’ with a group of youth workers. They were looking at resilience and these were brilliant youth workers doing a lot of amazing innovative frontline stuff. I brought a big bucket of dirt, fresh dirt into the room. I could just see in their faces that I was losing them almost immediately by this big bucket of dirt. I said: “I want you to stick your hands in the dirt and take a fist full of dirt for a walk”. They were like: “What’s wrong with you, mate? Why? And what will be doing next? Why? Why? Why?”, there was lots of resistance and the resistance is the material as I say all the time. You don’t go: “You are stupid, you should get this”, the resistance is telling me they’re uncomfortable, they fear: “Who’s got the power? Is this a test? Will they be valued? Are they going to get it right or wrong?”.

I said: “Go and do it, and come back”. I would say half of them probably just ignored it and came back and pretended to do it. I said: “Now, here is some lovely warm water and some soaps. Wash your hands”. They were really happy to do that, to get all that dirt off their hands. I said: “You folk are amazing, you work really hard and you pride yourselves about getting your hands dirty”. “Yep, that’s us”, they got that. I said: “How do you get your hands washed?”. They went “Ohhhh, now we get it!” They could still feel the dirt in their hands and the warm water when we got into the conversation.

Then the next day we were using that language to say, “how do you look after yourself?” because if you’ve got dirty hands all the time that goes into your partners’, your children’s hair, your food, what you read, everywhere you’ve got these dirty hands. I was trying to say in a metaphor, which had a very physical sense to it, how do you take care of yourself? Could I have just used the metaphor and said how do you get your hands dirty? I don’t think so. because they wouldn’t have felt it.

Stefania – Do you find people resisting creative and artistic approaches in group work?

Paul – Resistances is part of the process and obviously if there’s too much resistance, people can get hurt, nothing can get done, or there is distress or acting out or withdrawal. If there is too much storming, it can disrupt any learning for anybody. Sometimes that happens, people want to disrupt the whole thing in order to escape. The safety of the group, the stretch of the group, the comfort. I mean, we are built to push the genes further ahead into the next generation. We are genetically built to seek comfort and avoid discomfort and yet we have a sophisticated brain, within this very primitive body. Trying to build resilience with discomfort is part of the work, to monitor that and to measure that. Co-working can help a lot because you can’t always see it yourself. Yes, people resist and when they ask questions, that’s very helpful because I can’t mind read. Planning is hugely important for me, you plan very well in order to have the possibility and flexibility of all these options. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But risk is part of the practice.

I’m not there to force people, it is a fundamental principle for me. I’m not going to force people therefore I don’t know what’s good for people all the time. I think that when people resist, that’s telling you something (which I don’t know right away) rather than me going “Stop resisting!”

Stefania – Do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels? How?

Paul – Yes, yes and yes. I begin by saying some of my best work has happened because people thought I was only doing a bit of ‘fun art’ . I would get into community to do a ‘silly piece of art’ because they thought I wouldn’t do any damage therefore I was safe. So, some of my best work has happened when people have underestimated art and creativity and it’s allowed me in. If I had said can I come and do some peacebuilding they would have went, ‘no way’ because it would have been viewed as a threat. So, I sometimes downplay what art can do. I would say I will tell a few stories and see what happens and I’ll tell a story and you see what happens, or we watch a film from Iran and we see what happens.

There’s this gorgeous set of films called September the 11th, where eleven film makers were asked to write a response to 9/11. There is tragedy, comedy, metaphor, transformation and they are films from all different parts of the world. I use it in training sessions. The first film is from an Iranian film maker. It’s beautiful, I showed it to people in the American military, and they connected to that. They said, “All we knew was what we were told by Fox News, that the whole Muslim world was cheering when 9/11 happened, which is not what happened” and I remember this woman just going “This can’t be true” and I said, “Why can’t it be true?”, “I just thought Iranians were fundamentalist religious people who hated the West, and here they seem to be sympathetic to the West. It can’t be true, or….. I’d have to change my opinions about the enemy”.

I think creativity has a way in that straight talking hasn’t, art has a gentleness, it has a strangeness, it can be looked at entertainingly. If you watch a movie about something for example you think: “It is a movie therefore I can understand it”. There’s not a stealth, there’s a disguise, sometimes, that art can bring in. When it is otherwise just too hot or too cold for people to get to that place.

Sometimes you distance to get close, sometimes it is too painful to go near, you need to look at something from really far away, another country or a fairytale. That helps you to get a sense of it. Art has the possibility of allowing us to take a glimpse at the pain we have, sometimes from a distance, or masked, or transformed.

For example, I did a piece of work with Susan McEwan, I love working with her. It was coming up to the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, she said “I think we can get some money to do something, let’s dream big!” And I dreamt big and I said: “why don’t we get 3600 volunteers (to represent the 3600 deaths in the Troubles) and we will give them all a birth date and a death date of one of these dead, nothing more, and we will get them to surround the City Hall on one specific day”. She said: “that sounds good, let’s do it and we’ll see what happens!” I went: “okay, let’s do it!”. So, we began to think this up and it became too big for us and we didn’t have enough money. The scale of it was just too big but the idea of it… so this is back to art- the idea of it changed us! When we met, we would go “3600 people! How would that look like?” and so even not doing the project was changing us. Susan said, “let’s do something else”.

So we created “Just for one day”. On the 20th anniversary we invited 10 artists in 10 different locations around Belfast to produce a response to the Good Friday Agreement and the 3600 dead. One of my favourite pieces showed me what art could do. Leonie McDonagh is a dancer and comedian, not from the North. She put this idea to us which was how many times can I fall down and get up in 3600 seconds, which is an hour, and that’s what she did. We invited people who could go on a special bus that visited all the sites or people could go to one site. She performed in An Culturlann, she was downstairs and all you could hear was a bang. It was her falling down and getting up, again and again for an hour. She was bruised all over. People there would say “I need to look away, but I hope she’s okay”, “Every politician should see this, because look at what we’ve done to ourselves”. There was no manifesto, it was a slim woman falling down and getting up. And no one talked about her getting up, they only talked about her falling. This is profound, I am so pleased that we commissioned this. We had ideas about touring it and didn’t get to any of that.

That’s the example: those people were changed, should everybody have seen it? Should we have done the 3600 volunteers? Who knows? Another example was an Esther O’Kelly piece. She does these beautiful abstract paintings we said we’re going to put your really abstract work at a hairdresser in north Belfast. So, the hairdresser, all her clients and her mates, came and the hairdressing salon changed. Something quite abstract was beside a pair of scissors, and a pair of scissors sat beside something bright and beautiful and she had this new conversation, this juxtaposition, which delights me and very few things can do that, you know, talking therapy can’t always do that and art can do that.

My piece was a film. I was trying to find a sports stadium that had 3600 seats to show the scale of the deaths. Crusaders has 3200 seats and so I made a film with me doing a voice over, showing rows and rows of seats. At one point in the dialogue I say something like “Crusaders can only have 3200 people in it, what will we do with the 400, not let them in?” and this notion of heaven, hell, in and out.. I just wanted to weep, thinking “We got to get them in, we have to have them in, we’ll bring them in”. I got a gorgeous cameraman just to do these amazing images, it is 7 minutes long and I’ve shown it all over the world. People go: “What are you saying?” I say “No, what are you seeing?”. In the movie I list the jobs people had, shopkeeper, student, farmer, soldier and I just kept listing, in the end I think I did 50 occupations. It is different every time I see it, because how can your brain, really grasp, that amount of dead. In global terms, when you look at Rwanda, Cambodia, it’s a very small group, but it’s still a large number of people for the size of Northern Ireland.

So, I suppose what art can do is create a language for grief, create a language of remembering, create a language for lament and create language for recovery.

An artist recently said, “Every piece of work I do means nothing and everything. It means nothing in that it’s only a painting, it means everything because that’s all I can do.”

Art making and mark making have to be about everything and nothing. It is only a page with words on it, it is only a movie and yet it can reach to the heart of things.

How do you have a light touch and be passionate about it? How do you be deeply invested in something that may never get seen? Yet, isn’t that what relationships are about? There’s no guarantee of any relationship’s future and so when you start off to do a big piece of work, like write a book or make a film, my big fear is will anybody see this? Would anybody get this? What else could I be doing? I could be playing with the kids, I could be making dinner, I could be cleaning the bathroom.

To me art is about everything and nothing. I am not making it higher than doing the dishes and what I’m saying is I think it has capacity to let us see the world in all these different ways.

I used to think if I do a strong enough poem, everybody who sees it would be changed forever. You want to make a difference, but what does that mean? I think it changes me. I get the most out of it, I am sure.

I made a film about cheerleaders in Sandy Row, I didn’t know I was making a film about superheroes but that’s what they are. They went across boundaries by dancing. Because they were female and from Sandy Row they were disregarded. When I showed the film to them at the Queen’s Film Theatre, they wanted to have the red carpet. They got their own red carpet and the limousine. I said to myself “This is tacky” and then this woman said, “Nobody is ever going to make a film about me again”.

Stefania – In your years of experience is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

Paul – I was really proud of a piece called “Patrick, Prods and Prams” with a group of women which began talking about celebrations and became an exploration of Saint Patrick’s Day, because they had never been to the Belfast parade on St Patrick’s Day as they felt it would have been dangerous. It became them participating in St Patrick’s Day parade as one of the first Protestant groups in Belfast. I have to say they took far more risk than I did. They said “We’ll do it, we don’t want to wear green and you have to lead us in the parade”. I did.

Stefania: Do you consciously try to use humour and light-heartedness in your work?

Paul – It’s about lightness and appropriateness of touch. I think with a heavy subject I try to hold all that’s in the room and sometimes I can hold it too heavily or too lightly. Other times a light touch can open it up, other times you’re holding it and it’s a real strain and other times you tell a joke, and the room opens up to possibilities. I’m doing a piece of research in West Belfast and we’re looking at cemeteries along Falls Rd and I’m going to start the session (which we do in a couple of weeks time) by saying that “I once went on a date, a first date, in a graveyard”. Now people are just going to be curious because as soon as I say that I know I’ve got the audience because you want to know, they want to know and… “it didn’t end well”, the date…

Stefania: What have been your biggest learnings during the years in your experience with art, creativity and peacebuilding?

Paul – That light touch, how do you develop your touch to hold what’s in the room?

A lot of this work is about practice, you have to practice, you have to prepare and then you have to reflect on what you have done. I have not done enough of that, in terms of reflecting. It is a benefit, part of that is economics and part of that is an odd thing which is a part of me doesn’t want to know how it works (as I might ruin it!). The researcher in me is saying “it is actually good to know that, so you can do it again and again and again.”

The intuitive, how do you develop the intuitive as a skill? Rather than going: “I’m just making it up”. I need to prepare for hours, in order to make something up on the spot. It’s a bit like musicians, you practice for hours so you can improvise with what’s in the room, who you’re playing with.

I remember a language translator saying: “don’t try and understand too soon”. To me that has become a mantra. It has massive implications. I think that creativity is not trying to understand too soon, (and also it stops people becoming problems to solve). When working with mystery and metaphors isn’t to explain things, it is to guide you through something you don’t understand with reason at first. Some people want me, every time I tell a story, to analyse it (that just sounds like a drag). I would like the story to be the story and that’s it. The learnings are practice, intuition, reflection, preparation, create models. Don’t not try to understand too soon. That art is about everything and nothing.

Victor Hugo said “There is nothing like a dream to create the future”; what he is saying to me is Imagination can create new worlds.

I suppose art has been saving and transformative for me, because it has allowed me to be a whole bundle of contradictions and if it helped me, I think it might help other people. It allowed me to be multiple things, to work in tough areas and believe in gentleness, to be good at talking and practice listening a lot, to be good with words and to do movement instead.

For a photo of Paul Hutchinson, see

Billy King, NN 287

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello again. This is where we came in, this month a year ago, with lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions. I hope the year has not been too disastrous for you and that you have been able to take the good (such as less or no time commuting, and more positive time with family if you live with them, and more time with nature) with the bad. It has been a strange old year. One great boost in the early part of last year was the excellent weather – and April is usually the driest month in Ireland – so I hope the weather pattern will be repeated this year so we can really shake off those winter coronavirus blues. Though ‘a summer’ would be great too.

Still, there’s a grand stretch in the evenings – sez he as he raises his arms and pushes them outwards after tea-time….

No frog in my throat….

…but one in the garden, I have met them/him/her a couple of times recently, more visible at this time of year before foliage grows. I saw a young frog in the garden last autumn so I don’t know if we have two. We have a slightly bigger than average suburban garden which has a 2.75m wall around it and the only way in or out is through a garden door – or over the wall. I did wonder if native Irish frogs can climb as foliage from what had been wilderness the other side of one part of our back garden would have touched foliage in our garden – but the advice I received (from Ethna Viney no less) was that it would have come through the door.

A frog is certainly a gardener’s friend. The part of the garden when ‘our’ frog tends to be is much less problematic in terms of slugs and snails than elsewhere (though they may also eat worms which is not so positive for the soil). With a garden grown on organic lines, and a little bit of montbretia wilderness that I leave as 365-day cover, I hope it’s an agreeable environment. We first realised we had a frog a decade ago when I opened the back door to bring in the small compost bin we keep in the kitchen, it was draining after being washed, and in hopped a frog……that visitor was a bit of a surprise.

Frogs don’t actually need water except for breeding, as frogspawn and tadpoles need it, and where they get that around here I don’t know (maybe there are garden ponds I don’t know about). But it feels a privilege to play host to this particular variety of wildlife, and have our garden as a ‘croak park’ (we are an attentive audience when we see our friend). If the lifespan of the frog we have in this part of the world is 5 – 10 years it is just possible that my friend I saw recently is the same one that hopped through the door a decade ago.

Finishing with a joke, well, it’s actually a cartoon: A frog and a snail are comparing notes, the two of them having received the same invitation. One says to the other “This invitation that we both received to dinner at the French embassy does seem a bit suspicious….”

Michael D on imperialism

President Michael D Higgins was going well on his bikeldey (a reference to the Saw Doctors song about him….) and set a cat among a number of pigeons when he wrote about ethical remembering in Ireland concerning centenaries – and (British) imperialism. I have recently penned (keyboarded?) thoughts on colonialism so I will pick this up here as well.

Michael D is totally correct in sayingA feigned amnesia around the uncomfortable aspects of our shared history will not help us to forge a better future together.” He goes on that “It is vital to understand the nature of the British imperialist mindset of that time if we are to understand the history of coexisting support for, active resistance to, and, for most, a resigned acceptance of British rule in Ireland. “ He states “In my work on commemoration, memory, forgetting and forgiving I have sought to establish a discourse characterised by what the Irish philosopher Richard Kearney calls “a hospitality of narratives”, acknowledging that different, informed perspectives on the same events can and do exist. The acceptance of this fact can release us from the pressure of finding, or subscribing to, a singular unifying narrative of the past.”

However the bit that might have rubbed up some of our neighbours the most came in “while it has been vital to our purposes in Ireland to examine nationalism, doing the same for imperialism is equally important and has a significance far beyond British/Irish relations.”

Commentator Owen Polley responded in “The Daily Telegraph” in a piece entitled “The Irish president has a cheek lecturing Britons about history”. See He accused Irish nationalists of being as guilty as the British, if not more so, in rewriting history. Of course there are some Irish nationalists who have done just that, and continue to do so. But Polley does not acknowledge the significant process which has been taking place in Ireland – in the North as well as the Republic – to examine history in ‘the decade of centenaries’, warts and all.

He is simply wrong in stating “The stories that the Republic tells itself about its formation have barely changed in 100 years and they are challenged rarely by its historians and columnists.” In saying this he either hasn’t been paying attention and/or hasn’t done his homework, and that statement by him is shockingly ignorant of what has been happening; if he had said it in 1966 it would be fair enough but not today. Though mentioning ‘warts and all’ reminds me of the old cartoon with a stern male school teacher, with cane, reading from the ‘New Balanced History of Ireland’; “And Cromwell, quite reasonably, told the Irish to go to hell or to Connacht….”

Certainly there are more voices in Britain criticising and analysing the great British empire than there were. But surveys have shown most people – and someone like Tony Blair has been of a like mind – indicate strongly that on balance the British empire was A Good Thing. Attention to this area arising from the Black Lives Matter movement has been because of popular feeling. The government and establishment in Britain have been trying to crack down on such ‘subversive’ (my adjective) activities as the National Trust examining links to slavery, e.g. through pressure on museums and other bodies to toe the line – and implicitly funding has been threatened for those who don’t. In relation to this area, the British government has a policy of ‘retain and explain’; this looks to me like it may well be a euphemism for a policy of euphemism about the past.

In the same piece Owen Polley states “In fact, Ireland was not a colony when partition took place. It had been part of the UK for over 100 years and was represented by 103 MPs in the House of Commons.” To label Ireland, or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in relation to the ‘Ireland’ bit in any sense a ‘democracy’ under the Act of Union is flying in the face of reality. Ireland was not dealt with in any way equally or according to the wishes of its inhabitants (my piece in the last issue on how Ireland was treated in the 1846 Famine period is illustrative of this). And the only way in which this ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’ was created in the first place was through massive bribery and corruption by the British government of Britain’s elite in Ireland in getting the Irish Parliament to vote itself out of existence. A massive sum of money was spent in bribes as well as the bestowal of various titles (I believe I have an ancestor, the brother of a member of Parliament, who was a beneficiary).

To imply this was ‘democracy’ – or in any way in accord with Irish people’s wishes, even at the time – is outrageous. And the Irish Parliament, while composed of a Protestant elite, was still gathering a bit of steam and self confidence in the late 18th century; a separate kingdom to Britain, it was still subordinate to that island. So the ‘United Kingdom’ of the 19th century as it related to Ireland was camouflaged colonialism because the island of Britain had all the power and superior numbers and the system was designed in the first place to subjugate Ireland after the 1798 Rising.

Yes, Ireland still has a long way to go in coming to terms with its history. However I would argue that Britain and those identifying as British have a longer path to tread. But let’s move.

Hats off to the people of Myanmar

The people of Myanmar have been through a huge amount. They face an enormous struggle against the might and entrenched power of the army. The situation is more blatant now but as some commentators have said regarding the military, “they never went away you know” in terms of the extremely military-friendly (biased) constitution. They have been taking a page out of D Trump’s notebook in alleging fraud at the last election, with absolutely no evidence, and this provided a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party. The NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, meanwhile, lost massive international goodwill through their whitewashing of the brutally violent treatment, and genocide or ‘exocide’ by the army, of the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi has suffered much but both she and the NLD have also been accused of an imperious attitude to others; Suu Kyi is now detained again and subject to ridiculous trumped up charges.

There is no way the people deserve military rule which means there is little or no possibility of advancing human rights, freedom and democracy. A promise by the military of a general election in a year is a meaningless promise and it is probable that the army would only contemplate another election when they have rigged it sufficiently for their preferred candidates to win. What is the point for them staging a coup to allow the same – democratic – results a year later?

Apart from expressing solidarity with the people of Myanmar and asking for the maximum non-violent pressure (not entailing substantial harm for ordinary people) by governments and international business interests involved, I wanted to focus for a minute on the nonviolent actions taken to demand the restoration of democracy (such as it was). Whether these protests can be sustained remains to be seen but hopefully what public demonstrations remain possible, ‘disguised disobedience’ and international pressure can have sufficient effect over time for the generals to realise they are meant to be an ‘army’ and not a ‘government’, and a violent and repressive one at that.

One successful open tactic recently has been cars ‘breaking down’ and blocking roads. Hackers disrupted military and military government propaganda. A widespread campaign of non-cooperation with the new regime, and strikes – even some in departments controlled by the military – has been in place. There have been many more imaginative tactics to express dissent from the coup. However the military is getting more and more violent, and shooting to kill. It is amazing that any body, military or not, should be so isolated from the reality of people’s wishes that it sees a coup, and the force it must have known it would have to use to try to stay in power, as an answer to anything.

In terms of previous resistance to military rule, Francis Wade has said “Activists stacked political pamphlets on the roofs of stationary buses and watched them blow through streets and into people’s hands as the drivers took off. Underground journalists smuggled footage out of the country, sometimes travelling by foot across the border with Thailand to hand videotapes to waiting colleagues, or otherwise uploading footage to the internet via a router in a waiting car outside their home. Exiled female activists, acquainted with the generals’ superstitious fear that their power would be sapped if they came into contact with women’s underwear, posted pants and bras to Myanmar embassies. Farmers continued to till land confiscated by the military. Political prisoners discreetly held seminars in their cells. Teachers in ethnic minority regions refused to comply with orders to instruct only in the majority tongue. These acts all signalled that the opposition, even during the darkest days, still had life.”

Of course various countries and international bodies are implicated in the current situation. They may have suspended training for Myanmar police because of the coup, but the EU Mypol training scheme worked with the police – though they said only on ‘defensive’ policing. Crowd control techniques for military-controlled police? Sounds like a helping hand for all eventualities. The world needs to get its finger out to support the people of Myanmar.

That’s me for now. We are officially in spring. The daffodils are flowering, and, to use flowery language, I hope we are able to flower too, despite everything that Covid continues to throw at us. See you soon, Billy.

Nonviolent News 286, February 2021

Arms trade networking, fighter drone development in Belfast

An online cross-border network of people interested in or working on arms trade issues has grown out of a seminar organised by INNATE. It is quite informal and shares information, perceptions and possibilities for work on this issue, and will be organising open seminars. Anyone interested welcome; contact INNATE

A major issue of concern in this area is the recent commissioning by the UK Ministry of Defence of an armed jet drone to be developed by Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast (formerly Bombardier) by 2023 at a cost of £30 million; see for links and details.

Féile Bríde – Seeds of the Heart - and Afri’s video report

Afri’s 29th Féile Bríde gathering takes place on line on 6th February from 3pm to 5pm. There have been 28 such gatherings as part of community events organised by Cáirde Bhríde in Kildare, taking place around Brigid’s Day in February – but this year due to Covid restrictions it has to be a virtual event. The title is ‘Seeds of the Heart’ and it will look at  issues to do with care for the planet and ‘welcoming the stranger’, among others. Contributers include founders of Síolta Chroí, Karen Jeffares and Gareth Conlon; Sinéad Fortune; Ruairí MacKiernan; Pete Mullineaux; Sikhulekile Ruth Ndlovu; Grace Wells; and RoJ Whelan.. There will be music from Kila’s Dee Armstrong  and friends.  For further details and booking, which is free, see the website at This is updated from information which appeared in the January news supplement

A 10-minute video report on Afri’s work in 2020 can be seen at

ICCL work in 2021

A short 2-minute overview of the Irish Council for Civil Liberty’s priorities for 2021, given by its director Liam Herrick, can be seen at See also Menahwile ICCL have stressed the obligations under international law of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to fully investigate the killing of George Nkencho by gardaí, including the need to look at the possibility of racial bias, and to include and update Nkencho’s family at all stages of the investigation; see website for more details.

CAJ annual report

The annual report from CAJ, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, is available at (also available through the website) and gives an excellent picture of the detailed and multifaceted work done by the organisation in 2020 as it faced many different challenges It includes a Chairperson’s Foreword from Anna Bryson who took over that post from Louise Mallinder at the start of 2020. Paula Gourley took over as Office and Finance Manager from Liz McAleer in March 2020. See also

PSNI receive report of illegal activity by UK

On 22nd January activists, accompanied by a banner proclaiming ‘UK Nukes Illegal’, handed in a letter to the Police Service of Northern Ireland headquarters at Knock, Belfast. This asked what the PSNI would be doing regarding the UK acting illegally in continuing to hold nuclear weapons, given that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons came into effect in international law that day. Signatories on the letter included Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. See

Peace Brigades International: New coordinator, annual report

Eimhin O’Reilly is the new Consultant Coordinator of Peace Brigades International Ireland, having taken over this role from Karen Jeffares, who initiated and founded the PBI Ireland country group in 2014, was Coordinator until April 2020, and also very involved with PBI internationally. Karen has now moved on to Síolta Chroí (Seeds of the Heart), based on a farm in County Monaghan. Eimhin is a recent returnee from the PBI Honduras field project, and has worked in Latin American solidarity both in the region and in Ireland. PBI/Peace Brigades International annual report for 2020 is available on their website at along with other material and videos.

Online volunteering with Voluntary Service International

Short-term online International Volunteer Projects are a great way to meet and connect with people from all around the world and to continue working towards peace and social justice, all from the comfort of your own home! VSI’s current opportunities cover a range of topics including climate change, sustainable solutions, history about the global peace movement and writing Wikipedia articles. Volunteers will be provided with the following supports: support and advice, and an initial induction and training. Volunteers do not need to have any prior knowledge or required skills to take part. You can read about VSI’s volunteers’ experience learning from home and find out more about the available opportunities at and To apply, interested applicants will need to fill out a short application form found at Applicants will also need to send VSI a motivation letter stating their interest as well as confirming their availability during the project. Email VSI at and for more information, please visit the website:

Shannon discussion video

An hour long recording recording of ‘Exploring the Hidden Truth about Shannon Airport and U.S. Global Warfare’, a December 2020 seminar hosted by the Human Rights Law Clinic at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway is available at It involves discussion between John Lannon, Lynn Boylan and Saoirse McHugh.

Church and Peace: Building peace from the ground up

The Britain and Ireland region of Church and Peace is organising an online day event of talks, workshops and worship exploring how to respond to hate, and how to build the church up as a place active for peace. It is on 13th March and more info and how to register is at: See also A short report on a Church and Peace discussion in December 2020 on ‘How to Dismantle White Privilege’, with a link to a more detailed report., appears at

QCEA Peace Education seminar

The possibilities of peace education: Evidence and opportunities” is an online seminar taking place 20th – 22nd May organised by the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) and Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) and open to anyone interested in peace education. The gathering will provide a space for people from across Europe to come together online, make new connections and reflect over the course of three days. It will explore how education can sow the seeds of sustainable peace and heal divisions and how peace education can become mainstreamed in EU and national policies at a time of increasing polarisation and conflict. See

PANA: The importance of neutrality to European peace movement

Irish peace groups and MEPs from the Left group of the European Parliament convened a Webinar in mid-December to discuss issues of crucial importance to the peace movement in Ireland and Europe. Chaired by Clare Daly MEP members of the public heard from PANA Chair Roger Cole on the history of Irish neutrality. Özlem Demirel MEP spoke about the accelerating militarisation of Europe under the EU’s mechanisms for a “common defence.” Ed Horgan (Shannonwatch) discussed the failure of the United Nations as an institutional forum for peace-keeping. The final speaker, Mick Wallace MEP spoke about the worsening geopolitical environment in EU foreign affairs, and the continuing importance of evicting the United States military from Shannon Airport.

PANA goes on to say “The European Defence Fund is portrayed to EU citizens as necessary for common security against terrorism or the Russian threat. In reality, this structure will justify huge subsidies to the arms industry and the research and development of weaponry that will aggravate international tensions rather than contribute to peace. Research carried out by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance show the EU collectively is the second largest supplier of weapons in the world after the US, and about a third of those exports go to the Middle East, and to other areas of conflicts or growing tensions. According to Roger Cole ‘one of the most horrific examples is undoubtedly the war in Yemen where presently European-made weapons are being used to commit war crimes and human rights abuses, with a devastating famine as consequence’. (details on PANA Website)”

l The PANA website has a link to the book by Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, “Coalition of the Unwilling” about their 2014 attempt to inspect a USA warplane at Shannon, subsequent trial, and the issues concerned.

Irish Centre for Human Rights seminars

Upcoming online lectures and seminars from the Irish Centre for Human Rights, Galway, include one on ‘Aggression and its victims’ on 15th February (3.30-5.00pm); international law has not traditionally recognised individuals as victims of the crime of aggression but recent developments may indicate a change on this. On 22nd February, from 1-2pm, Dr Catherine O’Rourke, Director, Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster, will give a seminar on her new book, ‘Women’s Rights in Armed Conflict under International Law’. More details at

Feasta: new podcast series

With a huge amount of material on their website, Feasta, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, is continuing their podcasts with a new series for 2021 entitled ‘Bridging the gaps’ (co-organised with the European Health Futures Forum).

Editorials NN 286

A bit of a coup

The events of 6th January in Washington DC, and the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, have been well analysed. However there is some learning about power and powerlessness arising from this which has been absent from mainstream media coverage.

The assault on the Capitol building by very assorted Trump followers came after Trump had insistently lied about the results of the US presidential election, and Trump and Giuliana had egged on protesters on the day. The word ‘fight’ was used frequently and Trump’s language was incendiary, while Giuliana spoke of ‘trial by combat’.. One lingering question following the election victory of Biden was when and if Trump would give the likes of the ‘Proud Boys’ the nod to wreak some havoc. On 6th January they felt they got that nod. Protesters were not told what to do but neither were they told what not to do. Some of the harder elements invading the Capitol building would certainly have kidnapped or killed if they had the opportunity (and one policeman was killed directly by an attack) while others were more tourists than terrorists.

The descriptions and analogies have included (attempted) coup, insurrection, and (to his credit Arnie Schwarzenegger talking about, though perhaps not very accurately) Kristallnacht. Another comment was that it was more like the ‘Beer hall putsch’ of 1923 when the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler attempted a coup in Munich which it was hoped could be built on to take power in Berlin; it was a complete failure. So what was the invasion of the Capitol? It was often violent chaos with some of the invaders having very definite goals and others just wandering around; to call it a ‘full blown’ coup or even insurrection elevates it to a level of organisation it does not deserve, even if part of US democracy was at some risk. While some of those involved would have used the assault on the Capitol to bring about a coup (the overthrow of the presidential election result to allow Trump to continue in power) there was no central organisation to this invasion of the seat of legislatitive government and this is one crucial point in it not being a ‘full blown’ coup..

On the other hand, the last time the Capitol had been invaded violently (apart from four Puerto Ricans firing at congressmen in 1954) had been by the British in 1814 during a war, so it was certainly serious but there was no real chance those storming in were actually going to get Trump reinstated as President, even if they killed and kidnapped. That said there was a very real attempt to get the election result overthown by Trump and Republican Party allies through devious or misplaced court cases and attempted political pressure. But even many Trump nominees and Republican Party politicians refused to declare that black was white.

The reality is that while Donald Trump would have been quite happy if intimidation, violence and lies had led to his continuation as US president, he was neither organised nor aggressive enough – and maybe too lazy – to organise this himself. The analogy might be with the Rev Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland; for most ofhis life he spewed hatred and vitriol which ‘led people on’ but when they acted, as in violent sectarian and paramilitary actions, he disavowed any responsibility. Initially it seems Trump was happy with people invading the Capitol building and even when told it could have consequences for him he was slow and half-hearted in calling for calm or condemning violence.

It should be clearly stated that there can be nonviolent changes of regime, or indeed nonviolent defence of democracy. The revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 against communist rule were primarily non-violent, populist uprisings. The transfer of allegiance by republican MPs in Ireland in 1919, from the Westminster parliament to the first Dáil in Dublin was a classic nonviolent tactic. There are hundreds of other such historical examples and in Gene Sharp’s typology in “The Politics of Nonviolent Action”, around 30 out of 198 examples are specifically to do with political noncooperation (with a particular government regime). Interestingly, US activist George Lakey was one of those busy training people before the election in how to nonviolently resist a coup.

Donald Trump was one of the worst presidents the USA has ever had, though there was one point of truth in his final White House statement – that he hadn’t started any new wars. However internally he was the most divisive president in modern times – and that is saying something – and there were big increases in gun ownership during his time.

However his followers, as well as violent neo-fascists, include many of the ‘left behind’ in US American life. Again there is an analogy with Northern Ireland; in the latter case Protestants and unionists who have had to cede something like equality to Catholics and nationalists have felt discriminated against and deprived because they had been used to a superior position, and that culture was, has been, slow to change. In the USA ethnic groups including blacks and Latinos have been unwilling to submit to inequality but tend to have worse life chances. The USA is a big place with many different experiences and the decline of blue collar employment has been part of the picture, causing resentment at the powers that be; the irony here is that Donald Trump was part of the economic elite if not the political elite until he became President; to project himself as ‘a man of the people’ was an amazing propaganda coup.

The reality is also that Donald Trump and Trumpism offered many people a vision, inchoate as it was, to be part of something bigger than themselves and promising a better future. Of course this was a chimera and anyone but the richest voting for Trump was a turkey voting for Christmas, given the tax breaks and derugulation he brought in, which also threatened to severely exacerbate the dire climate heating which is taking place.

There is no way the problems of the USA have gone away with the election of Biden. Divisions, inequality, Trumpists, militia and right wing conspiracy theorists are still just as present. The US system of democracy is antiquated and inadequate and while at a micro level there can be vibrant and progressive people and movements, at other levels its political system is woefully in thrall to big money and corporate lobbyists.

While Biden’s regime represents a very significant step up from the last incumbent, we have to see what it means, though on the global climate emergency it is certainly on the positive side. And no, Mr Biden, we do not want the USA to resume leadership of the ‘free world’; we will pass on that one. ‘Normal service’ can mean more misplaced military interventions internationally. The USA may see itself as the world’s policeman; the reality is that it approximates to the greatest bully in the world, and certainly the best armed one.

Brexit goes North

Be careful what you wish for’ is an adage which should be heeded but not paramount. It should not be an argument against working for change but it should be a strong argument for careful analysis and planning, and taking others’ views into account. The possibility of unintended consequences is not something which was really analysed by the DUP before they bought in completely to both Brexit and later Boris Johnson’s false promises, resultantly changing political realities in Northern Ireland less in unionism’s favour. The DUP thought that Brexit would make Northern Ireland more ‘British’; the reverse has been the case (though at this point it cannot be said it has made the North more ‘Irish’).

In the 19th century, economic interests in the North, with industrialisation and dependency on a British market, contributed to the growth and development of staunch unionist feeling. The realities of the current economic and trading situation is very different, and Northern ireland is far from being an economic powerhouse, but it is possible that now, in the 21st century, economic interests will pull the North more towards unification with the Republic. But this is neither a certain nor a speedy process, and issues of health and social security may determine the result.

The outworking of the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and EU has been causing a certain amount of pain and anger, in the political sphere particularly among loyalists, and there have been threats to port inspection staff at Larne. There may be no tariffs but some trade, including GB-NI trade, is disrupted by a knotted bundle of red tape. Some unionists and loyalists have been calling for Article 16, an emergency measure to derogate from the Protocol, to be invoked – and then foolishly it looked like it was the EU Commission which was going to invoke this article, over the vaccines dispute with AstraZeneca, before they pulled back following expressions of horror from all sides in Ireland. A new opinion poll shows the DUP suffering a haemorrhage of support to Jim Allister’s TUV; this does not bode well for cooperation in the North (though conversely Alliance is shown to continue to do well).

While some issues to do with the Northern Ireland Protocol will be resolved by mutual agreement with the EU, there are many that will not, and in any case considerable bureaucracy is likely to remain.

Be careful what you wish for’ also applies to those working for a united Ireland, and those, such as Sinn Féin, who want a border poll or one to take place within a few years. Fortunately or unfortunately (through what is written in the Good Friday Agreement) a united Ireland can be brought about by a “50% + 1” vote in favour in a referendum in Northern Ireland. While on the one hand it would seems unfair that if “50% + 1” in favour of remaining in the UK means the North does just that, “50% + 1” should not mean a united Ireland. But how does this happen? How soon does this happen? And what guarantees of fair treatment would unionists and Protestants receive? A ‘yes/no’, binary referendum can be very divisive, even destructive, as the de Borda Institute frequently points out.

If nationalists feel the fair wind at the moment is in their direction, they would do well do take it easy and not rush anything. Loyalist commitment to any form of democracy in relation to a united Ireland is far from certain, despite their majoritarian views in the past, and a ‘united Ireland’ which has not gone through a fair process of engagement with everyone is going to be a failure for a long time. Things have to be worked out. While many unionists and loyalists may refuse to engage in such a process, and therefore make it difficult, a referendum delivering an arithmetic majority in favour of a united ireland should not mean a united Ireland the next day. But it might mean that unionists and loyalists who had previously been reluctant to engage with any process would see the writing on the wall and decide that it was in their interests to do so.

In other words, if a referendum does give a majority for unification, it should not be seen as the end of a process but the start or continuation of another. Nothing is written in stone and much more needs to be spelt out by those who favour a united Ireland so that people can make an informed judgement.

Jude Collins in the ‘Andersonstown News’ of 30/1/21 states that ‘the south’ needs a health service that matches or surpasses the NHS in the north before any border poll. He emphasises that unfication means an entirely new state – “we need to be open to radical, maybe uncomfortable change: a new national anthem, a new flag, Stormont as a regional Assembly, a guaranteed number of unionist places in the Dáil.” This is starting to think creatively. Unionists need to think creatively too about the future, either for NI-in-UK or how a united Ireland could give them the protection they would seek in such a circumstance.

The best hope Northern Ireland has is that people break away from the strait-jacketed and polarised views of past divisions and look at opportunities for the future anew. This is not impossible but it is a big ask and needs a huge amount of work and goodwill to take place.

Eco-Awareness, NN 286

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Covid, Climate and the Systems View of Life

In the course of a year the Covid-19 pandemic has infected 100,000,000 people, killed over two million, led to a massive increase in the number of people suffering acute anxiety and mental health problems and reduced incomes worldwide.. (*1) The latter has had a crushing effect on those who at the best of times find it a struggle to live. According to the IMF Covid-19 has cost the global economy, as of October 2020, £21.5 trillion, which translates into a considerable loss of money to public services.

Another cost is the curtailment on people living their life to the full as in not been able to take part in cultural and sporting events, socialise, form friendships, exchange and test ideas and provide each other with emotional sustenance. School pupils, college and university students are an example of a set of people whose education and personal development has been negatively impacted by the necessary health restrictions.

In spite of the social visibility of the virus there is a difficult to calculate but sizeable number of people who believe it is a hoax contrived and disseminated by unnamed powerful individuals to increase their level of control over people’s lives. Credence to this perspective appears to be on the basis of emotionally identifying with the source, rather than on critical assessment. Perspectives that have no basis in science act as a vector for the virus as they reduce caution.

There is another group of people who in the spirit of libertarianism say they won’t be told what to do and therefore, regardless of whether they believe Covid-19 exists or not, don’t follow the health guidelines and say they won’t be vaccinated. People with these mindsets turned out in high numbers at Donald Trump’s presidential rallies and some have protested outside Downing Street, on the streets of Dublin and Belfast, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain.

Whatever reason people have for not believing that Covid-19 exists, or abiding by the health guidelines, it is critically important that they are persuaded that the virus is as real as the sun in the sky if it is to be eliminated. This is because the pandemic shows that we are not, as libertarians believe, discrete autonomous individuals who can behave as we like but rather are part of a symbiotic community.

Our interconnectedness pertain to an even greater catastrophe than Covid-19 which is our ruination of the biosphere through global warming, deforestation, the building of mega dams, our poisoning of the air, water and soil to mention a few of the environmental harms we exacerbate by the day. To take just one harm caused by our reckless regard for nonhuman nature, 8.8 million people die prematurely every year due to outdoor air pollution, a death rate that far exceeds that of Covid-19. (*2) Indoor air pollution also takes a heavy toll.

Covid-19 provides the world with what one hopes is not too late a reminder that individualism, long considered by western societies as a desirable character trait, is counter to the common good unless imbued with a strong sense of community responsibility underpinned by an understanding of the systems view of life. This view holds that all things are connected, share a common interest and that we, for good or ill, affect each other. It means, as Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi write in the preface to their book on the subject, “thinking in terms of relationships, patterns and context.” (*3)

Individualism is on display in ordinary every day events such as when a farmer, thinking that they can do what they like with the land they are custodians of, digs up a mature hedgerow and sets it alight. When this happens harm is caused to neighbours and passers-by who breathe in the toxic smoke and the survival prospects of innumerable creatures is undermined through the loss of habitat. There is also a cultural and aesthetic loss. People who litter may tell themselves that they have a right to behave as they want to blithely ignore the fact that they are harming the bio-community and the livelihood of farmers whose cattle and sheep are liable to swallow what they have scattered around them or thrown out of a vehicle window.

In spite of errors of judgement and decades of ignoring scientific evidence of the strong likelihood of a pandemic, governments who are acting with great urgency to address Covid-19 are to be commended. However, unless they imbue the cultural milieu through public education programmes with a systems view of life, pandemics will reoccur, the climate will continue to get warmer, air pollution along with other environmental woes will get worse and as the research shows we will by century’s end be living on a planet that is unable to provide for human need or support other life-forms. (*4) Thankfully it is not too late to adopt a systems mindset and in doing so make the world a better one for everyone to live in.


(*1) The Mental Health Pandemic, Patrick Freyne, The Irish Times Weekend Review, 23 January 2021.

(*2) Damian Carrington, Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates, finds research, Guardian, 12 March 2019.

(*3.) Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luigi, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, 2014, Cambridge University Press.

(4*) Increase the discoverability of your research, Conservation Science, 13 January 2021.

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 286

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

Art and peace series

From fragments to beauty:

An interview with Carole Kane

Interviewer: Stefania Gualberti

Carole Kane is a freelance artist, facilitator, expressive arts facilitator (conflict transformation and peacebuilding) and project co-ordinator. Originally trained as a weaver, Carole’s work covers different approaches which intertwine around the expressive arts, creativity, community development, education and leadership. 

Carole initiated and organised workshops during the immediate aftermath of the bomb in Omagh in 1998. This cross-community work involved 150+ people from Primary, Secondary and Grammar Schools together with volunteers from the public and was carried out for Omagh District Council. The result was a series of pictures created from hand-made paper including the flowers which were left in the town in the days after the bomb. Work formed an exhibition and a book called “Petals of Hope”. Pictures were given to each of the families and large pieces made for each town affected.

In June 2017, she graduated with a Masters in Expressive Arts in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding (cited with Honours for Practice) from the European Graduate School, Switzerland. Her thesis title is “In Relation to Traumatised Communities, does the Art Making Process and Accompaniment Lead to Transformation – If so, how?” and her wider work currently explores this context.

With 25+ years experience of delivering courses, initiating and facilitating projects mainly for adults in both community art and education settings across Northern Ireland, Carole has devised arts projects for those in trauma, used creative approaches to community development, delivered leadership training, access to the arts programmes and taught business and professional development skills to those in the creative industries.

Stefania – How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and peacebuilding?

Carole – I got into this work one step at a time. From a very young age: drawing pictures, playing with plasticine and wool. That continued throughout school and I went on to study further at Art College- In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and then Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee where I did Constructed Textiles. I had no idea at that point that I would not have ending up working within arts and peacebuilding.

I made a conscious decision to study away from home following the Enniskillen bomb. I was a young teenager when that happened and I was impacted by what occurred at that time- the nuances of it- the hurt that was caused, such loss and subsequent messages of forgiveness from Gordon Wilson. That was a powerful and very moving time.

Studying away from Northern Ireland allowed me to see things differently. The Troubles were happening. I was aware that my study peers were not listening for the hourly news and were quite unaware of what was going on where I came from. Then I returned home after graduation and started tutoring in Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart. This got me into making paper… and doing some very experimental work using different flowers, fruit, leaves and all sorts of things.

So, further tutoring developed, and I built up a lot of skills delivering courses in a range of community settings for Further & Higher Education, including a few peace and reconciliation workshops.

Following the bomb in Omagh in 1998, I saw the flowers left in the town by the compassionate and empathetic community. It seemed that the natural thing to do would be to bring people together to make paper using these floral tributes. So, I approached Omagh District Council, one step led to another and that was literally how the facilitation of this creative response and this long relationship was initiated and developed.

It felt like a pathway of faith, as one thing lead to another- the response went from workshop, to exhibition and book. There was a sense of calling. Well for me, given the experimental work that I had done, what else could be done with these flowers? What else would I do but lead people through the process? It continues to be like that in some ways.

Stefania – What do you feel is special about art to facilitate conflict transformation?

Carole – Essentially, it is a creative act. There is a great potential, especially in a group setting, to be constructive in opposed to destructive. I’m particularly interested in what happens within the group context of people coming together to be led through a lived experience of co-creating a piece of artwork that is aesthetically pleasing and hopefully beautiful. The dynamics of starting, feeling a bit awkward, “not knowing”, working through challenges, struggles to find something that works. The created piece can then be celebrated by those who made it, and they invite their friends to come and see it- it’s just a great process to initiate, facilitate and witness.

Creating the piece allows people to see that they can achieve something that was originally beyond their original expectation and this is one way that this process links to conflict transformation and peacebuilding. So, in its simplest form, I say to groups that if they can work though a creative process in this way, that they can do what seems impossible in peacebuilding.

Participants don’t have to be artists to take part. What helps them is to surrender to the process, relax their guard, be “present”, so that they can play and just have some fun.

A lot that happens within the actual making- how the material responds as it is being worked and shaped. It’s not just the final piece, but the combination between the art-making, material and the group of people doing the work- like a “call and response” really between the art-making and the art. As the facilitator, I don’t have all the answers, but I recognise this relationship between the art-making, participant(s) and the art-work, and can nurture this to take on its own momentum.

Stefania – If ‘art’ is thought of as ‘high art’ is that ever a barrier for your work with groups, especially people who would not consider themselves as ‘artists’?

Carole – People can feel quite intimidated about entering an arts space, whether that is an art gallery, theatre, or a workshop space and sometimes they don’t know what to do in that place- which is natural. They sometimes have negative memories from school where they have tried to do something creative and their efforts have been diminished or they have been humiliated by someone in authority. This is a great shame as it can put people off even trying or appreciating others who practice in the arts. There will always be people who are highly skilled and better than most of us, but this is something quite different to what I’m describing in my workshop spaces and shouldn’t stop us from utilising our creativity as a resource. Our imaginations are powerhouses and muscles that we need to keep exercising. We can apply this as a resource to help us find new languages and frames for all aspects in our lives.

Stefania – How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?

Carole – When I have worked with specific communities who have experienced trauma, they have told me as they entered the workshop that they felt “frozen”. They have needed a place like this to come away from the realities of the circumstances that have caused them to feel overwhelmed. I often use a phrase, “when people come to the workshop space, they hang up their coats with their question marks in the way into the space” and this is a good description of what happens. Focusing on making something with their hands leads them to a sense of “otherness” and away from worries of the “real world”. They leave the workshop looking more relaxed and tell me that they are “starting to feel again”- this is quite something. When this practice is repeated, participants start looking forward to this slot in their week and that expectancy can create hope. Also, if this happens to the individual, it becomes a shared experience when it happens in a collective.

This links to what I was saying about finding “presence” in making art. The focus on doing something with your hands, your hand eye coordination is very important, as are the logistics of experiment and exploring. I am currently making a series of bowls and I absolutely love this process. I am very conscious in this space: finding out what to do when it goes wrong… What to do when the glaze surprises me or is better than expected? Etc. And so it is that sense of working on something, pounding, kneading the clay, putting my thumbprints into it, shaping it, knowing when to stop, knowing the dexterity of the material, process and limitations- these are all important skills that can be transferred to peacebuilding. For me, the increase of this sense of presence in the creative space, transfers to my role in peacebuilding. This is how we work in the Expressive Arts theory.

I think as well, there’s something about the fragments that is significant to me particularly when I use papermaking within programs or projects. I’m always finding wee pieces of paper, imagining putting them in collages with a few sequins or something. This idea of finding something and letting it develop transfers to other parts of peacebuilding. I was teaching mediation recently and explaining the importance of listening. When there is a hint of possibility of solution of what is presented in that context, we hold on to that. It could be a very important gold thread in the process helping people find solutions. All you need is that tiny little glimmer of hope and the facilitator/artist or mediator can lead people to find so much beyond themselves. That’s what we really need in the world right now.

Stefania – You trained as a weaver and when working with groups you use visual art, photography, creative writing like haikus and poetry as well as movement, music and drama. Is there an art form most close to you heart? What, or what combination, is most effective with groups and with what groups?

Carole – Textiles in some form remains the “original” for me… fabric, textiles and strings and threads and stuff like that. Since my Masters, I’ve been working a lot more with mixed media, whether that’s been drawing, writing haikus or making films. So, my work has changed quite a bit.

Within Expressive Arts, we use an intermodal methodology, which means moving from one modality (technique) to another so I combine techniques as you say. I am better at some of those techniques than others, but don’t forget, experimenting is important in this process. I’m always exploring and being curious.

Stefania – In your years of experience is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

My work in Omagh still underlies a lot of my practice. It was unique in lots of ways- certainly in my life as an artist- such a privilege to be able to come alongside a community at such a difficult time. Although I facilitated Petals of Hope, the creative response was made by the local community impacted by the atrocity. This has not happened in any other situation during the Troubles. It was a longitudinal intergenerational process of 20 years, yes, very much of a privilege.

There are other situations, other pieces of work where I have met amazing and resilient people. Usually there are people as we start the creative process who say: “I don’t know if I can do this” but before they know, they’re in the middle of it and having a great time. They will be the ones at the unveiling or the showing, standing beside the art saying, “this is my work. I did this”. I watch for the change and to see that growth of pride.

When I worked for the Workers’ Education Association, I did many projects that I was proud of- MOMA Belfast, and Whispering Belfast, these projects are on my website. The participants made beautiful pieces of work that were displayed and projected in the Ulster Museum- that was a big deal.

I’ve worked with people who, within a few hours, said that they would like to see the peace walls in their area come down and then the projects coming to an end far too soon. That can be frustrating.

I’ve made a lot of friends, a lot of people who have built trust – with me and in a process and now, it’s lovely when we meet as we remember happy times.

Stefania – Can you talk about DARE to Connect Safely you developed during the Covid pandemic, what was special about it?

Carole – Well, it was a lovely part of the DARE to Lead Change, a PEACE IV programme that I am currently working on. The emphasis is looking at race and ethnicity.

I developed DARE to Connect Safely in reaction to the first lockdown of Covid. My crisis management training clicked in as soon as we stopped having face-to-face contact with groups – when those early days felt like a crisis. The immediate change in routines meant that we had to “reset”, and I knew this would create problems. So, using social media to host a group and platform for creativity and ways to be present at that time, all within the legal restrictions. It worked. Feedback showed that people found it to be helpful and constructive.

Stefania – What have been your biggest learnings during the years?

Carole – Every day is a school day! There is much to discover within the process. I’m still learning and want to keep being curious. It’s the only way.

The older I get, the less I seem to know. When we come to this work with an attitude of discovery- there is great reward. I am less interested in competition. By being resourceful and complementary- then, we find collective ways and go further. Loosening tension is important. Following the steps, one after the other and let the path find the way. Trusting the Spirit that is outside of me and any resources that I have gathered within me… that’s what I have learned as an arts practitioner: the arts process enables that to happen.

This is highly sensitive, emotionally intelligent work, so therefore needs to be measured in different ways. It is soft, while very strong and courageous, and in my experience- the impact is incredibly powerful. I really liked what you said at the beginning as well Stefania, about how you had engaged in the process. I suppose that really touches me. A lot of practitioners, speak of the arts in this context from the outside and looking in. When invited to participate, they are reluctant to do that. There is a threshold right there and unless they experience it, they won’t get it.

Also, for me as a facilitator, I need to be well prepared, “present” and nourished for the work. It can be demanding, so if my resources are low, if I am “running on empty”, this will transfer to the groups. Self-care was a new concept for me when I learnt about on my Masters and relates to creating safe places for good practice. There are clear ethics around this and I’m not sure we are good at that in Northern Ireland, if I’m honest.

This is a slow and very rewarding process. I am proud of my work so far, and trust that these resources will help find a path through what lies ahead in these very challenging times.

Billy King, NN 286


Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Well, here I am again as 2021 wends its way and unfortunately to begin with it has been something of a replay of 2020, at least so far as Covid and the effects of it have gone. But spring is around the corner – however while I may identify as culturally Irish, I certainly don’t go with ‘spring’ beginning on St Brigid’s Day on 1st February….it is still f-f-freezing (well, the damp cold anyway if not below 0°) at this time. Nevertheless, time to check the seed packets and think about the garden, if you have one, or the window boxes and tubs or even the house plants.

Framing ‘the Famine’

It is a long time since I studied ‘the Famine’ of 1846 in history lessons, however it is something that I would have an interest in and so felt fairly ‘well up’ on. Perhaps not so, as the RTE couple of programmes (“The Hunger: the Story of the Irish Famine”, marking the 175th anniversary – available on the RTE Player) in late 2020 revealed in terms of what I learnt from them. Of course, as Afri, Sinead O’Connor, and Christy Moore have told us in different ways, and many others besides, “there was no famine”; there was food other than potatoes but the starving peasantry either had to sell it or had no money to buy it.

Christy Moore’s piece, “On a single day” (lyrics by Peadar Ó Riada, available on Afri’s CD “The Doolough Famine Walk – Music from a dark lake”), detailing the amount of food exported from Cork harbour ‘on a single day’ in 1847 is a tragic masterpiece, and each recitation of an item of food a shocking blow in the gut to the starving. The Irish language term, An Gorta Mór, (‘The Great Hunger’) is a much more accurate term for this period.

One of the comparisons which the programmes made was with how countries in mainland Europe dealt with the risk of starvation there, since the blight was present in those countries too. While the European mainland peasantry may have been less dependent on the potato, exports of food were stopped by the likes of France and Belgium, and free food given out as necessary. It was pointed out that part of such relative generosity (I say relative meaning relative to Britain’s record) was because of a fear of rebellion but it would not appear solely because of that. A million people died in Ireland; a tenth of that in mainland Europe in total.

Robert Peel’s Tory government of 1845 was portrayed as dealing fairly effectively to support people in Ireland following the partial potato failure of that year. But the Russell Whig government from 1846, with the infamous Trevelyan on board at the Treasury, intervened too little too late and ended schemes far too early; the government stopped public intervention measures in the summer of 1847, declaring the famine to be over, when the peasantry had exhausted all their resources – it was indeed ‘black ‘47’. People had nowhere to turn, and workhouses could not cope. The RTE programmes defined ‘the famine ‘ as lasting 7 years; the terrible Louisburgh-Doolough-Louisburgh famine walk, commemorated by Afri annually, took place in the spring of 1849.

The programmes also mentioned that the British government spent £8 million on famine relief in Ireland, much of it in loans to be repaid. In comparison £20 million was spent to reimburse British slave-owners during abolition in 1833, and £69 million on the Crimean War of 1854-6. In the same period as ‘the Famine’ in Ireland the government spent £14 million on ‘security’ – the army and police in Ireland – the best part of double the expenditure on ‘famine relief’, and the number of soldiers stationed in Ireland doubled. In fact the people of Ireland were generally too shell-shocked and impoverished or emaciated to rebel.

Britain brought about the ‘Act of Union’ of 1801 between Britain and Ireland through bribery and corruption. The idea was that Ireland would become an integral part of the United Kingdom. But what is very obvious from these two programmes and looking at how Ireland was treated at this time, particularly by the Russell government, is that it was still considered a colony and an inferior place occupied by very inferior people. The ‘Union’ was a sham. The treatment Britain meted out to Ireland, and the lack of action, would not have been tolerated had it been happening in England. But as we have explored here before, the colonial mentality is one which can be acquired, in a different way, by the colonised as well as the colonisers.

Scary stories

It was a long, long time ago, so long ago that it feels like aeons, another existence. It was relatively early on in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, an unnamed year in an unnamed town in Northern Ireland. Like many such towns it was – and is – a very divided place, you could feel and often see the division. I have told the story before of going up the main street at this time to buy a pair of trainers; the shop assistant, seeing me in shorts and t-shirt, asked if I was on holiday. No, I said, I’m working on a playscheme. She asked me where. When I said the name of the Catholic estate concerned I was then told, by someone ostensibly there to sell me a pair of shoes, that “You are working in the wrong end of town.” This was said dead seriously, no hint of irony or divilment. I didn’t buy my trainers.

I was there for 6 weeks on a summer playscheme in a working class estate which was Catholic and known as a Provo stronghold; however, as with all such cases, if you dug deeper there were all sorts of political and apolitical views present, and it is a lazy stereotype to simply put one label on it and the multiplicity of people living there.

One woman I met there had comforted a dying British soldier as he lay on the ground, shot as he patrolled by on a walkway at the back of her house; her courage and action in doing so would indicate that she would not have supported the shooting which killed the victim.

I will share three stories here from this time, all different, and the last one light or slight and perhaps hopeful. The playscheme had half a dozen workers, mainly students like myself and they included several from England. To produce newssheets or slips advertising events which we were organising, we used a duplicator. For those sufficiently young not to know what a duplicator was, it was a stencil and ink printing machine; you ‘cut’ the stencil using a typewriter without a ribbon, put the stencil on the inked drum, and ran the paper through. The ink came through the cut part and created your printing. It was efficient enough, and cheap, but not too cheerful. They were the photocopiers of their day.

We used a duplicator located in the house of the local Provo chief, though it was Mrs Provo Chief there when we would have gone to duplicate. One day I went with another volunteer. When we were finished we were told that they were moving the duplicator into hiding as they were expecting a British Army raid and the duplicator would have been taken (and not given back). A petition had been organised against internment and some squaddies (British soldiers of ‘private’ rank) had signed so they were expecting a kind of retaliation. I can still remember almost exactly the words I said, and being more local I spoke rather than the English volunteer; “Presuming that we can’t use it where it is going, do you know of another duplicator around that we could use?”. There was nothing obvious and we said our thanks and left.

It then came back to us through someone involved in community work locally, and a friend of the playscheme, that we had said to Mrs Provo Chief that we weren’t happy with the decision to deny us use of the duplicator, and could we speak to Mr Provo Chief’s superior….. To this day I still don’t know how this interpretation could have arisen from what I said, but somehow it had. The person informing us managed to pour some calming oil on troubled waters, and we did find another duplicator to use. In such a situation and time the Provos also acted as sexual morality police; a warning came, via the same route, for a male volunteer not to get too close to a local married woman.

The second story I will tell of this time is genuinely scary in a ‘things go bump in the night’ way. Us volunteers on the playscheme were accommodated in local people’s houses on the estate, sometimes at considerable squashed discomfort for the family concerned. For some of the time I stayed, along with another volunteer, in the house of a local woman; we will call her Annie Phelan (not her real name). Tragically Annie was killed a couple of years later by her sister’s boyfriend, killing her and seriously injuring her sister; this was not a sectarian killing.

Anyway, Annie told us about her brother, John Phelan (also not his real name). John had bought a speed boat to use on a local body of water a couple of years previously and, tragically, had been drowned. The boat was found straight away but it was a couple of days before John’s body was recovered. One of the people who went searching for John’s body was a Protestant friend of his who was a policeman, in the RUC; there is a tragic and political-sectarian twist to this story as this policeman was subsequently killed, in an IRA action, by a former classmate of John’s.

But on to the denouement of the story. When this policeman was still alive he was in the old police barracks in the town. I don’t know how it happened, whether there was a reason to open an old police record tome, but anyhow he was reading a particular page and saw a bone-chilling fact. His friend John Phelan had been drowned at a particular named location on the body of water referred to, on a particular day, month and year; exactly 100 years previously, to the day, another John Phelan had been drowned at the same spot on the same body of water.

It may have been a weird coincidence but if my name was ‘John Phelan’ I wouldn’t be going out on the water there, or elsewhere, anywhere near the centenary of this drowning and the bicentenary of the other.

The final story is lighter and more hopeful. A small camping trip took place as part of the playscheme to an attractive forest park. As with many such events, our biggest problem was getting the teenagers, and in a few cases just-preteenagers, to settle at night time. When asked to go and gather wood for a campfire we had not thought to say, “Only gather dead, lying wood”, which we had wrongly assumed those gathering would have known. Someone axed down a small sapling in a prominent position quite close to a park ranger’s house, a useless action anyway because green wood burns appallingly badly; I applied some mud to the stump to make it look like the sapling had been gone some time or was never there……

But what I discovered, delightfully and accidentally, while on this trip was that two of the campers were Prods; a young lad had invited two of his friends from outside the estate. Natural mixing between people at a time like that was a pleasant picture of what could be in Norn Iron, and a symbol of a more hopeful future. You would have to take hope from such a small, and in other contexts insignificant, event; a bit of more conventional ‘normality’ in a situation which was anything but that.

Atheist Catholics and Protestants

Ian Paisley MP (the namesake son of the Rev) got in trouble recently for referring to “the Catholic IRA”. And so he should. The Catholic church was a vehement critic of republican violence throughout the Troubles and while individual ‘Catholics’ might have been involved, the Catholic church was considered a safe pair of hands, relatively speaking, by the British government, e.g. for funding to local areas (Perhaps I should point out that I am not advocating approval by the British government as some kid of positive test but to show they were not seen by them as supporting violence in any way). And many Catholics were involved in myriad ways in dealing with, and trying to overcome, violence.

It did seem a sectarian point Ian Paisley was making. Using this descriptive term in any way was a somewhat bigoted statement (although he later said he made ‘no association’ between the Roman Catholic Church and the IRA). But the problem is also that the terms ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ mean a whole variety of different things in Norn Iron. You can be a ‘cultural Catholic’ or ‘cultural Protestant’ and also an atheist. The acronyms ‘PUL’ and ‘CNR’ (‘Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist’ and ‘Catholic, Nationalist, Republican’) are an approximation of cultural and political identity for which religious background is a badge. Without considerable nuancing, the language used is not up to the task of being fair and accurate.

Ian Paisley was certainly not trying to be nuanced in his statement. However in saying what he did about the ‘Catholic IRA’ maybe Ian Paisley was simply on the PUL. And maybe his mind wasn’t on the job and he was thinking of holidays abroad…..undeclared freebies he has received in the past include one from a government that discriminates against Christians in general, something which is more than a bit odd considering where he is coming from. He doth Protest-ant too much.

Before I go, I will just say I have to admire Alexei Navalny’s courage. I don’t know much about the guy, and he is far from being a progressive or radical on many issues (e.g. it would seem he is still a Russian nationalist of a sort), but his anti-corruption work has been impressive. To come home to his own country, Russia, and face years of imprisonment by the regime which almost killed him by poisoning some months before, well that requires single-minded courage.

And I will end with sharing a great little online video. ICAN, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons is the international body that successfully coordinated the campaign to have nuclear weapons banned. Well, in celebration Scottish activist Penny Stone put together a can-can video, see it at It is wonderfully silly though with a sensible refrain to keep dancing the can-can until the British government signs up…….

Well, that is me again. Stay warm, stay safe, and see you again soon, as ever, Billy.

Nonviolent News No.285 Supplement, January 2021

A World Beyond War? Conversations on alternatives
The Irish chapter of World Beyond War (WBW) have a weekly series of online seminars starting at 7pm on Wednesday 13th January and running for 5 weeks.  “War: Who wins and who loses? How is it waged and financed? How does it impact the civilian populations of the world? How does it contribute to human misery? What are its effects on the environment? And why it doesn’t have to be like this.”

On 13th January the topic is ‘Ireland, the United Nations and the Security Council’ with Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant General Secretary; January 20th, ‘The military industrial complex and politics’ with Clare Daly MEP; January 27th,  ‘Militarism and Ecological Destruction’ with Dave Donellan, peace activist; February 3rd,’ Militarism and human displacement’ with Suad Aldarra & Yaser Alashqar, respectively from Syria and Palestine; February 10th, ‘Are militaries lthe most appropriate Peacekeepers?’  with Edward Horgan, former Irish peacekeeper  All these are on Zoom from 7pm to 7.45pm.  For further details (click on the individual sessions) and booking see 

Féile Bríde – Seeds of the Heart - and Afri’s video report

Afri’s 29th Féile Bríde gathering will take place on line for the first time in 2021, on 6th February beginning at 2pm. There have been 28 such gatherings as part of community events organised by Cáirde Bhríde in Kildare, taking place around Brigid’s Day in February – but this year due to Covid restrictions it has to be a virtual event. This year’s title is ‘Seeds of the Heart’ and it will look at  issues to do with care for the planet and ‘welcoming the stranger’, among others.

Confirmed speakers so far include social entrepreneur Ruairi McKiernan and founders of Síolta Chroí Karen Jeffares and Gareth Conlon. There will be music from Kila’s Dee Armstrong  and friends among others.  For further details contact or see the website in due course

A 10-minute video report on Afri’s work in 2020 can be seen at
De Borda seminar: Consensus voting

Democratic Decision-making, Consensus Voting in Civic Society and Parliaments’ is an online seminar organised by the de Borda Institute, hosted by Anna Tulin Brett (NUI, Galway) and introduced by Prof Hugh Miall, (Conflict Research Society). This short session takes place on Thursday 14th January from 10.30am. The link is Meeting ID: 865 7092 9098  and Passcode: 5G34xF  The de Borda website is at

Arms Trade networking

An online cross-border network of people interested in or working on arms trade issues has grown out of a seminar organised by INNATE. It is quite informal and will share information, perceptions and possibilities for work on this issue. The next meeting is online on Tuesday 26th January at 7.30pm and anyone interested is welcome; contact INNATE to receive the link and report from the last meeting..

Nuclear weapons illegal on 22nd January

The nuclear armed powers may ignore the matter and pretend it isn’t happening but anything to do with nuclear weapons becomes illegal in international law on 22nd January when there is an opportunity for civil society to draw attention to this through the ringing of church bells, and other manifestations of this important development – the day will be marked by various groups and organisations internationally. INNATE has a downloadable poster for home printing, ‘Nuclear weapons illegal’, at

Holocaust memorial exhibition

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Conflict Textiles has partnered with  the Linen Hall Library in Belfast to present a small online exhibition, Light during the darkness: Remembering the Holocaust (12th January – 1st February) with a brief guided tour on 27th January from 2.00 – 3.30pm; there will be inputs from a transnational panel of 5 contributors on Holocaust-related family memorabilia. You can register on and the exhibition details are at

Eco-Congregation Ireland gathering

Eco-Congregation Ireland is holding an online meet up on Saturday 16th January 2021 at 11.00am. This online event will be for faith communities to share experiences and ideas. There will be input from a congregation that has received their Eco-Congregation Award, as well as a church on their journey towards their Award. Participants are welcome to bring their questions about any aspect of their ECI journey whether that is about getting started, working towards an ECI Award, the ECI Awareness and Endeavour Certificates or hosting the ECI Climate Justice Candle. If you would like to attend please email Karen Nicholson to register and to get the Zoom link – You can also sign up to receive the regular ECI newsletter.