All posts by Rob Fairmichael

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 290

Art and Peace series

In the space between –

an interview with Viviana Fiorentino

Viviana Fiorentino is a teacher, writer, poet and activist. She is Italian and lives in Belfast. She published in international webzines, journals and in anthologies (Dedalus Press, 2019; Salmon, 2020); In Italy, a poetry collection (Controluna Press) and a novel (Transeuropa Publishing House).

She co-founded two activist poetry initiatives ‘Sky, you are too big’, a celebration on international migrants day which combines poetry and music from migrant artists living in Northern Ireland Letters with wings’ (founded on Poetry Day Ireland 2020) is a poetry campaign in support of artists in prison that collected 727 poetic letters to be sent to artists in prison for their art and/for defending their freedom of speech and human rights. ‘Letter with wings’ as part of the ‘Imagine Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics’ in 2021, organised “When art meets activism”, an online event dedicated to the women artists Chimengul Awut (award-winning Uyghur poet) and Nûdem Durak (Kurdish origin folk musician and political prisoner in Turkey).

She is on the editorial staff of Le Ortique, a blog and an initiative that voices and rediscovers forgotten women artists.

She facilitates the creative writing and photography project “Same/Difference” (Quotidian – Word of the Street Ltd – exploring themes like identity, belonging, diversity and peacebuilding.

She was interviewed by Stefania Gualberti.

Stefania: How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and activism?

Viviana: The truth is “I don’t know”, exactly. If I look back at my background and experiences which led to my involvement in art, it comes to my mind all the times that I walked back and forward, that I changed my path, all the times I questioned my perspective, interrogated my way of living. My background is made of this: lots of intertwined paths. These doubts and questions led me to my involvement in art.

My first path was to study Natural Science and Biology. The connection to nature and the environment around me was for sure very important for both my involvement with art and activism. My art is a way for me to connect with the world around me, with the nature and the environment. Activism for me is living as communities which means to connect with the world around us, nature. Nature is made of human beings as well. Sometimes we perceive nature as non-human animals and plants, but nature is the whole environment, including us and all the millions of interactions between ‘we’ animals and organisms. If we take care of nature, we take care of ourselves too, this is a form of activism.

My background is also influenced by the fact that I travelled a lot in Europe. I was born in Italy and after secondary school I left the country and l went back to Italy and left again when I was 28. I lived in Switzerland, in Germany, in England, back in Germany and finally in Northern Ireland. These changes in ground and languages gave me the opportunity to shift my point of view many times. I think a revolution of the point of view is at the base of art. When you create art, you have to look at the world around you, or anything that is ‘the other’, from a different, new, perspective. To express it you need to be outside for a moment, in a space which is in between. This space allows you to create something new.

Stefania: What do you feel is special about art to challenge, connect and transform?

Viviana: Every day we listen to thousands of words, from the radio, the media, from the people around us as we receive the news from the world. In a way we become anaesthetized, we lose contact with words, we forget the meaning of words. Art, writing in my case, put these words back in a new context. That way we have a kind of revelation again from the words. This is the challenge. The art has a transformative quality. As we get this revelation, we finally see the new meanings of the words, from which we were anaesthetized, we have the possibility to transform our feelings of rage, despair, sorrow into something new, into something that can be beautiful through the act of creating.

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

Viviana: There are two sides: one side is the power of transformation of collecting your experiences and reshaping them. The other side, the healing process, is not in the art itself but in the connection that art offers us. We create art to communicate with “the other”. For example, when I write a poem, at the end, I create a connection with another person. The healing is there whenever I reach somebody else. It can be just one single person, it can be in the future, it doesn’t matter. This connection, this possibility we have, is a flow of love.

I am not sure that art can be healing for the person who is creating it, it might sometimes, for me the healing happens in the moment the artist and the receiver connect. When you as an artist reach someone and when someone is reached by the art. The healing is not in the art but in the connection thanks to the art.

I think sometimes creating can be energetically tiring as you have to put together your fragmented pieces and you have to recollect your experiences that maybe traumatized you, so it can be a problem of re-suffering. In that moment of recollection the artist does a leap: you leave your specific individuality, your ‘ego’, for making that experiences universal. Before reaching the page, there is a process of growing, so to say, for you as artist. Somehow you are you look at yourself from outside.

This moment when you are in between space, in this outside space, is when you look at your life, and say, look that was me, but now it is an experience for everyone – you want in fact talk to many others – it becomes a universal perspective. It’s the growing of a new possibility, like a seed, you see you can grow from there. You can move forward from that experience. So, at the end, I can heal from that experience thanks to the other person that I imagine will receive my art. Art is art if it is universal, if it has something that can speak to others.

Stefania, you also asked me about the collective levels. In this sense, art can be a glue, because of its power of universality we can stick together. We can find a collective voice, in a poem, in a painting, so we can imagine something together.

Stefania: How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as ‘writers’ or ‘poets’? How can poetry be accessible to everybody given that it is sometimes seen as the most pretentious of the arts?

Viviana: It is a challenging question because the inaccessibility of poetry comes, I think, from an old way of talking or reading poetry in education. Because of its nature, most poetry can talk to everyone, and it is largely accessible, it depends on how we read it. What is a poem? It is something written on a piece of paper. It is like a stone, it does not speak by itself; we need to give it a voice. How is the stone made? Maybe it is sedimented with water, but where does it come from? The same questions can be asked for a poem.

In a poem, what are the meanings of the words? What are the sediments that made it? What is the poem saying to us? Doing that, we give the poem a voice and doing so we recognise a part of ourselves in there. Looking for the voices inside us and bringing them to the surface is a way to say, Look, that is what I understood, what do you think? This question is poetry.

Each art has its own tools and techniques you need to learn if you want to be a professional, but the kernel is this voice which is inside of everyone.

Stefania: How has your bilingual and migration experience facilitated your engagement in this area?

Viviana: In Northern Ireland in particular, there is a movement from the reality which was true 30 years ago of a net division between two different groups. Now there is a wealth of different cultures which still needs to be recognized by the society. Each migrant here has this beautiful great possibility to be a bridge for those people who think they are still divided. People who have more than one language, more than one culture, can be a present for Northern Ireland.

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?

Viviana: There are two main projects that are part of my art and heart. One is Same/difference devised by Quotidian artists Maria McManus, Nandi Jola, Bernarde Lynn and I. It is a series of creative writing and photography workshops. The project has been implemented for the first time in Portadown supported by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council  through Peace IV funds. It was then followed by further implementations of the project with two further series. It examines the concept of identity, belonging, home, diversity and peace-building, through creative writing and expressive abilities and explores the lived – experience of migration.

The common thread is to see ourselves with the eyes of the others, being in dialogue with the others, understating my own story and listening to the others’. The groups we worked with actually represent Northern Ireland’s society today, diverse.

Letters with wings was born last year (2020) during the first lockdown when the feeling of constraint in our house was a good opportunity to emotionally connect with artists and people who all over the world were imprisoned for fighting for human rights or for defending freedom of expression. We asked the public to send on social media artistic letters to address to the artists who were imprisoned. We collected more than 700 letters and we are in the process of sending these letters. The letters can be read in our website ( It was fantastic, we had a great engagement as people felt the necessity to reach out to the artists who were imprisoned. It was a community project, which was the strength of it, to do something together, to imagine a possibility all together.

I would love to finish up this interview with a poem that actually inspired many of the projects I talked during this interview. I initially wrote it in Italian then Maria McManus and I worked together toward a translation in English. Please take it as a way to thank you for this opportunity.

I – Landing


Sky, you are too big;

Persian Blue –

I cannot know you.


Instead, I call on you, Land;

give me a place to put my feet,

a home for my uncertainty,

a place to doubt.


A place to live.

– – – – – –

Billy King, NN 290

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Those Quakers

The review in the last issue on Quaker international conciliation got me thinking of a relatable story (I’ll relate it to you and you can then see if you relate to it). It’s not about conciliation, I’m not sure what you’d call it, possibly direct action peacemaking. Veteran English Quaker activist Will Warren came to live and work for peace in Derry in the early years of the recent Troubles. The story was about that he could stop a riot by walking right into the middle of it, perhaps nobody wanting to harm this venerable Quaker. However the late great English peace activist Howard Clark told the story of visiting Will in Derry when he, Will, decided to do just that, walk into a riot, accompanied by Howard. Howard said it made absolutely no difference to the riot and he was never as scared in his life……you might say he was positively quaking… this case there was a Will but no way.

Past peace activism

Isn’t that an amazing entry in the INNATE Flickr/photo site of the 1839 anti-recruiting leaflet? If there is one thing we learn about the past, surely it is that people were just like us even if their circumstances were very different. It is difficult to imagine yourself into 1839 Dublin and the context in which this was produced [But there go, or went, the Quakers again – Ed] and arguing from a pragmatic basis against joining the military was, is, probably quite effective.

The cat-’o-nine-tails may not exist for soldiers any more but I have personally witnessed offending squaddies being exhaustion-punished – not pleasant. And “orders is orders” is not a good place to be either, nor being moved about the place on someone else’s whim. That is altogether aside from the jobs soldiers are tasked to do. I do think the peace movement could do more on the anti-recruitment front.

Not pootering about

Clearly new DUP leader Edwin Poots doesn’t believe in footering or even pootering about the place. He had his campaign for the leadership ready to go and launched within a day of Arlene Foster announcing she was hanging up her First Minister boots. And all in the year when he had already had a cancer operation. Clearly he wasn’t born yesterday even if he does believe the earth is only a few thousand years old.

Poots’ ‘young earth’ creationist views have received a lot of comment. Me, I am with the Dalai Lama when he said in relation to his Buddhist beliefs that if science proved Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism would have to change. I take that instruction in relation to my own religious/philosophical/political beliefs. But looking at it ‘from outside’, how is Poots’ creationist views any different to, say, someone who believes in horoscopes (horrorscopes?) – and there are plenty of them – and that planets and stars directly influence our lives aside from being part of the fabric of the cosmos we inhabit?

Anyway, we will see how pragmatic Edwin Poots is in his new role soon enough, his problem is not in expressing opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol but in finding an alternative that everyone is willing to go with.. Unless of course Britain gives the EU an even more Frost-y reception and unilaterally dumps more of it – and you wouldn’t put that past them. Personally I reckon if Britain showed the maximum cooperation they might get the same back again so that much of the red tape could disappear. But the EU needs to pull out the stops too if they don’t want to be back at Ground Zero of no agreement. But you have to laugh at Lord Frost criticising the EU for disturbing the Good Friday Agreement when it was Brexit that first did just that, at least putting a rocket under the general status quo, and a hard Brexit leading to hard questions and hard resolutions

But a final word on Poots. ‘Blessed are those who expect little for they shall not be disappointed’ might be an appropriate saying. But sometimes the ‘strong’, seemingly intransigent leader (think Poots’ predecessor and party founder Ian Paisley) can take people places that someone without that reputation couldn’t. But that is the exception, unfortunately, and Ian Paisley only changed over to the bright side in the twilight of his career.. A Belfast Telegraph poll showed most DUP voters would have preferred Jeffrey Donaldson, and with the DUP on 16% and the Sinners on 25%, plus ructions in the party, there is a mighty big hill to climb before the Assembly election next year for the DUP to retain the position of First Minister through being the largest party. And we thus might have to see what existential angst a Sinn Féin First Minister in the North would inflict on loyalists. And in the, perhaps unlikely but not impossible, scenario of Alliance coming second in the polls (not designated as unionist or nationalist under the GFA assembly arrangements) what does that do to democracy if then the third largest party actually take the spoils of Deputy First Minister?

A united Ireland – in NATO?

There are a thousand and one questions to be answered about the future of this island irrespective of whether the border stays (and where would we be without it – as Kevin McAleer has put it, it’s the best border in the world, it unites the whole country…). If Northern Ireland remains part of the UK but ‘unionists’ of a traditional sort are no longer in a majority, what does that mean? For politics in the North, for North-South cooperation, for unionist self-esteem and self perceptions? Or indeed for ‘nationalists’ who don’t actually vote for a united Ireland? There are lots of intriguing questions, aside altogether from current Brexit and NI Protocol issues

However I am not sure how many who are not staunch and conservative unionists would agree with the News Letter’s opinion of 4/5/21 that “Far from being a failure on its centenary, Northern Ireland has been a resounding success” – which it was, ahem, somewhat short in detailing; the best it could do is “Support for things such as our magnificent sporting teams — notably the Northern Ireland Women’s team recently — and our ambassadors and achievers and business leaders and famous faces will not go away. Nor for the towns and countryside and the local spirit that make the place — which is why growing numbers of people identify as Northern Irish.” The last point is certainly true though, and if justice and equality became the hallmarks of Norn Iron then a united Ireland could be a hard sell

And what are the people of the Republic willing to forgo to bring about a united Ireland? Are they willing to bear higher taxes to support the North in the style to which it has been accustomed? A relatively recent poll raised questions about that issue. And how do you compare standards of living and wellbeing given different welfare and healthcare systems? Though in the longevity stakes it looks like those south-and-west of the border are doing relatively well compared to those north-and-east of it. “Irish reunification would cause a financial shock in the Republic, requiring either a major hike in taxes or a significant reduction in public spending, according to Trinity College Dublin economist John FitzGerald” said The Irish Times on 4/5/21 – though others have dissected current subsidies to the North and not come to as stark a conclusion.

A free at point of delivery healthcare system is still almost a complete chimera in the Republic while in the North the NHS remains extremely popular despite all the cuts and queues associated with it. On many levels of welfare the Republic has for some time overtaken the UK system but supporting another couple of million in the North raises all those questions of affordability and sustainability. Like I say, there are a thousand and one questions and very few answers or potential answers as yet.

However a letter in The Irish Times raised another issue which is at the back of some of our minds [I don’t know what is at the back of your mind but I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near it…..Ed] On 7/5/21 they published a letter from a retired colonel (presumably in the Irish army)- asking would people in the North be prepared “to leave the security and protection afforded by Nato membership, to join up with an underfunded, militarily neutral Ireland? Conversely, would the people in the South join Nato as the price for a united Ireland?” Leaving aside the distinctly biassed language the questions are phrased in, these are good questions.

But let’s rephrase the questions with a peace orientation. Are people prepared to sell out and join the US and European military empire? Are they prepared to leave the security and protection of being a neutral country to join a rich-world war and war-making machine which wastes huge resources in the process, could drag Ireland into wars it wants nothing to do with, and when there are all sorts of pressing needs to be met? And are people in the North that paranoid that they insist on the whole island of Ireland being in such a military machine? The answer, my friends, is blowing in your hands. [Is this an oblique reference to Dob Bylan and his 80th ‘bidet’? – Ed] [Well guessed – “how many times must the cannonballs fly / before they’re forever banned”, “and how many deaths will it take till he knows / That too many people have died?”]

Well, June is upon us but certainly it has not been anything like summer until very recently. April was dry, May wet, and neither warm like last year. But whatever about the weather I hope the political temperature doesn’t shoot up too much in the North over the July-ing Season. However I hope you are able to get out and about into the countryside or parkside when you can – the effervescent green in the foliage of May or June, with the sun shining on it and through it, makes you very glad to be alive. We have been monitoring nesting swans along the Belfast-Lisburn Lagan canal to see the emergent cygnet-ture tunes, and you can’t beat the emergence of new life for a sense of joie de vivre. Or indeed the vibrant blue flash of a kingfisher. See you soon, Billy.

Nonviolent News 289

Afri virtual Famine Walk event

For the second year running, because of Covid, Afri is unable to organise its Doolough-Louisburgh Famine Walk, commemorating the people who died on a real famine walk there in 1849 and looking at links to issues today. However there will be talks, music and poetry on Saturday 15th May from 7pm – 8.30pm in A celebration of land, life, freedom and solidarity.’ Those participating include Blanca Blanco (Resource Rights Advisor with Trócaire), Rose Kelly (Teacher, Activist and member of Beyond Extractivism on the Island of Ireland), Professor Christine Kinealy (Author of ‘This Great Calamity’ and Director of the Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University), Poet Paula Meehan, Harpist Brídín and the MC will be Ruairí McKiernan (host of Love and Courage podcast and author of Hitching for Hope). Details and booking at and the Afri website is at

Conflict transformation event with Gobnait’s House

From Self to Community: Deepening Connections through Conflict Transformation” is a course running from 17th May to 21st June; sessions will be two hours in length and will be held weekly online. The fee is €300 Euros with half-scholarship available to those who are underemployed or unemployed. This training is designed for mediation professionals and practitioners as well as those interested in an introduction to this field and designed for those who want to add new skills to their tool-kit, and, in particular, core communication, leadership and relationship skills. Gobnait’s House has been created by four women working in peacebuilding, mediation, conflict transformation, and healing from across the world though the geographical base is Limerick. The input on this course will be from Catherine Ali and Susan Hartley; the other members of Insight for Social Change/Gobnait’s House are Debi Parush and Aura Hammer. See and e-mail

CAJ: Good Friday commitments, Covid Conversations

A new paper from CAJ/Committee on the Administration of Justice maps the status of the principal commitments relating to human rights (including equality) made as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent agreements that have emerged during the peace process in Northern Ireland. Many of these rights-based commitments still remain unimplemented more than twenty years later and the paper provides detailed and important updates to previous mapping; see

CAJ’s analysis of the legality of Covid vaccination/immunity ‘passports’ can be found at

The Equality Coalition, along with the Transitional Justice Institute and Human Rights Consortium, organised a series of webinars examining a wide variety of human rights issues brought into sharp focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. Videos of these are now available at

ICCL on Covid, passports

ICCL/The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has continued to be active on a variety of Covid-19 issues. They state “ICCL has been telling government that vaccine passports should not be used domestically – that establishing a two-tier society, especially when the vaccine is not yet readily available, is a violation of civil liberties.
….. at the Fianna Fail parliamentary party meet
ing [at the end of April], the Taoiseach agreed with us and he ruled out their domestic use based on our campaign.”

Irish coroners system not fit for purpose, rights of bereaved

ICCL, with Professor Phil Scraton and Gillian McNaull, has conducted research that showed Ireland’s system of investigating death is inadequate and can compound and even aggravate the suffering of loved ones. Root-and-branch reform was demanded by an independent Working Group in 2000. Twenty-one years later, those reforms have still not been implemented. This failure on the part of successive governments means grieving families are side-lined, marginalised, and left out in the cold as they wait to find answers. A briefing can be found at along with a link to the full report of over eighty pages.

Afri: New Global Citizenship education resources

Afri recently launched new global citizenship education resources – you can watch the launch event at This includes three publications designed to support secondary school teachers and other educators to deepen global citizenship education within their classrooms and schools:

1) The Web of Life: Biodiversity, Interconnectivity and An Gorta Mór, written by Nicola Winters and edited by Joe Murray and Dervla King has lesson plans containing a wide-ranging series of workshops on themes relating to biodiversity and interconnectivity with a particular reference to the critical lessons to be learned from An Gorta Mór. The Web of Life presents cross-curricular opportunities in a whole variety of subjects.

2) “Interdependence Day! Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals through Drama for All Ages” is written by Pete Mullineaux. It can be used by teachers at both primary and post-primary level, offering eight projects that are relevant and appropriate to all ages, from children as young as four through to older teenagers. The overarching aim is to encourage a whole-school approach to Global Citizenship Education.

3) “Pleananna ceachta le húsáid taobh le hacmhainní de chuid maidir leis an Oideachas Forbartha” consists of lesson plans in Irish built around three resources previously written for Afri’s Development Education programme: “Exploring Global Issues Through Drama and Theatre”; “Pathways of Peace” and ”Lessons from History.”. Compiled by Miriam Barragry with translation by Mark Doris.

All three are available for download at and they are available as printed copies at €5 each, plus p&p, from Afri. and e-mail

21 Years Too Late Show: Direct Provision

21 Years Too Late Show – Exploring the End of Direct Provision”, organised by MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) and Amnesty International, was an online event at the end of April, available to view at MASI is at and Amnesty at

Information and analysis from Doras, Limerick, on direct provision can be found at

CGE: Climate strikes and public activism

The three quarter of an hour video on this topic from an Imagine! Festival event organised by the Centre for Global Education/CGE can be seen at It involves activists Kaitlyn Laverty, Anna Kernahan, Lynda Sullivan (FOE-NI) and chaired by Stephen McCloskey of CGE. CGE is at

Eco-Congregation Ireland

Eco-Congregation Ireland/ECI encourages Christian churches of all denominations to take an eco approach to worship, lifestyle, property and finance management, community outreach and contact with the developing world. It produces a regular newsletter, which you can subscribe to, and its annual report is available on their website; it offers resources and support to churches. See

WRI: International CO’s Day

Every year on 15th May, the International Conscientious Objection Day, WRI/War Resisters’ International organises solidarity with conscientious objectors (COs) and draws attention to their resistance to war. This year there is a particular focus on Turkey – working closely with the Conscientious Objection Association – Turkey (VR-DER). In Turkey, there are thousands of COs who refuse to perform compulsory military service. The right to conscientious objection to military service isn’t recognised and anyone refusing compulsory military service faces lifetime persecution, including continuous arrest warrants and repeated prosecutions amounting to “civil death” – a term being used to describe their exclusion from social, cultural and economic life. More information at

World Beyond War drones campaign

World Beyond War has launched an international campaign against killer drones, BanKillerDrones – to ban weaponized drones and military and police drone surveillance. They state “This comes at the moment when the Biden Administration is reportedly looking to increase U.S. drone killing and drone surveillance as key to retaining some level of colonial control in Afghanistan, under the guise of countering Al Qaeda, as U.S. troops are removed.” See

The UK-based Drone Wars UK – whose director Chris Cole spoke at a recent arms trade network meeting in Ireland – is at

Aloha national security for Hawai’i

What brings security? Not guns or big guns, that is for sure. A very useful paper on Hawai’i by Pōkā Laenui

in Transcend Media Service may contain some useful lessons for a different island, on the edge of Europe, which also sees itself as a place of welcome (even if the reality for many newcomers may not be quite that). Cèad míle fáilte?

Peace Direct: Pioneering Peace – digital inclusion

In the Covid era, organising for peace online has become a necessity. Peace Direct was involved with other groups in a collaboration entitled Shift Power for Peace working to support peacebuilders internationally, including making small grants – most applications were from Africa. A 40 page report is available at

The state of the world’s human rights

The Amnesty International Report 2020/21 documents the human rights situation in 149 countries in 2020, as well as providing global and regional analysis. It presents Amnesty lnternational’s concerns and calls for action to governments and others, at a time when Covid rocked the world and threw inequalities into start relief. See

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Editorial, NN 289

Political identity

“Parnell came down the road, he said to a cheering man:

‘Ireland shall get her freedom and you still break stone.’ “ – W B Yeats

There are many different aspects to our own personal identity and being. ‘Political identity’, relating not just to political views on a left-right spectrum but also perceptions of ethnicity and nationality, is what will be explored in this piece. Our own personal identity is likely to be made up of numerous other aspects including our work occupation and status, our family status (as child, sibling, parent, grandparent etc), our friendship network, our age, and our personality. While all aspects of our identity and being may interact in a deep way, this piece is primarily concerned with political identity on the island of Ireland, and particularly in Northern Ireland.

Identity is complex. Although often perecived as a ‘given’, it is changeable. In the Republic there is quite a high level of identification with the state despite misgivings that individuals might have about the state’s policies. Yet self identity in the Republic has changed quite rapidly from, say, the time of the papal visit of 1979; at that stage (quite a conservative) Catholicism was a fairly predominant part of most people’s identity – and a rejection of that as part of their identity only held by a small, niche number of people. Today there is a much more diverse picture and society is much more secular.

What is intriguing in the North is the way in which the two primary conflicting identities have evolved in counterindication to each other. ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ identities have evolved in many different ways since the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century. One big change fairly early was that ‘Catholics’ became English- rather than Irish-speaking. ‘Protestants’, some of whom had fought for independence from Britain in 1798, went from ‘British and Irish Unionist’ to ‘Northern Ireland and British’ unionist after partition; while fully identifying as British they came to see the primary political unit as Northern Ireland (thus we could have Rev Ian Paisley telling British prime ministers not to meddle in Northern Ireland). And despite all the changes in four centuries, the ‘integrity’ (= strength and destructiveness) of the quarrel between ‘the two sides’ has remained unchanged for some on both sides.

But in Northern Ireland also there has been change. For the first time, perhaps, it is becoming possible for a real ‘middle ground’ to emerge, people for whom being ‘unionist’ or ‘nationalist’ is not a matter of life and death and they could be persuaded either way. This is not to deny that such people may not have residual prejudices, coming from their upbringing and socialisation, but they are more pragmatic on constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland and not as susceptible to the playing of ‘orange’ or ‘green’ cards.

In both jurisdictions, the incoming of people from elsewhere, particularly in the last couple of decades, has been very positive. The presence of ‘other’ identities has had various effects. One is that people can realise that life here is attractive enough, even if only for economic benefits, for people to come from elsewhere, and this helps indigenous people to appreciate what they have, economically and culturally. In the North, it has helped people to realise that “It’s time that we were learning to count higher up than two” (Colum Sands’ song ‘The Donegall Road, see ).

However in the North the two conflicting identities are usually used to bolster each other. A strident call from one side is likely to lead to at least as strident a call on the other, and so it goes on. And the more strident the call, the greater the fear is likely to be in the opposing camp. This ramping up of the amp causes greater instability and unease, and this in turn leads to the greater possibility of violence.

Given that neither ‘Protestants’ nor ‘Catholics’ are now in a majority in Northern Ireland (whichever of them is more numerous, and the recent census will likely reveal the result), with the balance held by ‘others’, there is an historic opportunity to make new decisions. While the direction signs might currently point towards a united Ireland of some form in the medium term, this should not be considered a future fait accompli. Following the Good Friday Agreement, most Catholics were relatively happy with, or tolerant of, the state of affairs in Northern Ireland, and the fact that things have changed is primarily to do with two factors – unionist relectance to move on some supposedly agreed issues, and Brexit.

There is a problem with simple ‘majority rule’ in any society but most especially in a divided society. The fact that Catholics seemed to be fairly happy in post-1998 Northern Ireland was to do with feeling accepted – they were told they could be British, Irish, or both. Even if the state itself was still British, and the symbols of it likewise, they felt that enough had changed in terms of respect for their traditions that they could live with it.

But Catholic feelings of confidence and the demand for equality did not come from nowhere. Of course increasing demographic equal numbers between the two ‘communities’ has had an effect but self reliance within the Catholic community from the time of partition has been a very significant factor which laid the ground for the civil rights movement of the ‘Sixties, along with such factors as free secondary education. Tragically, and for many different reasons, this then turned into the Troubles. But equality had to be part of the emergence from that period of violence, and it was, in the Good Friday Agreement even if its consociational elements in some ways solidified that Catholic-Protestant split. The violence of the Troubles has actually delayed society in the North from moving on.

Brexit and the resultant Northern Ireland Protocol have put a cat among the pigeons for many unionists and loyalists. They see their British identity being eroded. They see Northern Ireland being treated differently to Britain, and it being the only part of the UK to be in this position. You can understand the angst. Are they on a slippery road to a united Ireland?

There are many problems here and with some loyalist perceptions (as well as republican demands for a unity referendum within a set time frame). We are not advocating either a united Ireland or a continued United Kingdom – though the latter could disappear like smoke if Scottish independence becomes a reality. If Catholics were relatively content in a post-1998 situation where they remained in a United Kingdom, with symbols of that state, what is to say Protestants could not be relatively content in a united Ireland which gave them respect and equality? Are Northern loyalists totally dependent on external shows of Britishness? Do they have the self confidence to negotiate whatever comes their way? Are they committed to democracy now that they are no longer an arithmetic majority?

Most people in the world do not have the luxury of living in a state and with a government they support. Many ethnic minorities are ridden over roughshod. In both autocratic and democratic societies, policies adopted may be ones which are anathema to an ordinary person. Having a government which is in accord with popular will and collective wisdom, subject of course to human rights concerns, should be a universal aim but even so is easier said than done, and especially in divided societies. The fact that this is not a reality for most people around the world is not a reason not to seek it. And equality and respect should be shown to all people, whatever their ethnicity or political beliefs (again subject to human rights considerations) by governments; that is the minimum that should be expected.

Irrespective of what constitutional outcome is likely to be arrived at, the way forward for unionism is to strive for fair treatment for all, for justice and human rights for all, and to bend over backwards to ensure that nationalists and non-aligned people feel included and catered for. In Susan McKay’s words, “if unionism won’t share Northern Ireland, it is going to lose it.” If treated as they should be, Catholics and nationalists might be persuaded in sufficient numbers for Northern Ireland to continue in the UK for the forseeable future. There is plenty to celebrate in British culture (though not, we hasten to add, in how it is treated by the present English nationalist government). If the DUP and its forthcoming new leadership goes backwards into loyalist flag-waving mode then that does not serve their community well. Inclusivity rather than exclusivity has to be the message, and ‘what we have we share’.

We are also very uneasy about unionist/loyalist and republican reliance on military shows of identity. Celebrating battles over others (who happen to be ‘in the room’) or, indeed, in the case of republican militarism, celebrating heroic defeats (1916 Rising) does not serve any side well. Celebrating victories and battles against ‘the enemy’ may create a sense of sectarian solidarity but it does nothing to move society on to inclusive solutions.

For both unionism and nationalism, there has to be a proper focus on economic, social, and community issues which are common to both (the most deprived ward areas in the North are still predominantly Catholic) with need being the criteria. When there is poverty and educational deprivation it is difficult for any society to move beyond its difficulties, and that is greatly magnified in a divided society like Northern Ireland.

Political identity in a society like the Republic, where there is no great debate about its statehood, can be problematic where people feel estranged from politicians and the Oireachtas. Engagement can come through people feeling politicians and the system are on their sde or at least concerned with their issues and problems. It can also come through the work of such entities as Citizens’ Assemblies. If there is a high level response to community and pressure group campaigning then people can feel the system is working. If it all seems remote and irrelevant then there is a problem. Despite being a relatively small society, the system in the Republic can seem remote from people for a variety of reasons including unnecessary centralisation. These issues need constant attention.

But it is a different ball game in Northern Ireland where the very nature of the state is in question. As indicated in this editorial, the way forward is through self confident adherence to justice, human rights – and we would add, nonviolence – for all. Consensual and multi-option voting systems have a role here in encouraging collective thinking. And burying our heads in the sand on any aspect of the future is not enough. Unionists not only have to consider how to make Northern Ireland work for all but what their role would be if it did indeed come to a united Ireland of some form. Nationalists need to consider how they can make the inclusiveness of their ideology a reality and ensure that Protestants and unionists feel that their presence is valued and their rights will be honoured, whatever flag flies at Stormont.

Change is one of the few constants in the world. Northern Ireland and its dreary steeples may give the impression of changelessness but much has changed, on all sides. The North is in an infinitely better position than thirty, forty or fifty years ago. Enabling self confident, engaged, political identities is a key part of taking any society forward to meet its potential. Education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels is an important factor in achieving this. Perhaps it can be said that in Northern Ireland that process has been begun, and there is a glint of light at the end of the tunnel, but it is a very long tunnel and there is still a lot of hard digging to do. The Republic too should keep moving to engage citizens in a real and meaningful way in change and governance.

Eco-Awareness, NN 289

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Religion and salvation

Although it is widely thought by the inhabitants of these islands that we live in a secular society this would not wash with a first time visitor from a distant country if they had listened to the radio, watched TV and read the newspapers these past few weeks. A fair amount of time was devoted by the mainstream media to the Easter celebrations, and to a lesser extent to Ramadan. The lament of Christian leaders over the Covid-19 closure of their churches received considerable media attention. In addition to covering religious festivals and giving airtime and print space to the debate of such issues as the teaching of religion in schools the traditional media, RTE 1, Radio 4 and Radio Ulster for instance, have a stable of religious programmes.

Our visitor would certainly not have missed the confluence of religion and militarism at the funeral of Prince Philip. This entwinement of military and religious symbols is on display in many a Protestant church. Examples are St Ann’s Cathedral, Belfast and St Macartan’s Cathedral, Enniskillen where an impressive amount of space is given to remembering British soldiers who died in various wars. Needless to say the people killed by these same soldiers are not mentioned, probably because they were regarded as non-entities, impediments to British sovereignty and profit. One will also observe that in some Protestant churches homage to British regiments is on par with the homage paid to saints in Catholic churches.

The pairing of religion and militarisms is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. What of the Christian ethic of not living by the sword? If abided by, air planes, ships and submarines designed to carry nuclear weapons whose sole purpose is to kill people by the million, utterly destroy material culture and decimate the nonhuman world would not be blessed in the name of the very same God held to have created life.

In Ireland, if not in other parts of our archipelago, our visitor would likely by struck by the degree of religious thought that runs like a stream through everyday conversations. In spite of the prevalence of religion in everyday life there is a marked lack of appreciation of the role it could play in affecting positive social change especially in regard to the need for us to realign our relationship with nonhuman nature.

If religion was more concerned with universal wellbeing than of trying to ensure that people go to Heaven then all the money, energy, time and administrative know-how that goes into running a religion, and adhering to the do’s and don’ts, would be channelled into eradicating poverty, assisting the needy and healing our dying biosphere. In other words the religious would be devoted to securing the salvation of all living things.

In fact if religions abided by their golden rule of love your neighbour as yourself their adherents would not destroy the handiwork of God in the first place and there would be little if any structural poverty. The retort to this might be that humans by their nature commit sin – which is to say cause harm. This does not hold. What does is that people care more about the earthly delights of a meat based diet, using a private car in a city well served by public transport, and taking regular flights than the health of the biosphere.

Barring the exception of religiously minded individuals who defy orthodoxy in compassionate and socially creative ways, the main function of religion is to provide a sense of existential comfort and security by shoring up the normal as sanctioned by the state and endorsed by society at large rather than as an agency of wholesale positive change. The “mother and baby homes” in Ireland and the forced schooling of Aboriginal children in Australia are a testimony to this as is institutionalised racism in the Church of England as recently documented by Panorama on BBC 1. It does not have to be this way. Religions could learn from liberation theology as practised by some parishes in South America.

The term liberation theology was coined by Gustavo Gutiérrez in his book A Theology of Liberation (1971). Gutiérrez encapsulated what he thought the focus of organized religion should be with the phrase “preferential option of the poor”. By this he meant that God has a preference for those considered to be outsiders and insignificant, the marginalized, vulnerable, and the poor. Gutiérrez emphasised praxis over doctrine. Fifty years on some of the mainstream religions have developed a theology of the environment underpinned by praxis. The best known text in this field is perhaps that of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si; On Care for Our Common Home.

The Covid-19 mantra that no one is safe until everyone is safe should apply to the religious promise of salvation. In effect this means we are obliged to do what we can to save all life forms from extinction and protect the ecosystems we dwell in and are part of. This, without doubt, would be one of the cardinal messages of Jesus Christ, Muhammad and other religious figures if they breathed toxic air, saw the scattering of plastic waste, were aware of the plummeting loss of biodiversity as well as experienced extreme weather conditions that scientists link to climate breakdown.

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Readings in Nonviolence, NN 289

Art and peace series

Moving from injustice to generating alternatives:

An interview with Rita Duffy

Interviewer: Stefania Gualberti

Rita Duffy was born in 1959 and is a Northern Ireland artist. She describes herself as a pacifist and feminist. Her installations and projects often highlight socio-political issues and some of her work is in the permanent collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Imperial War Museum in London. Rita Duffy will have a new website available soon at

1. How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and peacebuilding?

I grew up in Stranmillis, right beside the Ulster Museum. The Ulster Museum became our playground at the weekend. It was a privileged situation to have that in proximity. We went to the Botanic Gardens because our house was a Victorian terrace and that was an escape to greenery and when it rained, we went to the Ulster Museum and slide on polished floors. I would look at the paintings so that was something very guiding and important for a child who was obviously taken with the visual.

My father was from Belfast, my mother was from county Offaly. I didn’t really feel I belonged. I didn’t realize I came from Belfast until I was about 12. The pull of my mother’s people, she had six sisters, was so great, so it became inevitable to start making art, painting, about what was going on around me. It didn’t satisfy me that in art school the conversation was about shades of yellow, concepts, it seemed really bad and poorly argued philosophy, so I made a conscious decision to make work that was on what was around me.

What was going on around me was a battle in the city of Belfast that was a microcosm of what was going on in every conflict area across the planet, so it seemed to me an appropriate place to start. Something that I knew, something that had been formative, certainly the topic of conversation in our household. I went to St Dominic’s Grammar School for Girls on the Falls Road through the ‘70s and that was a very important time. We were safe, I was removed from it every evening. I was questioning my identity, who I was, a young woman and all that seemed to be an inevitable necessary conversation within myself and as a result within my work.

2. What do you feel is special about art to build peace?

I think art is a spiritual force I have come to realize. I have identified art as a spiritual force. Susan Sontag said that first. There is something incredibly powerful about art that stops human beings collapsing into barbarity. I am not talking about middle class, I am talking about stuff that really moves you, how creative thinking, artistic thinking, how artists think provides alternatives. There is a reason why artists, poets, writers, musicians are the first people locked in prison by regimes, because they draw attention to the necessary. It is not about some dislocated discussion about some philosophical concepts. It is about an urgency; it is about a passionate response. It is about drawing attention to injustice, it is about creating a space that encourage people to think and to act, and to respond and to be unsettled.

3. How can art help to transform conflict and connect people?

I suppose it is up to people to engage with art in terms of connecting people and transforming conflict. I have seen projects that are very effective and passionate about bringing people together. I think the fact that art takes place in a space apart from your area or my area, we go somewhere else. We go to a theatre, we go to a cinema, we go to a concert hall or we go to an art exhibition. That gives the opportunity for that third space, where we can argue, where we can allow ourselves to become confused, where we can then create something fresh out of that confusion. And I think transforming the battlefield into something else is what we have done many times. We had to rebuild, rethink, reconstruct and that means potentially there is space for fresh thinking.

4. How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as “artistic”?

Quite often people would say things like “I can’t draw to save my life” but you try taking people onto a journey where they enjoy and are challenged but they are not put into an excruciating place, because then what they will produce is excruciating. I think it is the artist’s job as a leader to have some sense on what you are working with, and what and how that might work in terms of their involvement into the art project.

You need to be really quite well tuned-in and informed on what, where, how, what your budget is and what are the possibilities. Then you have to take it and do a creative jump with it. If people find they resist too much, they don’t have to be involved, they can do something else, or find another project that suits them better. You don’t cater to the lowest common denominator you try to inspire people and you lead them. You are not finger painting, you are communicating, you are explaining why you are doing this, why this is necessary, and you can always find a place for people, find a way to engage people, even in the most basic situations, even doing a simple task, they feel like they have contributed. You are not being led by the group the artist has to lead.

Too much community art is about process. But if you want to do a fingerpainting exercise where everyone puts their input don’t expect to find something interesting art wise and don’t pretend there is something interesting visually either. You can find methodologies to engage people: like photography is a fantastic way, because everyone can take a photograph, it doesn’t take any skill to take a photograph, and occasionally you get really lucky. I always believe there is magic if you are genuinely trying to really engage with people and there is stuff you can’t plan for! That’s the stuff to go after and to recognize when it appears. As an artist you need to have a vision, if these people are not interested in painting, find another way, if they are very talkative, maybe you should have a writer on board, or they love to sing… you have to work with what is there and you have to suss out what’s possible.

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

I don’t know, I am an artist and I trust what I do. There is a level of trust, I don’t measure what I do, I don’t go back to examine, I don’t think. But I do know there is a sense that something has changed even if it’s a molecule of an individual’s psyche. They might not even get that straight away, but it might come back to them in different ways later on. I am interested in art, really, and I think it’s up to everybody to decide whether they were going to switch off the TV and listen to that symphony or be content and watch somebody playing darts. It’s their personal choices involved here. Sometimes people are at different stages of their life and sometimes they are more open to the possibility of transformation, sometimes not.

6. You are one of the best-known artists in Northern Ireland, indeed Ireland. How has this affected your art, if at all?

It’s funny, it either really works really well for you or really badly. In the North sometimes I would experience the attitude “Who do you think you are? I’ll bring you down a level or two”, so there is that aspect. But more times than not, you would get, “We will be delighted to work with you”, it gets a little bit easier to get your foot in the door.

7. How do your pacifism and feminism interact, and do you feel they are equally represented in your art?

I am politically interested. It is not something I think about. It is a subliminal thing. I am very interested in feminism; politics and I am very interested in pacifism. I am also interested in contemporary politics and what is going on around. I listen, I engage, and sometimes I come up with an image that is a response to that. Watching the Trump presidency unravel was something that I thought had a global resonance, that populism, I wanted to do something about that, so I made a list of drawings and a recent painting because it affects us and what was going on in North America, has happened in Brazil, The Netherlands, London. I suppose it’s about what sparks your interest at any given moment. I am reading a wonderful book by an Egyptian feminist, Nawal El Saadawi. She trained as a medical doctor, she died recently. I am reading her writing at the moment, it is amazing, incredible stuff. I am continuing to soak in things, reading and looking and thinking and I am doing lots of writing myself at the moment.

8. 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?

I should talk to you about the project I was making at Quaker Cottage* (with Ann Patterson), a portrait of eight women. I was looking at the Ulster mythology, the curse of Macha. The story is all about tribalism, division and not showing compassion to women and children who bear the most suffering of conflict. That is the most amazing story and I went to Quaker Cottage with the idea of choosing one of the women as a sitter for the portrait of Macha. When I was there one of the women was having contractions. Unfortunately, she had conceived as a result of rape. Her partner had a barring order but because of where they were lived, the police couldn’t exercise the barring order, so he occasionally broke in and raped her. I was thinking that was the most horrific story and I was thinking from my comfortable middle-class existence in South Belfast, it really kind of opened my eyes, to what women were experiencing in Belfast.

If I had heard that about a crazy worn torn spot in Bosnia, I would have thought, yes that is believable, but that was Belfast, Belfast, 11 years ago. I thought we don’t reflect these narratives, these experiences. So, I ended up making an exhibition on the portraits of these eight women and I interviewed them, and I recorded their stories, and we called the project “House to house”. From Quaker Cottage you can see clearly across to Stormont. Also ‘house to house’ was how the army searched. At the time there was an argument going on the radio about whether they should be allowed to have Easter lilies or calla lilies because they had had orange lilies. These men in Stormont were arguing about floral decoration in the lobby at Stormont and meanwhile I had heard that story.

That’s an example of how things grow. There is an element of magic, that’s how things develop.

*Quaker Cottage, managed by Quaker Service, is a cross community family support centre which provides services for some of the disadvantaged areas of north and west Belfast.

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Dining with diplomats,

praying with gunmen

Dining with diplomats, praying with gunmen:

Experiences of international conciliation for a new generation of peacemakers”

by Anne Bennett

Quaker Books, London, 2020, ISBN 978 199931 415 6 (also available as e-book), 162 pages. UK£10.00.

– Reviewed by Stefania Gualberti and Rob Fairmichael

Well, given that this is a book based on an internal Quaker process and there isn’t too much demand for international conciliators, what is the point in reviewing the book? Plenty, as we hope this review will reveal.

The first thing to say is that it is impossible to write the history of working for peace in Ireland, or indeed internationally, without mentioning the word ‘Quaker’ or Religious Society of Friends.

Conciliation is defined in the book as “the process of bringing people together and creating enough trust between them for them to talk constructively together. It usually involves the help of facilitators to encourage the parties to move to that point and to engage in dialogue to resolve the conflict that has divided them” (pages 2 and 22).

Anne Bennett tells the story on how the Quakers started to take up the role of international conciliators and how their quiet processes around the world have been successful over the years. They created a reputation based on their integrity and on their principles and values; building relationships of trust with people on both sides of the conflict, starting where they are; not taking sides but listening to all parties with the belief that if each person’s stories are not heard and acknowledged it is difficult to move forward; encouraging parties to explore options, nonviolent responses; working in building capacity of the local peace groups.

Nearly all those processes need to be done in strict confidentiality. Quakers, grounded by their spirituality and in the belief that “there is that of God in everyone”, have held the light of hope for peace even during violence. They trusted and have demonstrated that “peace processes begin with small groups and communities who can exert change amid divided societies” (page 42).

Conciliation isn’t the only show in town but as Andrew Tomlinson says, (page 96) “conciliation is part of an orchestra working for social change.” One particularly effective shout out in favour of conciliation is given by Diana Francis (page 84) where those who might not have listened to each other both listened and learnt.

Another question about the usefulness of this book for a more general audience is its transferability. Does the ‘international’ part of conciliation apply to national or local? And do the specifically Quaker parts apply to others? The first point here is that conflicts are now much more intra-national than international but the same approaches apply. ‘International’ or societal conflicts may be at a different level, and different cultural rules will likely apply in different situations, but these may be differences of scale and context rather than essence.

Some coverage is given to the fact that the Quaker name can provide an entry point, and we can say that cannot easily be replicated by non-Quakers who don’t have (or belong to an organisation with) a long and known track record of being fair and understanding to all sides. The ‘spiritual’ dimension of Quakerdom, however you might define it, also contributes to their acceptability. And the rules apply everywhere, e.g. “never saying one thing in one place and something else in another” (page 68).

But some other points are that Quakers are not infallible – the book mentions failures including in the mid-19th century over Schleswig-Holstein (pages 8-9), times change, and having a name to live up to can be hard work. Quandaries and dilemmas appear in any challenging aspect of life, including in relation to conciliation the balance between confidentiality and justice (pages 17 and 39), and the possibility of appearing to collude with evil in certain circumstances (page 78). Sue Williams is usefully quoted on ‘the purity dilemma’ (page 80). Quakers have a particular moral and spiritual code but it is not necessarily any easier for Quakers than anyone else to traverse this ground.

The book is very comprehensible and also very comprehensive for its length. There is only one point in the book where we feel something was left hanging. In outlining the different parts of a peace process (page 47), it outlines and defines peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. It simply states “Quaker activity is concentrated on two of the three stages: peacemaking and peacebuilding”. The definition of peacekeeping given includes that “It involves monitoring local activity and being ready to use force if necessary”. Is this a judgement that force is or may be necessary? Lethal or non-lethal? And, if considered necessary, left to others rather than Quakers with their peace testimony?

Of course it may have been felt that going off on this tangent, and it is a bit of a tangent since conciliation certainly does not involve force or violence, was introducing a red herring into things. However a few sentences on why Quakers pick two of these elements and not the ‘peacekeeping’ one could have been helpful.

There are significant Northern Ireland links to this book. Both the author, Anne Bennett, and Sue Williams who is quoted a few times, lived in the North aside from when they worked, at separate times, for Quaker House in Belfast. Another also quoted participant, Clem McCartney, and the illustrator, typesetter and participant Lynn Finnegan are from Northern Ireland. Lynn Finnegan’s intriguing and slightly enigmatic, but highly appropriate, illustrations turn the book into a beautiful work of art.

This is aside from the fact that Northern Ireland has also been the recipient of long term Quaker conciliation efforts; Micheál Martin has remarked before how much he learnt about Northern unionists and the situation through programme organised by Quaker House in Belfast. When you consider that as Taoiseach he is not rushing headlong down a (potentially slippery) slope to a unification referendum, this is worth bearing in mind. And positive outcomes may not be the ones worked for; Nigerian magnanimity towards the erstwhile breakaway Biafra, after the latter’s military defeat, may have been partly occasioned by Quaker conciliation efforts previously, and their work to overcome demonisation of the military enemy (page 71).

The book was a response to an intergenerational conference the Quaker held in Woodbrooke conference centre in September 2019 with the aim of bringing together experienced Quaker peacemakers and younger generations to capture the learnings, knowledge and experiences the Quakers gathered over the years and explore ways of applying them in a fast-changing world. Ways of operating internationally have changed and the limited resources for processes, which can take a long time, as well as having a more widespread presence of other groups and organisations working for peace, made the Quakers doubt if they should still invest in this area or adjust and use their skills and knowledge locally. The willingness and energy to continue international conciliation is there, alongside the need to widen the pool of conciliators to include young Quakers to be able to respond to requests of intervention promptly as they did in the past.

The conference tried to bring together experienced Quakers and younger ones, with their eagerness to get started and learn. They demanded answers on the “mystery” of the stories of what Quaker international conciliation was, bringing hope to continue to do a good and relevant work updated in today’s world. The poem that closes the book (page 139) speaks of those questions the younger Quakers put forward: should we stay or should we go? Give us practical theory and robust framework. How can we join? Is peace work only for privileged volunteers? The Quakers found themselves in a threshold and again (amongst uncertainty, fear, and frustration) chose dialogue and trust to move forward.

The guru was looking glum. One acolyte asked another what was wrong and received the answer “He has forgotten the secret of the universe again.” We all have to keep discovering and rediscovering meanings and realities. When it comes to conciliation, this book is a very worthwhile part of an understanding and it is great that it has been written up in such an approachable style.

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Billy King, NN 289

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello there, good to see you visiting this part of the world’s ‘social’ media, although you can also get antisocial media. In relation to another current phenomenon, the Zoom call, I previously advised anyone worn out by Zoom calls to join a specialist group – meeting on Zoom of course. More recently I advised a colleague complaining about said calls to get fit for them by doing Zoom-ba. [I wasn’t going to say you couldn’t make it up but clearly you just did – Ed]

Well, spring is springing by, I am always sad when the last of the daffodils/narcissi disappear from flowering (there can be ten days or more difference between us Nordies and where our haughty culture is at and those further south in the Free State – we will never forsake the freezing wasteland of Norn Iron for the land of milk and honey in an Irish Republic). Obviously snowdrops and crocuses are earlier but daffodils/narcissi are around for a while and their departure announce that the first call of spring is gone….

Mind you we do have honesty growing (and as I have told you before, honesty is the best policy) and that provides an explosion of mauve and white, I have both colours, when the daffodils have just been dead-headed.- they are great because they seem to come from nowhere to dominate the show for another little while. And April was a very dry month, if cool often enough, and lived up to being on average the driest month of the year in Ireland.

Press on

I have written before about how everyone is artistic – although some don’t realise it [and your name doesn’t have to be Art]. There are many, many ways that you can express your artistry about the home. One of the art forms that I use is making cards and pictures with pressed flowers. That’s deadly boring say some – Princess Grace of Monaco (formerly actress Grace Kelly) was into making dried/pressed flower pictures and I vaguely remember reading someone’s review of an exhibition she had and it indicated it was boring boring boring, the most deadly boring thing in the world.

It can be if you let it – though what I see of Princess Grace’s pressed flower pictures online are very competent pieces of art, and the review above probably said more about the reviewer than the reviewee. But if anyone uses what they have in small and innovative ways then it can be both beautiful and meaningful. Mainly I make pressed flower cards and a homemade card can be really appreciated. You can slip a pressed flower in with a note to someone. You can do ‘vases’ of flowers on card. You can do something really simple or something quite intricate. It is also a very inexpensive art form and it does not require ‘high art’ skills.

For pressing and drying flowers you can buy a flower press which has wingnuts to screw the whole thing down. I use what is not available any more but you could still search one out – a big old phone directory but any book with fairly absorbent (not glossy) paper will do (put more books on top to weight it down). You will have to experiment with what flowers and leaves you have access to that will ‘work’ in being pressed and dried. Gorse/furze/whins/aiteann has lovely yellow flowers – but when pressed they dry grey and horrible, for a negative example. Smaller flowers can work better than bigger but while you would not try to dry a whole tulip you can easily dry a tulip petal by itself. You will learn as you go along.

How long you need to leave leaves and flowers being pressed will vary – autumn leaves I might ‘leaf’ until the spring because there aren’t so many flowers to pick in the winter (though wilting Christmas cacti flowers can do well), others maybe for a couple of months. Many wild flowers and leaves will press. When they are dry I put them together in a folder on different loose A4 sheets of paper so I can easily look through.

You can buy ready-sized cards, if doing cards, in paper and art shops or, obviously, online, or you can cut your own. An A4 sheet of paper or card cut into two at the vertical half way will fold to make an A6 size card which is usually about right; a small paper guillotine is handy for getting edges straight and fast for cutting. One of the more successful pictures I have done is arranging pressed golden ferns which have not yet uncoiled onto ink marbled paper.

For sticking pressed flowers down I use PVA glue but you can experiment. Unless you are using something very strong like a muscular leaf you would not be able to use ‘hard’ glue sticks because the glue may rip the flower apart. I place the pressed flower onto kitchen roll, upside down to the way I want it to go, and then use a very small paintbrush to coat it lightly with glue. When stuck onto your card you can then use more, clean, kitchen roll to mop up any extraneous glue. I usually place something flat and relatively heavy onto a finished piece just for a minute or two to make sure everything is adhered – but don’t leave it on too long or the glue can stick to your object and pull your creation apart when you lift it.

I could go on and on with more info but that is enough. Even if you don’t get to making pictures or arrangements of dried flowers, and you are ‘pressed’ for time, you can make a pretty and evocative souvenir of somewhere just by slipping a flower into an absorbent book and leaving it, maybe with other books on top to weight it down.

May a thousand flowers bloom in your creations.

Using nuclear missiles to counter cyber attacks

No one is born with weird and violent ideas but some people adopt them readily because of how they see the world.. Take the UK government’s recent ‘defence’ review. This judged that Trident nuclear missiles could be used against cyber attacks. Yes, yes, we know cyber attacks can be extremely serious and could close down all sorts of systems necessary for society and its health and service sectors to operate. But nuking a country because some autocrat/plutocrat/dictator in power decided to launch a cyber attack on another country is, shall we say, a tad too revengeful for our liking. It is also completely stupid for so many reasons; killing innocent civilians, engendering revenge, lowering the threshold for nuclear war, being disproportionate….the list goes on. Nuclear weapons are also illegal in international law and those perpetrating such an act could be found guilty of crimes against humanity. And depending on what country was involved, or who its friends are, it is totally MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

The phrase about sledgehammers and nuts comes to mind but taking a sledgehammer to a nut would be extremely logical and moderate compared to this.

But that is what is coming from our nearest neighbours. See

Don’t forget your shovel

Staying with the same offshore European island, Britain, this piece is about Irish workers there and partly the Irish navvy who built the motorways and before that many of the railways and probably even some of the canals. And of course Irish nurses were a backbone of the British health system. The best known modern song about the Irish navvy is “Don’t forget your shovel” – “if you want to go to work”, which was Christy Moore’s first real hit (you can easily find it on YouTube). The song was originally written by Christie Hennessy though the other Christy adapted it a bit and certainly made it his own. It reflected a time when Irish migrants were pulling themselves up by their own working bootstraps.

Times have certainly changed in a couple of generations. The rightly much disparaged recent report on racism and racial disadvantage in Britain, by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (disparaged because it looks like it set out to give the answer the Tory government wanted), revealed that three ethnic groups earned more than the white British; Chinese migrants earned 23% more, Indians 15% more….and white Irish earned a whopping 41% more than white British. Of course there are exceptions to every rule (Irish Travellers being one) but the Irish there are now an ethnic elite as much as an ethnic minority. So “Don’t forget your shovelful of money if you want to go to work….”

Polls apart

Plenty regarding Norn Iron for you to get yer teeth into in recent opinion polls, one commissioned by the BBC, another by Queen’s University, and a third in the Belfast Telegraph. You can look up the main results (links below), I am just going to comment on a couple of features here. Norn Ironers are often accused of having heads in the sand but on some things sense shone through: in the BBC/Spotlight poll, 76% of those interviewed in the North agreed that violence could return. 55% of people in the North thought it would still be in the UK in 10 years time but 59% expected it to be linked with the Republic within 25 years. We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow but in terms of looking at the current situation and extrapolating from current trends, that is probably a fairly good assessment, it is probably as good an assessment as you could get.

Interestingly, 45% in the BBC poll thought NI’s centenary should not be celebrated with only 40% saying it should – though how people interpret ‘celebration’ is open to interpretation (more were in favour of a neutral marking of the centenary). I am not going to go into the prospects for a united Ireland here except to say it’s all to play for, whatever your political views on the North, and all figures have to be treated with caution. See and

Nothing barren at the Burren

Great – and beautiful – couple of programme on RTE recently on the Burren in Co Clare (“The Burren: Heart of Stone”, you may find it on the RTE player). The first programme took us through the seasons, and the counterintuitive grazing pattern which sustains the wonderful plants growing in the cracks in the limestone paving; the cattle are taken up to the high ground in the winter where eating the grass allows other plants, such as gentians and orchids, to flourish and flower in the summer. This pattern of grazing – moving to higher ground in winter – is a pattern contrary to almost anywhere else. The Burren is really and truly unique.

The second programme looked at human interaction with the Burren. It is, as you may know, a human-created landscape insofar as the denuding of the rock was occasioned by human activity. Fascinatingly, the first hunter-gatherers in Ireland after the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago, were dark skinned, blue eyed people; when farmers came about 6,000 years ago there was some inter-breeding but there is no trace of these hunter-gatherers in our DNA today, the programme informed us.

There was some astounding new information, to me anyhow, about the last Ice Age though; the fact that this information didn’t feature in what I saw of media coverage of the programmes I presume was to do with its interpretive nature. An expert on bones (Dr Ruth Carden of UCD) stated that there was evidence of human presence 18,000 – 33,000 years ago through butchery cuts on animals bones (reindeer) which indicated they had been cut by humans. Other animals around at that time would have included hares, red fox, wolves, brown bears, woolly mammoths, giant deer and reindeer. The end of the ice age and the shifting of glaciers profoundly affected the landscape, searing away evidence of any humans, yet here was someone showing a clear argument for human presence, from animal bones preserved in Burren caves, way way back into the Ice Age. Pretty amazing. It really was Hibernia (the land of winter, and perpetual winter) then but humans were there. Respect – and perspective.- not to mention wonder.

So we ourselves really are Johnny/Jeanie-come-latelys. All those mythical tales of different groups of people coming to this land, the Fir Bolg, Tuatha Dé Danann, and so on may actually reflect a certain reality about successive wanderers and settlers on this westernmost tip of Europe, as we fall into the Atlantic. And we were a part of mainland Europe before the ‘bridge’ to Britain disappeared (rather earlier than the Britain-to-now-mainland-Europe link was washed away) [So you’re not talking about Brexit here then?! – Ed]– which explains why Britain has rather more native mammals than Ireland since they had more time to migrate from the ‘mainland’.

Well, that’s my tour around for now, or should I say my shoverful. This year you may or may not get the vacation you want but I certainly hope you get the vaccination you want. See you soon, Billy.

Nonviolent News, NN 288

St Patrick makes Belfast appearance to drive out military drones

St Patrick put in a personal appearance in Belfast on 17th March when he sought to drive out military drones and missiles; this was at Spirit AeroSystems (formerly Bombardier) in the harbour estate. Spirit AeroSystems are developing the ‘Loyal Wingman’ military drone there though St Patrick also specifically mentioned Thales’ production of missiles. See for photo and St Patrick’s full statement.

The new network on the arms trade in Ireland meets remotely with the next meeting being Tuesday 27th April at 7.30pm. Contact INNATE to be put on the network mailing list and receive the meeting link.

Chernobyl Walk of Hope

To commemorate ‘UN Chernobyl Remembrance Day‘ and the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Chernobyl Children’s International are encouraging people to walk 35km throughout April (they say “Clock up 35km throughout April in whatever way you can.”) It is a kilometre to mark each that year that has passed since the Chernobyl tragedy.  This virtual fundraiser will help support the 3rd generation of victims of Chernobyl. Register at #35kmForChernobyl Donations can also be made on the website

VSI: Inclusive community workshop

On 2nd March VSI/Voluntary Service International, in collaboration with SCI Hellas in Greece and Liberties College in Dublin, facilitated an online workshop called ‘Online Youth Voices: How inclusive is your community?’ The workshop was designed to create an intercultural exchange for young people in Ireland and in Greece to come together as an online community of learners and learn about inclusion, solidarity and intercultural understanding and build upon their intercultural competencies with people from different regions of the world. It included a Padlet Silent Exhibition and a Jamboard poster-making session. See more info at This workshop was included in Service Civil International’s visibility campaign ‘100 Actions for Peace’ that celebrates its 100th anniversary by gathering different actions that work towards peace. VSI’s website is at

AVP continue work and preparation

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is delivering a six weeks postal course in 9 prisons currently using AVP Britain materials and are in the process of training 17 assessors. The first feedback is very positive: for people who are incarcerated it is an opportunity to build meaningful skills such as communication, assertiveness, problem solving and conflict resolution, while enhancing self esteem, self awareness and sense of own values. In some prisons, participants manage to share a time together while completing the course when restrictions allow. AVP are also running run a monthly remotely facilitated workshop in Limerick prison and it’s working as well as possible, despite the technical challenges and the safety restrictions. They also produce a newsletter circulated in prison but are not currently recruiting volunteers because of uncertainties about when in person work will recommence. See where you can subscribe to receive regular updates.

CAJ response to UK Human Right Act review

CAJ, the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland, has issued a 20-page response to the UK’s Independent Human Rights Act Review which was set up by the UK government to ‘consider how the Human Rights Act (HRA) is working in practice and whether any change is needed’. CAJ believes it is important to see this review in the context of a long list of attempts by the Conservative government to weaken or entirely scrap the HRA. They state the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) through the HRA has been a central tenet of the NI peace settlement and weakening of these protections to be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. See which has a link to the CAJ response.

CGE: Policy and Practice, 15th anniversary edition

The Centre for Global Education has produced a special fifteenth anniversary collection of their bi-annual, peer reviewed and open access journal Policy and Practice: A Development Education ReviewIt weighs in at 400 pages and costs £14; it carries articles by scholars in the field who debate issues on the cutting edge of development education practice and the policy environment in which it is delivered. See

CRC Good Relations award, NI centenary

The 2021 Good Relations Award from the Community Relations Council, announced at the end of March, has gone to May Blood. A special award was made to Trademark Belfast for the work of Mel Corry who died this year. Previous winners of the Good Relations Award, stretching back to 2006, are Paddy White, Marion Jamison and Charmain Jones (joint winners 2019), Eamonn Deane, Derrick Wilson, Anne Carr, Renee Crawford and Jean Brown, David Stevens, Mary Kelly, Rab McCallum and Michael Acheson, Chris O’Halloran, Maureen Hetherington, Paul McCrory, Fr Gary Donegan, and Eileen Weir.

l While marking the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland is controversial, a new website for the Decade of Centenaries has been launched, developed by the Nerve Centre. See and link there.

ICCL: Film award and more

The Dissident, a documentary film following the shocking murder of Jamal Khashoggi, journalist and critic of the Saudi Arabian government, has won the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Human Rights Film Award 2021 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival.  It was directed by Bryan Fogel. Recent statements by ICCL on different issues including online safety legislation, protest in the current era, vaccine passports, mother and baby homes, Direct Provision etc can be found on their website at

War Resisters’ International marking centenary, exhibition

2021 is the centenary of the establishment of the War Resisters’ International (WRI). One of the features of the centenary is an online exhibition of textiles (arpilleras, quilts and wall hangings) on the theme Nonviolence in Action: Antimilitarism in the 21st Century’, curated by Roberta Bacic, assisted by Breege Doherty. It comprises 28 pieces. See or full details at The latter includes a link for the exhibition launch webinar. The exhibition will be online to the end of 2021.

INNATE hopes to mark the WRI centenary with a seminar later in the year on Irish peace movement history – though not exclusively on groups linked with WRI (which have included the Irish Pacifist Movement, Dawn, and currently INNATE); anyone interested in contributing please get in touch.

ICHR Summer School on International Criminal Court

The Irish Centre for Human Rights’ annual Summer School on the International Criminal Court/ICC will take place online from 8th – 11th June. Fee €75. Further details on this in depth event at

Feasta: Banking on the community, investing locally

Banking on the community, investing locally for resilience’ takes place on 14th April. 10.00 – 11.30 am, and is the first of two events on finance, particularly relevant in the era of bank and bank branch closures. It is organised by Feasta and Cork Environmental Forum. Speakers are Caroline Whyte, Seamus Maye, Bridget Meehan and Neasa Hourigan. See for info and booking link.

Amnesty welcomes Council of Europe move on Finucane case

Amnesty International has welcomed the decision of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to re-open its scrutiny of UK government failures to order a public inquiry into the 1989 murder of lawyer Patrick Finucane. The European Court of Human Rights had previously ruled that the UK authorities had violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights by not properly investigating the murder. and

Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE) at 50

ISE was founded in 1970, by Fr Michael Hurley SJ, and the anniversary is being marked by different events over the next period. See

Stop Fuelling War

Paris-based group Stop Fuelling War works to raise awareness about the French arms trade, and to campaign against its existence with the goal to enable a transformation of the arms industry by redirecting resources focussed on producing weapons towards peacebuilding and conflict transformation. There is very useful material on their website at – include a look at ‘Resources’ both ‘Internal’ and ‘External’ in the menu panel.

Church and Peace conferences

Material from the March Britain and Ireland regional day on ‘Building peace from the ground up’ is available at Meanwhile they have an upcoming conference on 19th April on UK ‘Politics of division’.

Revamped INNATE website

The INNATE website at is about to have changes – it won’t look very different but new content will be input through WordPress and material up to the end of 2020 will be an ‘archive’ which you can access by a click on the home page. While the new and some of the old material will be directly available on the top menu bar, if you are word searching you may need to search both the WordPress site and in the old archive one. However in the long term it is hoped the changes will make the INNATE news output speedier and more flexible. All the resources – news since 1992, editorials, columnists Larry Speight and Billy King, Readings in Nonviolence, pamphlets, posters, information on peace trails, workshop material etc – will still be there. INNATE’s photo site meanwhile, at now has over 2,000 entries.

–  INNATE would like to offer a big thank you to Mark McCann who has been its webmaster since INNATE went online in 1998 and has done wonders for the INNATE online presence; 23 years, phew!

Editorials, NN 288

So what is democracy?

While we cannot realistically expect to have one agreed definition of democracy in societies which call themselves ‘democratic’, or indeed in any one of those societies, the concept of democracy is woefully ill-defined in general. It can thus be used by autocrats and dictators, by rabble rousers and crooks as they see fit. However this relates closely to nonviolence since meaningful inclusion in society, and in society’s decision making, is not only an important part of democracy but also an important part of arriving at a nonviolent society; without such inclusion there is exclusion, and exclusion breeds ill feeling and violence even if such violence is not directly undertaken or sought by those in power.

The first thing to say is that democracy is not just about voting, though voting and how voting takes place may be an essential part of it. Participation by citizens can take many different forms, not least campaigning and organising on particular issues, and this is an important part of it; the freedom to organise and campaign. Without the latter, aimed at influencing other citizens and the government, anything else is a sham. ‘Participative’ democracy is not an option, it is of the essence.

If the term ‘democracy’ breaks down to the Greek for ‘rule by the people’ there is still the question or questions – what sort of rule? And which people? Some definitions do include freedom and equality in their definition – e.g. “the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves” (Cambridge Dictionary, online). When you look at one definition, you then need more; what do ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ mean? ‘Equality’ is not currently understood as economic equality, that is for certain, in a world which has become much more unequal – and where the rich can use their money to influence decisions for good or ill.

However some definitions also include the concept of ‘majority’ rule, even ‘rule by the majority’. And what does this mean? That a majority can ride rough shod over the wishes of a minority? Or that the arithmetic majority political elite are the only ones to count and be counted, certainly between elections? Any definition of democracy which simply defines it as majority rule is asking for problems since it justifies a multitude of sins, even what is taking place to Uighurs in Xinjiang in China, perpetrated by the majority Han Chinese government (though the one party system in China does not fit at all with free democracy).

This leads us on to the problem of defining, and working, democracy in deeply divided societies – whether that be in the USA in relation to Trumpism or in the UK in relation to Brexit. These are ‘current’ divisions which have links to longer term political divisions. Then there are societies where there are historical ethnic-political divisions, such as Northern Ireland, where democracy is taken to mean whatever suits someone’s particular interests at any time. And in the latter, even armed struggle can be engaged in pursuit of their understanding of ‘democracy’ by different sides.

As is well known, there has been a resurgence of right wing politics in many ‘western’ and other societies in the recent past. Governments in these societies not only wrap the flag around themselves and adopt an authoritarian approach to people and issues. Can there be a ‘democracy’ where the government acts in an undemocratic way? Of course; democracy is not something given – it is something achieved and vulnerable. There are many different ways of assessing the level of democracy existing in society; these include not just regular free elections but ease of access to these elections (e.g. this makes the USA less ‘democratic’ because of the enormous practical and financial barriers to participating in federal elections). Other factors include the freedom to organise (in political parties, pressure groups and free trade unions), an independent judiciary, and a government which is at least somewhat responsive to popular will, subject to human rights concerns.

The last phase ‘subject to human rights concerns’ is necessary because ‘responding to the people’, if the demand is for xenophobic petty nationalist policies, can be totally antidemocratic in regard to others in the country, citizens and migrants, who may then have basic human rights ignored. So adherence to international human rights standards is also a key aspect of democracy.

All of this might seem to make democracy very complicated and difficult. It can be if you let it. But there are innovative methodologies which are a significant help. The use of the citizens’ assembly model in the Republic, trusting a random selection of citizens to thrash out issues, has been very useful to setting an agenda for politicians to then take forward. The similar-but-different Civic Forum in Northern Ireland, arising from the Good Friday Agreement, was not entrusted with similar faith by political parties there and bit the dust as a result; this was a mistake. Political parties can be very jealous of others engaging in democratic debate and this is particularly true in Northern Ireland.

Voting methodologies are also an important aspect of democracy. The British first-past-the-post voting methodology, used in Westminster elections including in Northern Ireland, is the antithesis of a fair or representative system. PR-STV (Proportional Representation – Single transferable Vote), as used in Dáil and NI Assembly elections, is a much fairer system though it still allows parties with significant support to appeal only to their own converted, especially in a consociational system like the North (where power-sharing across the divide is obligatory).

And in referendums, simple binary, yes or no, voting can be both divisive and inefficient in arriving at a truly democratic result. The obvious example of this is Brexit in the UK where a simplistic and ill-defined choice led to a narrow majority for one option; this was then held (by the supporters of that option) to be sacrosanct, and taken on to deliver a result which was not what an arithmetic majority of people would have chosen had they been given full information on consequences.

There are however pluralist decision making mechanisms, such as those espoused by the de Borda Institute which can be used to not only engage in a full and proper debate on issues but which give a much more representative, and nuanced, picture of the view of all voters on a matter. The Modified Borda Count (MBC) is one way forward in societal decision making, and one which is unlikely to have a polarising effect.

The de Borda institute states thatA decision-making procedure can be described as democratic if, from a range of usually 4 – 6 options independently chosen to fairly represent the debate, it identifies the option(s) which gain(s) the highest average preference score(s)… and an average, of course, involves all of the voters, not just a majority of them.” We are unaware of any better operational method to arrive at a decision which best represents ‘the will of the people’; portraying the ‘will of the people’ as 50% + 1 in a two-choice vote is or can be a travesty.

It is a cliche to say that Ireland is at a crossroads. Societies are always at crossroads, with various directions possible, at any time. However in Northern Ireland there is the prospect of a border poll ‘some time’ in the next couple of decades, and the outcome of that cannot be assumed one way or another. In both jurisdictions on the island, the disenchantment with politics and politicians needs addressed, and not just by having citizens’ assemblies on important issues (though that is welcome). In the Republic there is the concomitant question to the border poll in the North – what kind of society and political entity would a united Ireland be? And in the mean time there is the question of decentralising state functions and decision making so the state is closer to citizens and not in an authoritarian way.

The way forward for both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and indeed in relation to the possibility of a united Ireland, would be made easier and more progressive by meaningful thought and debate on the nature of democracy. As stated at the beginning, it is unlikely and indeed impossible for everyone to agree on one definition. But building awareness of democracy’s essentials, and ways to deliver those essentials, would be of great service in defining where ‘we’ go in future. Our peace and wellbeing may depend upon it.


The elephant in the room reappears

We have said before that masculinity and particularly macho type masculinity is the elephant in the room when it comes to violence, and violence against women. [See and go to “Masculinity, violence, men…”] The #MeToo movement has focused on male sexual violence. The killing of Sarah Everard in Britain recently, with a serving police officer charged with her murder, has raised further questions – and so it should.

Things are no different in Ireland where fear of male violence by women is a stark reality. And fear of violence prevents women going about as they would wish. A survey by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, launched in a report in March, showed that over half, 55%, of women would not use public transport after dark and just over a third stated that feelings of insecurity prevented them from travelling alone (and this research was conducted before Covid when more people would have been out and about and streets less deserted). While the actual figures for those who have suffered violence are considerably smaller, the violence that exists has a severe knock on effect on women’s lives, wellbeing and freedom.

In addition there is the issue of male-on-male violence which sometimes is ignored or taken for granted. This also takes many forms, unfortunately some ending up in the courts with manslaughter or murder charges. And the number of male-on-female rapes which are reported, prosecuted, or result in a conviction is woefully small, in some cases in low single figures for conviction. So even when severe violence takes place, the perpetrators face a low risk of consequences.

The task is certainly not just one of better and more comprehensive relationship education in school, though that should be a very definite part of the package. There are many challenges in growing up today and in some ways expectations and pressures of many different kinds can be a powder keg for individuals. Relationship education should be a key part of schooling – we would also argue that education in mediative techniques (including the practice of peer mediation in schools) should be an essential part of civic education. And education in mediation has an important connection with nonviolence; listening, and being able to listen (which militates against violence which is the pinnacle of not-listening).

Riaising the issue of male violence is understood by some men as being ‘anti-men’. It is nothing of the sort. It is pro-men, for a healthy definition and understanding of what manhood should entail. Male violence is also a fact of life. It is certainly not about ignoring female violence, or support for violence, or pushing it under any carpet but it is a matter of reflecting on, and dealing with, the fact that the vast majority of a wide variety of different forms of violence are directly inflicted by men. Asking ‘Why?’ is a good starting point.

There are deep cultural questions to be asked about the nature and source of violence, and where it relates to our being as humans. One thing is sure; we are not necessarily a violent species, nor are males necessarily violent or more violent than females (as anthropology shows us). It would be fascinating to go back 5,000 years to the Céide Fields in north Mayo to see what their concepts were, and how they lived their lives; it is accepted that this was a peaceful, settled, cooperative society with evidently no enemies. Whether it was a pre-patriararchal, matriarchal or gender-balanced society we do not know, but we do know it was relatively non-hierarchal (all the houses were the same size). But it is one example on our island of a society which was certainly relatively non-violent and which challenges concepts such as ‘violence has always been with us’. How far have we travelled backwards in 5,000 years?

We also live in a culture which still glorifies violence in conflict and war if not in interpersonal relations. While warrior-hero models may be disputed as a cause of intra-societal or interpersonal violence, we are not so sure. If the image of the ‘brave’ ‘strong’ man in warfare is still inculcated by both the state and some parts of civil society, and certainly in films and media, who can say this does not carry over into civil society concepts, especially for men? And men who feel they are lacking in self image and self awareness may translate that into a desire to exercise violence, in a twisted way, towards having a ‘positive’ self image.

Some pschological studies have shown that playing violent video games does not make young men more violent in their behaviour. Again there are questions here. While this judgement may or may not be true on an individual level, there is also the societal level where even the tolerance for violent, clearly fantasy, games carries over to the real world. Why do the militaries of armies who use drone warfare recruit young men who are good at computer games? Because a) they have directly transferrable skills and b) they may be already inured, through violent games, to ‘remote’ killing and real life, remote killing may just seem another game to them.

Masculinist’ movements (for “men’s rights”) which protest that women now have the upper hand in some battle between the sexes are barking up the totally wrong tree. Equality of any kind has not been achieved by women although vast progress has been made. Statistics regarding violence show a much truer picture of where things are at, and the Irish figures quoted earlier show just how women are affected.

It is also totalling misplaced to depict such issues as a battle between the sexes. Going forward is not a zero sum game, it is defintely a question of achieving win-win. Being violent in any way is not a good place to be in, and while it may be infinitely worse to be on the receiving end, being violent is not good for the body or the soul (in a secular sense – as figures for PTSD among soldiers can attest).

There are new, positive images of masculinity which can be inculcated. These also are a win for men in potentially having more satisying and fulfilling lives, in sharing burdens, and in better relationships with their partners and children. There is thus a carrot for men to redefine what it means to be a man and this is important because wielding a big stick and saying sternly ‘you need to change’ may not communicate what is necessary – it might raise the issue but be seen as a threat rather than an opportunity.

It is long past time that society asked some of these questions, and more, about male violence. The women’s movement has tried hard to raise some of the issues, and deal with some of the consequences, e.g. of interpersonal violence in so-called ‘domestic’ violence. The issue of gender is often falsely throught to be an issue for women. (See “Gender, meaning of the word…” poster at ) Men need to realise they are indubitably also a gender (without here going into the reality of issues of non-binary identity) and have a gendered identity. Society as a whole, and especially men who are by far the most violent gender, need to deal with these issues through becoming informed, discussion, debate and then action and implementation; however the discussion needs to take place fully involving women or it would be men ‘again’ making decisions by themselves. But as the more violent gender the onus is on men.

Without such action we will continue with where we are at the moment – masculinity affecting individuals and wider society, particularly women, in a really toxic way. Europeans sometimes laugh at the ridiculous stupidity of the lack of gun control laws in the USA and the resultant carnage. We are equally lacking in insight if we allow macho masculinity to be unchecked. Saying male violence is ‘the elephant in the room’ is a metaphor indicating the size of the problem and its reality as an issue; the very first stage is to recognise this. At the moment there are many who ignore that elephant.

Eco-Awareness, NN 288

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Jevons Paradox

Technical innovations that have the capacity to reduce global warming emissions to 1.5C by 2050, as stipulated by the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, won’t accomplish this in the absence of a cultural change in favour of people actually caring for nonhuman nature. The reason is due to what is called the Jevons paradox. This was conceived by the economist William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) when he observed that an increase in the efficient use of coal lead to an increase in the demand for coal. In his book The Coal Question (1865) he wrote:

It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminishing consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”

Research presented in New Scientist, 6 March 2021, gives credence to this through showing that the more energy efficient a device becomes the more people are inclined to use it resulting in an increase in the emission of global warming gases relative to the less energy efficient version of the device. Another aspect of the Jevons paradox that hinders the achievement of global warming goals is the rebound phenomenon. This occurs when the money saved through greater energy efficiency is spent on another energy consuming device or service. An example is when the money saved in the course of a year through running a zero-emissions home is spent on an overseas holiday which would not have been taken but for the savings.

The Jevons paradox means that technological innovations that have the ability to radically reduce the emission of global warming gasses and the consumption of raw materials could in practice increase both. This makes achieving net-zero global warming emissions a behavioural problem that should include the input of anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists in the formulation of government policy rather than, as is mostly the case at present, people in the technical sciences. This point is made by Hatan Shah, head of the British Academy, in the journal Nature, 23 March 2021. He writes in regard to Covid-19 that:

Governments have sought expert advice from the beginning of the pandemic, but that expertise tended to come from people in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – despite it being clear from the beginning that human behaviour, motivation and culture were key to an effective response.”

The case study from India mentioned below illustrates how even the most worthy of aspirations supported by adequate funding and field tested technology can be foiled in achieving widespread application through cultural blindness.

The Clean India Mission, 2014 – 2019, implemented by the Indian government with the support of NGOs provided rural communities with public toilets and household latrines. In the course of the programme $20 billion was spent building 110 million toilets for 600 million people. Follow-up surveys showed that the toilets are not as widely used as initially expected. In part this was because rural culture perceives open defecation as more wholesome, natural and convenient than using a household or public toilet. Another reason is open defecation gives women the highly valued opportunity to socialize with each other out of sight and sound of the men of their family. There is also volatile issue of caste and who cleans and maintains the toilets. (*1)

This lesson on the importance of cultural awareness and critique needs to be applied to the effort by the international community to achieve net-zero global warming emissions by 2050. One overlooked area that should be considered in this regard is the linear economy in which raw materials are extracted from the ground and after a short life as a manufactured good or unwanted food item are dumped in the ground. The examples of e-waste, clothing, plastic bottles and food give a sense of the magnitude of this, which if it were not to take place, would go a long way towards healing the biosphere. Less waste translates into less emission of global warming gases and more CO2 absorbing forests, peatlands, soil and sea grasses. It results in cleaner air, waterways, an increase in biodiversity and less persecution of indigenous peoples.

With regard to food the UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021 estimates that 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated worldwide in 2019. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation recovering just half of the food that is lost or wasted could feed the world. Producing this food involves the emission of greenhouse gases as does the decomposition process. The latter emits methane which has a global warming potential 25 times that of CO2.

The Times, 17 March 2021, reports that over 100 billion garments are produced annually from virgin materials and that 87 percent of clothing material is incinerated, sent to landfill or dumped every year. Another ubiquitous waste are plastic bottles. The City to Sea campaigning group estimate that in the UK alone 7.7 billion plastic bottles go unrecycled every day. Based on this figure the global number must be in the trillions.

An almost unseen waste, or you might say misuse of resources, are the array of electronic devices including smart phones and computers that together are called e-waste. The UN Global E-waste Monitor 2020 reports that in 2019 we created 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste of which only 17.4 percent was recycled. The report states that:

This means that gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at US $57 billion – a sum greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries – were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse.”

Without a radical change on many fronts e-waste will reach 74 million metric tons by 2030. On top of this will be the hard to recycle hundreds of millions of batteries from electric vehicles. The Republic of Ireland for example aims to have a million electric vehicles on the road within nine years. (*2)

The widespread, even universal use, of energy efficient technologies won’t, in the absence of regarding nonhuman nature as having intrinsic value, release us from the Jevons paradox, which if they did, might avoid the collapse of the ecosphere as it has evolved since the last ice-age 11,500 years ago. Voicing the link between valuing something and protecting it the palaeontologist and science writer S.J. Gould (1941-2002) said “we will not fight to save what we do not love.”

On the basis of this understanding social scientists studying environmental change encourage education authorities to put the study of nature, learning to appreciate and love it, at the heart of curricula from nursery school to university. Intrigued by the possible outcome of this Matthew Adams, principle lecturer in psychology at the University of Brighton, recently said:

Who knows how powerful the collective nurturing of a childhood sense of awe and wonder, and a deep attachment to nature, might be were it allowed to blossom and flourish?” (*3)

Such an education might be powerful enough to completely change how we interact with nonhuman nature and therein nullify the Jevons paradox.

(*1) Sarita Panchang, A Year On, the Clean India Mission Falls Short,, 8 October 2020.

(*2) Pat Leahy, The Irish Times, 27 March 2021.

(*3) Matthew Adams, I, 23 March 2021.