Category Archives: Billy King

Only the Billy King columns from 2021 onwards are accessible here. For older columns by Billy King please click on the “Go to our pre-2021 Archive Website’ tag on the right of this page.

Billy King: Rites Again, 321

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

I get to read Nonviolent News before publication so I can make comments on contents in the same issue [What a privilege! – Ed]. The comment in the editorial about mediation and conciliation seeming to be forgotten in the international arena made me think that they are, collectively, one of the Secrets of the Universe. And that made me think about the cartoon of the guru on the mountain top, looking glum. One acolyte below the guru says to another “He has forgotten the secret of the universe again”. There seem to be a lot of Secrets of the Universe forgotten at the moment….

Elect shun

Well, the nativist far right did make a very few gains of local council seats (from zero) in Ireland in the local elections but nothing compared to what they were hoping, and nowhere near a seat in the EU elections. Now there are some people who claim true Irishness but who don’t remember anything about one of the most essential parts of Irish history in the last number of centuries, emigration.

However I was sad in particular to see Clare Daly voted out from MEP-dom. She has been a fearless advocate of peace and against EU military aggrandizement, as well as being a sensible voice on many other issues. There was a vindictive piece in the Irish Times following her defeat https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/2024/06/21/justine-mccarthy-clare-dalys-dog-whistle-to-haters-of-the-media-wasnt-just-hypocritical-it-was-reckless/ She was continually mocked and abused by the conservative media in Ireland (I would feel the above piece after her defeat was confirmation of this) so it is not surprising that said media can be judged to have had a significant hand in her defeat, or that she reacted as she did.

Meanwhile in de Nort we await the results for 18 seats at Westminster in the British general election on 4th July, using the primeval first-past-the-post voting system. This system does encourage tactical voting – voting for someone you don’t fully support but who has a chance of getting elected in order to deprive someone you definitely do not support winning. Sinn Féin did atrociously – compared to expectations – in both elections (local and EU) south and west of the border but are likely to hold most of their ground in Northern Ireland. How the DUP will fare after a) ‘Sir’ Jeffrey Donaldson’s departure in less than auspicious circumstances, and b) the admission by new DUP leader Gavin Robinson that they overstated their case on the trade barriers or checks Britain/Norn Iron having been removed. But all in all there is plenty for psephologists to get their teeth and calculators into (psephologists study voting and voting patterns, pepsiologists study teeth rot and obesity), North and South, not forgetting east and west.

While there may be one or two surprises in the British general election in the North, there will be no such surprise in Britain itself on the overall result where the Conservative party are on track for one of their worst defeats ever. In the North in general however most people will vote as they usually do, and change comes slowly; the 40-40-20 pattern of the last number of years is likely to be maintained (40% unionist, 40% nationalist/republican, and 20% for the others or less constitutionally-aligned parties).

I had hoped that the Sinners would be the lead party in the next coal-ition (it may not be very green…) government in the Re:Public. This desire on my part wasn’t for their policies on the North – which I thought would be tempered by their partners – but because they might actually stand up for a positive Irish neutrality. However on the recent showing it will be another conservative-conservative deal with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and the vestiges of neutrality will continue to be sold down the river while FG and FF proclaim no change on it….

Haven’t we heard that before?

Speaking of neutrality, the Oireachtas, well the Seanad, missed the opportunity https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad/2024-05-29/11/ to prevent arms coming from or passing through Ireland to Israel – this was thanks to a rearguard action by the powers that be not to do anything (full stop). Recognition of Palestine, how are ye. Suspending a decision for 6 months on the matter, and on adequate inspections of planes at Shannon, was a death knell for any measure being of relevance – and maybe a literal death knell for some people in Gaza too.

I just happened to come across a cutting I had taken from the Irish Times of 14/6/06….which mathematicians among you will realise is 18 years ago, i.e. almost two decades: “US military-linked flights may face inspections in Shannon” was the heading which began that “The Government is to reconsider introducing inspections on US military-related flights landing in Shannon after a US marine being held prisoner was transported through the airport without the necessary permission being obtained from the Irish authorities.” The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, said he was going to engage with the US Embassy “with a view to strengthening the verification procedures and if that entails inspection so be it.” So, that was then, and nothing happened. Don’t be surprised when nothing happens now or in the future either. Heaven forbid that little Ireland should even look at what the the most powerful military in the world is shipping through Irish territory and skies…..or that it should actually consider what it is using it for, or the fact that simply permitting troops to pass through is directly assisting US hegemony and warmaking.

Mapping it

The randomness of the effects of war and violence never ceases to amaze me. I mean of course the randomness of the victims in the sense that they could be anyone, anywhere, you, me, your granny. There is nothing random however in the planning of the violence, it is often meticulously planned even if who actually dies may be subject to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being in Gaza at the current time is being in the wrong place at the wrong time for everyone; even if you are not injured, killed or dying from lack of medication or food, you face constant fear from there being no safe place available anywhere.

I was drawn back to Tom Weld’s artwork by these thoughts, particularly https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/48861290991/in/album-72157711237159086/ with parallels between the terrors of the Second World War and today. For me the power of his imagery is in people – living, breathing human beings – being reduced to lines or areas on a map. For me this illustrates the worst aspects of the militarist mindset. However in the current situation in Gaza it seems everywhere is marked for obliteration, not just the carefully marked areas in Tom Weld’s artwork.

Transcending war and violent conflict

Nonviolent News often uses pieces from Transcend Media Service (‘Solutions-oriented Peace Journalism’ is their strapline), indeed there is one in the Readings in Nonviolence slot in this issue. Some of the pieces are very much written from a US point of view, but there is no harm in that, especially given that they come from the belly of the beast, the world’s number one military superpower. If we wanted we could use lots more from that source. If you are interested in the origins of US imperialism, apart of course from the initial colonialism of taking the land in north America, you can read about the 1823 Monroe Doctrine which proclaimed the US hegemonic interest, and intent to control, the northern and southern American continents, in the issue of 24-30 June 2024 https://www.transcend.org/tms/weekly-archive/

The issue of 17-23 June (available at the same link) had a piece about a survey showing “94% of people in the US and 88% in Western Europe want a negotiated settlement to end the war in Ukraine, but NATO opposes a peace proposal made by China and Brazil, and refuses to invite Russia to talks in Switzerland.” And also in that issue Mairead Maguire writes “A mother’s plea for peace” to the people of Gaza. And that is only touching on a tiny amount of their coverage. It is worth keeping in touch with what is online at https://www.transcend.org/tms/

Ancient caring in situations of disaster and disability

In common with doubtless the rest of yez, I receive dozens of items of spam and unsolicited ‘news’ daily to my phone or email. Most are relegated to the netherworld without being seen by my eyes. One piece that did get my attention, being interested in history and archaeology (primarily what it says about humankind) was about the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. https://www.yahoo.com/news/records-pompeii-survivors-found-archaeologists-124107499.html

But this study by Steven Tuck was not about those incinerated or overcome by the tidal wave of heat, or fumes and ash, but rather the survivors. There were many people who survived, perhaps a majority of people he concludes, some of whom prospered and others didn’t when they moved, mainly nearby. But some of the conclusions of the piece are worth quoting: “While the survivors resettled and built lives in their new communities, government played a role as well. The emperors in Rome invested heavily in the region, rebuilding properties damaged by the eruption and building new infrastructure for displaced populations, including roads, water systems, amphitheaters and temples. This model for post-disaster recovery can be a lesson for today. The costs of funding the recovery never seems to have been debated. Survivors were not isolated into camps, nor were they forced to live indefinitely in tent cities. There’s no evidence that they encountered discrimination in their new communities.”

How’s about that then. Another very different piece I will refer to here indicates that our cousins the Neanderthals were caring and compassionate to those who could not reciprocate. https://www.theguardian.com/science/article/2024/jun/26/fossil-of-neanderthal-child-with-downs-syndrome-hints-at-early-humans-compassion A severely disabled child with Down’s Syndrome (possibly from a couple of hundred thousand years ago!) survived to the age of six which implies that their mother received lots of help from others. There is no mention of possible support from the Da but that could have been an important part of it too, I don’t know and no one will ever know except those people aeons ago. Caring and sharing is in our DNA – and except for those from Africa we do all literally have Neanderthal DNA in us.

It is my wont at this time of year to quote Christy Moore’s definition of holidays, in his old song Lisdoonvarna, when he says “When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there’”. I wish you time and space to get your head showered (with Irish rainfall rates that is likely to be literal) but a good break anyway. Summer goes by in a flash [of lightning? – Ed], be good to yourself and each other until I see you again in September, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 320

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

A round robin

Well, robins are relatively round, at least their front is, compared to some other birds. But a ‘round robin’ is something else with variable meanings, look it up, relating to something done ‘in the round’ or as a round. But I am going to talk about robins being around, specifically nesting robins. In our suburban garden we get many avian visitors, mainly of common garden species. As organic gardeners with many insects to be eaten we provide food for the birds and they in turn keep the slug and insect population under control. This makes me think of the total stupidity of Mao Zedong in China in 1958 trying to obliterate sparrows (along with other ‘pests’) for eating crops as with greatly decreased numbers of birds the damage by insects escalated astronomically; locust populations boomed and were one cause of subsequent famine. Mao certainly didn’t know how to cooperate with nature.

We have also had a resident or semi-resident frog in our garden which was great for slug control. Achieving an ecological balance is something which we all need.

We have a variety of ivy in our garden growing up a neighbour’s garden wall. I try to keep it in order so it doesn’t extend its tentacles too much, either along or out from the wall. Ivy can easily take over and then it is much more work to deal with, unless you have the space to let it grow wild. Not very long after I had pruned our ivy this spring I noticed robins going in and out. Garden birds do visit it anyway perhaps because it can be a haven for snails. But this was different; robins going in and out regularly at the same spot or certainly two spots less than half a metre apart. Yes, we had robins nesting. It took only 10 – 15 seconds for a parent robin to enter the ivy, feed its offspring in the nest, and exit again.

We were away for a couple of periods and don’t know if the baby robins successfully fledged and fled, or whether the brood failed for some reason. But it was certainly a nice little nature tale or tail for some of the grandchildren and they were appraised of some of the facts of robin breeding. Mind you, robins are reputedly very territorial and aggressive towards interloper robins. But being relatively unafraid of humans, coming within a very short distance of us in the garden, they are a human favourite.

Trump, trump, trump

Nellie the elephant went trump, trump, trump and said goodbye to the circus (to trunk-ate the story in that song a bit) but there is no sign that we will be saying goodbye to the Donald Trump circus anytime soon. His story in recent years is an illustration that if you repeat a lie or lies long enough then some people, perhaps many people, will believe it, as in “It’s a witch hunt” and even that Trump is the most persecuted politician (arguably the most prosecuted but that is another matter). It is, literally, criminal.

This isn’t just a feature of life in the good (?) ol’ USA. Here in Ireland politicians from some of the major parties in the Re:Public have been saying for decades that “neutrality is not under threat” and that a particular measure of change “doesn’t affect neutrality”. All lies of course. And a new more recent lie from the far right is that “Ireland is full” for asylum seekers – what nonsense. Of course housing is an issue, particularly in Dublin and to some extent elsewhere in the Republic, but the idea that “Ireland is full” shows a myopic understanding of Irish history – if Irish population numbers at home kept growing at the same rate as Britain from the time of the famine (An Gorta Mór) the island would have 30 million people now.

The arsonist tactics of far right anti-immigrant activists in Ireland is a violent and highly xenophobic response to a small result of what is happening in the world today. They are also going for soft targets (potential or actual sites for housing refugees and asylum seekers). Ireland has taken in a considerable number of Ukrainian refugees, as it should, but overall refugee numbers are small compared to the neighbouring countries of conflict and disaster areas. Irish history of course points in the direction of a warm welcome for refugees and economic migrants, based on the Irish experience of being an emigrant country for literally centuries due to necessity. The slogan “Ireland is full” is missing further text as in “Ireland is full – of people exploiting others’ suffering to try to gain political traction”.

We will see in the European and local elections in June in the Republic, and in the UK general election in the North in early July, the extent to which ‘the right’ have benefited from such lies recently though in the case of Norn Iron there is sectarianism in inglorious technicolour (with the colours orange and green being dominant) to be concerned about too.

Pick and mix

There is a long history of people reclaiming derogatory terms as a badge of honour; a relatively recent one over the last number of decades has been non-cis people (the term ‘cis’ itself can be controversial) claiming the label ‘queer’ as a badge of pride and honour. I would say Catholics in the North could likewise claim the label ‘Taig’, used as a nasty and derogatory term of abuse by some loyalists/Protestants for Catholics; reclaiming could be especially positive as it comes from the Irish personal name ‘Tadhg’ which indicates ‘Poet’, now that certainly is a badge of honour.

I am not sure where the term ‘pick and mix’ came from, in relation to sweets and confectionery, but I presume it was around from the time Woolworths department stores hit our shores. Some small sweet shops would have had the same practice. Psychologically and commercially it was a success; allow people more choice and they are likely to buy more.

It may seem strange to jump from that to the year 697 CE and the Law of the Innocents (see elsewhere this issue) then, but my mind works in mysterious ways [That’s very true – Ed]

The term ‘Micks’ for Irish people in Britain comes it having been common for Irish people being called Mick, short for Michael or Micheál, in the same way that Irish people were also called ‘Paddies’; ‘Micks’ has been particularly applied with the British army for people of Irish origin, either ‘Irish’ regiments or people from Ireland. It is generally understood these days as an offensive and derogatory term, not quite on a par with some offensive words for black people but objectionable nonetheless. However if it was to be reclaimed, and as Adomnán’s 697 ‘Law of the Innocents’ included (Scottish) Picts as well as Gaelic Irish perhaps therefore we could call the Law of the Innocents ‘Pict and Micks’. [Groan…..a mighty groan – Ed] Given that the powers that be in the current era choose which ‘laws of war’ they will obey and which they want, their own violent pick and mix, it is perhaps not that inappropriate a term. We also note that the new Lex Innocentium has been translated into Latin, the language of the original law – so perhaps this is a packed pax pact.

Casting and costing a united Ireland

This publication has consistently said that we need much greater detailed analysis of the possibilities in relation to a united Ireland. Yes, a group like Ireland’s Future is coming at it from a broadly nationalist angle but where is the detailed and structured analysis by the Irish state? And why is there not also thinking going on by the British state? While it might be unreasonable to expect the British state to initiate such thinking, it is not unreasonable to expect it to respond to possible situations and models, or indeed to point out pluses for people in the North to continue as part of the UK (despite any commitments to act impartially in the Good Friday Agreement). If it believes in democracy and democratic decision making then it seems rational it should do so, particularly as recompense for the British state’s role in mishandling the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and even its attempts, as in its ‘Troubles Act’, to airbrush its negative role. Please note I am not saying other entities, including the Irish state, are not also guilty of mishandling the Troubles; they are, but the powers that be, and were, in the North is the British state.

Analysing possibilities for the future does not mean you are necessarily going to jump that way. But the public deserve to be treated as adults. At the moment confusion rains. What would happen regarding contributory and non-contributory pensions? What would happen about national debt? What would be the tax burden? These financial questions are aside from questions about the nature of any new united Ireland state. No, there cannot be firm answers on anything at this stage but the public, North and ‘South’, deserve detailed and clear analysis so they can make rational decisions rather than purely emotional ones based on nationalist or unionist sentiment, or self interest. There needs to be detailed and systematic analysis which includes thinking from all possible ‘sides’.

John Fitzgerald and Edgar Morgenroth kicked off the recent discussion of financial aspects of the issue which seemed to show higher costs than generally thought of; this was followed by John Doyle and others questioning their thinking and suggesting there would be much less in terms of costs, and more recently, for example, Newton Emerson has also come back with suggestion of higher costs. As stated, there can be no definitive answers on anything at this stage but we need clear thinking about what are possibilities and likelihoods. While there has been some limited discussion in the Oireachtas and elsewhere what we need is a planned and systematic analysis of an ongoing nature, pulling in research and analysis from all over. And that should come primarily from an initiative of the Irish state.

It might seem to some people that the Irish state engaging in such an exercise could have destabilising effect in the North (and this may be a reason why nothing has been done). But the numbers in the North favouring a united Ireland are slowly creeping up. A warts and all picture of what possibilities exist or might exist would not be a nationalist propaganda weapon since, as Fitzgerald and Morgenrath argued, there may be massive costs without immediate massive benefits in bringing about a united Ireland. The truth may not set anyone free, whatever you consider freedom to be, or indeed truth, but searching for the truth could at least allow people on both sides of the border to think with their head and not just their heart.

Well, meteorologically we are now into summer, I hope it lives up to the name but maybe living in Hibernia we don’t have a chance of escaping winter-type weather. Mind you the courgettes came on in leaps and bounds (they were initially under a cloche when planted out) when there was a blast of heat for a couple of days. If the oul ‘Gulf Stream’ gives up the ghost however with melting Arctic ice and climate heating, well, Newfoundland here we come, weather wise – and wise is certainly not what we humans are when it comes to greenhouse gases. Anyway, I hope that things are gearing up well for you and I’ll be back in July before the summer break, so see you soon, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 319

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello again – I am a simple soul, believing in long-term simple solutions. What if, instead of providing food aid to Gaza now to perhaps keep starving and desperate people alive, countries such as the USA (especially) and Britain had not supplied Israel with arms or the money to buy arms so that it would not now be totally destroying Gaza, and might have negotiated a reasonable deal with Palestine? The US has given Israel $220 billion in military aid over the years. https://www.warresisters.org/resources/pie-chart-flyers-where-your-income-tax-money-really-goes Maybe if the USA had chosen a different path then Palestine would be properly established as a state and self sufficient, and Israel and Palestine be at peace today. Just thinking.

Protecting the innocent in war

Great to see a project, covered in the news section of this issue, taking the 697 CE Law of the Innocents, associated with Adomnán, abbot of Iona, into the 21st century. The original is very much of its time and the new one will be too, including an emphasis on protecting the earth. Those familiar with INNATE’s quiz on nonviolence in Irish history will be familiar with the bones of the story (see “Nonviolence: The Irish Experience! Quiz” at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/resources/ ) Adomnán was travelling with his mother, Ronnat, when they stumbled across the bloody and terrible aftermath of a battle – you can imagine the scene, dead and mutilated bodies and people in agony. Anyway, Ronnat made Adomnán promise he would do something about this kind of thing if he ever could, and so he tried later when he was in a position to act, when abbot of Iona.

What is interesting too is that there were lots of attempts, in different world cultures in antiquity, to put limits on the violence and destruction inflicted by war. Of course there can be arguments about the inherent violence or nonviolence of the human being. Some people, once humanity got into arms races, sought to benefit themselves though violence – often under the guise of bring civilisation and modernity. But some others, without necessarily having the resources of the rich and powerful, have sought to restrict warfare and build peace.

Talking about the innocent can be powerful because we have a tendency to think in terms of the innocent and the guilty. But it isn’t always helpful and in Northern Ireland the term ‘innocent victims of violence’ was often used as a way of targetting other people dragged into the conflict by the circumstances of the time (I am not implying that they made the right choice) and contrasting people not involved in the conflict in any way. And ordinary soldiers, while they can commit atrocities and be brutal in warfare, are usually also victims of war through PTSD, injuries or death. Think of those fighting on either side of the Russia-Ukraine war; presumably 99% of them would rather be home and out of harm’s way. While many soldiers may have entered that occupation because it seemed to offer personal opportunities (in the case of Russia possibly a way out of a long prison sentence), many have been cajoled or conscripted, and none deserve to be mutilated or die in battle.

Sometimes even generals can be a restraining force because some of them know the personal cost of war. So we should not scapegoat soldiers. What we as nonviolent activists need to do, however, is both rejecting the whole panoply of war, in all its aspects, while showing the effectiveness of nonviolence – and that means building a movement and alliances which can take on the powerholders and warmongers to remove the reasons and basis for war and violence. And building on what has been done in the past, such as by Adomnán in 697 CE, can be an important part of establishing the cultural/political support required.

Oh, and you do know, or if you don’t you ought to (important historical fact? – Ed) that Adomnán in his life of Colmcille/Columba (like ‘his’ Derry he has a stroke name!) was the first person to write about the Loch Ness monster. How deep is that? [Up to 230 metres – Ed]

Rhubarb, rhubarb

I’m not sure how, in European English, ‘rhubarb’ came to mean nonsense or drivel, as in saying “rhubarb, rhubarb”. The online suggestion is it has a theatrical origin (actors saying ‘rhubarb’ continuously when expected to make indistinct word sounds) but the theatre could have taken it from somewhere else. Rhubarb the plant is of course a vegetable used as a fruit when lots of sugar is added so although we grow it in our garden we don’t use it much since a spoonful of sugar helps the dentist go down on dental caries (it is also high in oxalic acid later in the summer). However I did want to tell you the story of the organic gardener, not me, and the story may be apocryphal, who was asked what they put on their rhubarb. They answered that it was manure or compost. “That’s interesting”, said their questioner, “I use custard”…….. Rhubarb, rhubarb! [That story doesn’t, to alter the words of Ian Paisley Jnr, cut the custard – Ed].

We need to talk about Kevin

No, I am not referring to Lionel (she) Shriver’s well written but grim novel with the fictional, eponymous Kevin (use of the word ‘eponymous’ always allows me to feel intellectual). [That will be the day – Ed] What I am referring to is Kevin McAleer, the Northern comedian introduced to a new and wider audience in his role as Uncle Colm in Derry Girls (and if you don’t know that role which took a toll on Liam Neeson’s PSNI officer, look it up). Anyway, Kevin McAleer has been doing a farewell tour, “One for the road”, though of course the hope might be for successive farewell tours and not a cul de sac.

It is a difficult act, deadpan humour. I certainly find it extremely hard to keep a straight face when telling an amusing story or engaged in a humorous escapade of some sort, particularly when others are laughing. McAleer has it down to a fine art, the faux naif guy telling some incredibly ridiculous story with a manner that can 99.9% convince you he really is a straightforward amadán or eejit. Stories that he told included the one about being in a hotel where he thought various strange things were happening – then when going to the fancy hotel restaurant he was asked at the entrance if he had a reservation, and he said he had several. And someone who could get a good laugh out of a riff on the difference between internment and the internet, and that they weren’t the same thing at all, has to be a bit of a genius.

I was pleased to see a bit of recycling going on with his (ancient) story about being a contemplative young man in the Co Tyrone countryside in The Troubles…. The version he told in this tour was of being a young man in the Norn Iron countryside at nighttime, gazing at the stars and wondering about the meaning of the universe. Then along came a British army patrol; he was thrilled when they asked him “Who are you?” and “Where are you going?” because these were exactly the deep philosophical questions he was dealing with. More soldiers joined the conversation and they invited him to go with them. He was reluctant and they practically had to drag him away. They stayed up talking that night, the next night and the night after that. “They practically had me tortured” he concluded.

There is of course a serious side to comedy, satire and so on (touched on by the story immediately above) which we in political and social change movements don’t take seriously enough. It is however true that humour can be a little bit dangerous since knowing when to use what can be a delicate balancing act (yes, I have got it wrong often enough…). But it can also be incredibly effective not only in drawing attention to an issue but in making an strong political point – or even in lightening the mood in a meeting which is dragging on or risking being boring.

Majken Sørensen’s book “Humorous political stunts – nonviolent public challenges to power” (Irene Publishing) looks at humour in relation to nonviolence (and activists’ imagination and creativity). What goes on in the war and arms industries is absurd. The refusal, particularly among rich countries, to adequately deal with global heating is absurd. The current Irish government’s protestations of commitment to neutrality internationally are absurd. There are still many absurd elements to the nature of sectarian divisions in the North. All of these things are ripe for humorous ridicule. Make no funny bones about it, humour can be important so let’s get serious about it. Doing illegal, nonviolent actions can be a necessary part of being a peace and political activist, but so can more zany legal (or borderline illegal) manifestations and acting the maggot. [There are no flies on you – Ed]

Snails and horses

I am a glutton for useless trivia particularly where it is relevant to wider concerns. Take the fact that one of the British Army’s Household Cavalry horses injured in a riderless four horse stampede through the streets of London in late April had the name Quaker. Were they going about trying to be gratuitously insensitive to Quakers who are generally pacifist? Speaking as someone who had a great-great-great-grandmother [looks like she was pretty great – Ed] who was a Quaker I am, of course, an expert on such matters [! – Ed] [I was being facetious – Billy] [I would say not for the first time, I think for you ‘face time’ is short for ‘facetious time’ – Ed]. Or they were probably just insensitive full stop. Or maybe it was because that horse was keen on oats (because of the ‘Quaker’ Oats brand) but it is still oatrocious.

Mind you religion can be, and usually is, in cahoots with the the military big time; you just have to look at the British Army 1970s chapel at the west side of St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Belfast which has a massive Celtic cross on the outside, which to me is cultural appropriation (a British establishment institution purloining a venerable Irish religious symbol) as well as hideously inappropriate for any Christian building and inimical for anything to do with the founder of said religion.

And then there are the snails holding up developments at the Doonald’s Doonbeg golf course. Clare County Council has requested more information on how proposed developments at the site will affect the protected Vertigo Angustior (tiny) snail. Good to see that development does not trump nature in this case – and what have snails ever done to undermine democracy? Anyway, the development there hasn’t been all plain snailing. You could say it is going as a snail’s pace. However you might also conclude that the owner of said golf course, while never one to retreat into his shell, leaves trail that could be described as slimy anywhere he goes, even if there are issues about the provision of employment locally. My final point on this is that if accommodation pods were developed there at Doonbeg perhaps they could be called gastropods.

There’s gold in them there hills

Yes, there is. Gold in the Sperrins. But should it be mined by Dalradian? Gold has value mainly because it is considered valuable. It is a vanity metal. In the modern era it is basically not needed for promoting the wellbeing of people/humanity. It is a kind of currency that we can do without.

In the case of Dalradian, because of local opposition they introduced the narrative that they would not be using cyanide in extracting the gold locally. But my understanding is that they will simply use cyanide elsewhere – overseas, so it is just exporting the problem to some other place and community which may be much less able to ensure safety and accountability. And it is pathetic to allow mining on this basis, inflicting a terrible problem on people elsewhere.

The public enquiry on Dalradian’s mining will be in the autumn and is expected to run for a month or two and the North’s Department for Infrastructure will then receive a recommendation. As usual ‘the company’ promises lots of jobs – usually a lot more than materialise – during a twenty year existence. Local opposition focuses on slag heaps and pollution of air and water, as well as all the increased lorry traffic and general environmental issues including possible effects on farming and the possibilities for developing tourism. Save Our Sperrins group and others have been beavering away on the issue for years, see e.g. https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurSperrins and http://dontmineus.com/public-inquiry/ and you can also do a word search.

The language is not quite what I would use but the Saw Doctors put it pithily in talking about the possibility of gold mining in Co Mayo near Croagh Patrick:

Do they think our greatest asset

Can be mined, dug up and sold?”

But to put my ore in I have come up with a few slogans. Spare the Sperrins! Gold diggers out! All that’s gold does not glitter! Our goal is no gold mining! A pox on toxic gold mining! Dalradian gulders about gold! Green meaning not mining! Head for the hills to head off gold mining! Dalradian mining would be all downhill! It’s ‘our’ countryside resource not ‘mine’! Gold mining makes you gilty! Insert your slogan here……

Well, that’s me for now. Summer is (meant to be) coming in which means in our neck of the woods that the rain is getting warmer, if April is usually the driest month in Ireland I hope the rain then is not a portent for the rest of the year. See you soon, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 318

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

As I have proclaimed oft times before, April is on average the driest month in Ireland so, after some wet weather recently – including some wetting through on our bi-cyles – perhaps we can hope that the month lives up to its norm. But four seasons in a day is also an Irish reality. Anyway, that is the weather dealt with (obligatory in discussion in this land of ours) and so on with My Thoughts for the Month [I hope they are not wet through too – Ed].

Not out of arms’ way

The people of Gaza are, tragically, the recipients of the products of the arms trade. And profits for the arms companies are BOOMING, literally and figuratively, due to the war in Ukraine and uncertainty in the Middle East with the Israeli war on Gaza. The arms trade is many things including astronomically expensive, corrupt (news was coming in during the last month on British bribes for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, something which is not even the tip of the iceberg) and wasteful – money spent on arms is money that cannot go on human security and wellbeing.

Congratulations to the activists on Gaza and Palestine who have joined up the dots and organised protests at Thales in Castlereagh, Belfast, https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53546068897/in/dateposted/ and Spirit AeroSystems in the docks area of Belfast. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53602899095/in/dateposted/ There has also been an Irish Anti-War Movement meeting in Dublin on “The Gaza genocide and the arms trade”. The west has its bloody hands involved in the war in Gaza in a variety of ways.

In 2023 Irish ‘dual use’ exports (which can be used for military or civilian purposes) to Israel were worth €70 million, an exponential increase – how much of this was due to the Irish government’s promotion of dual use production is unclear – and, ahem, severely conflicts with Ireland standing up (or at least crouching up) for Palestine and against the obliteration of Gaza. The arms trade has consequences, something which Simon Coveney and company seem to have blatantly ignored.

Thales seems to have been going on a charm offensive, e.g. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/uk-world/production-at-weapons-plant-doubles-amid-war-in-ukraine/a933017996.html and

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2024/mar/26/im-not-profiting-from-misery-im-averting-more-thaless-uk-boss-on-making-missiles-for-ukraine?CMP=share_btn_url Of course what Thales is not so keen to state is that they were supplying parts for Russian tanks and planes until a western embargo in 2014 so they are probably still helping the Russian war effort, and they have worked closely with major Israeli arms company Elbit on drones, a key weapon used by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza. The bottom line for arms companies is profit.

We would of course dispute most of what Thales’ personnel have to say. Thales UK CEO proclaiming how good a deterrent ‘his’ weapons are is nonsense, we don’t know whether they have had any deterrent effect whatsoever, they certainly didn’t stop war in Ukraine. Thales’ Belfast weaponry includes Starstreak, Lightweight Multi-role Missile (LMM) systems as well as assembly of NLAWs (a kind of bazooka if you want to know). The Guardian reports that “Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine in February 2022, the group’s shares have gained more than 80%, its value has swelled to €33bn and its order book has reached a record high, at €45bn.” It’s definitely an ill wind.

The Thales CEO is also quoted as saying “It’s a peculiarly British thing that we uphold our armed forces, but simultaneously despise the industry that produces things that will protect them or make them more effective.” No it’s not and that is a militarist assumption. But in any case challenging militarism means challenging all aspects of it.

Thales Belfast production has doubled since before the 2022 Ukraine and yer man says it will double again (the UK sent lots of weaponry to Ukraine and are also restocking themselves). He also said that the Belfast plant was “its best kept secret” during the Troubles in the North; no it wasn’t, not to peace activists anyway, it was always the biggest bomb factory in Belfast. Why kill a few people in Northern Ireland when you can kill far more abroad?

Wheely good, a spokesperson said……

A survey of five metropolitan areas in the Republic https://www.irishtimes.com/environment/climate-crisis/2024/03/05/walking-and-cycling-take-680000-cars-off-road-daily-in-states-five-largest-cities/ could be considered relatively optimistic for self-propelled travel, cycling, walking and so on. This study estimates a saving of some 160,00 tonnes of greenhouse gases. For more info see also https://www.nationaltransport.ie/planning-and-investment/transport-investment/active-travel-investment-programme/walking-and-cycling-index/

This survey showed walking, cycling and wheeling (using wheeled mobility aids such as wheelchairs or strollers) took 680k cars off the road in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Shannon-Limerick and Waterford. While a modest 15% of people cycle weekly, one in two residents want to do more cycling or walking. More than half of people in these areas walk five days a week or more. And there is a high level of support for increased government funding on cycling and walking – much higher than support for increased spending on motoring.

The fact that more men cycle than women probably has a number of reasons, one perhaps being being the higher involvement of women in childcare (though modern cycle options can include a variety of child seats and attachments) but also gender-based safety issues. The way to get more people cycling is of course to provide more dedicated and safe cycling routes – and the more people out and about on bikes, the more others will want to do it too. Dividing cycling lanes from pedestrians is also essential, not least to avoid recrimination between those who are self-propelled and should be allies.

While some Irish cities are hilly in places – Cork and Derry come to mind – the advent of ebikes can also help to make for a more level playing field, so to speak, though I much prefer the plain old push bike for normal usage.

Ireland, North and Republic, has a long road to travel to make cycling the default option for short distance travel, and much more of an option for medium or longer distances. But this has to be achievable both for ecological and health reasons, and through providing safe spaces to cycle. It has recently come to light that serious accidents to cyclists are far higher than Garda figures indicate, particularly for children (by a factor of six). Scary.

Nevertheless two wheels good….. https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ and go to “Cycling……[CW]”

Not a wind up

It is amazing how we can set challenges to ourselves to do this or that, achieve that or this, fulfil some sort of bucket or non-bucket list. I was engaging in the unfashionable task of looking through the CDs in my favourite Oxfam shop when I stumbled across an audio box set of Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”, still unused and sealed, for £2. CDs are, if course, not zeitgeisty now, call me old fashioned [Yes….. – Ed] but I like them and, as with vinyl, they will return to be fashionable at some stage (unspecified).

26 hours of audio, the box proclaimed, in 21 CDs. I’m not sure where it came from within me but I immediately pronounced to the the person on the till right beside the CDs, and the shop manager who was nearby, that I accepted the challenge (….actually set by me) to listen to the whole thing. 26 miles is the length of a marathon. There are 26 counties in the Republic. There are only 24 hours in a whole day. But 26 hours of listening? What was I thinking, and I knew nothing about the book.

Well, well, well, I won’t divulge the most dramatic happenings to the main protagonist Toru Okada in the book and this is not a review as such. Spoiler alert, early on in the book my companion in listening thought it was unsurprising that Toru’s wife left him, so passive was he to things that happened to him (at that stage). But things change and get more mystical and fantastical.

It is not a humorous book as such, and there are passages depicting extreme violence, but I did laugh out loud at some of Murakami’s descriptions (the English translation is excellent, done by the author himself, and the reading by Rupert Degas likewise). The situations described range from the mundane to the truly bizarre and mystical. I don’t think “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles” is intended as a wind up, to use an English language idiom (and different sense of the term), but it can certainly feel like that at times.

But to return to challenges. We all benefit from setting challenges, whether it is some kind of bucket list or one off tasks or goals which we set ourselves to achieve. This applies in the socio-political realm as much as in our ordinary lives. If we don’t continually push ourselves to try and do new things and explore new horizons (by horizons I mean ‘at home’ and not as a tourist where, as the saying goes, it is possible that ‘travel broadens the arse’) then we can stultify in our routines. I am a creature of routine, I enjoy the routine, so I am talking primarily to myself here.

However next time I see a 26 hour audio book for sale in a charity shop I might just leave it on the shelf. I have done that particular challenge.

That’s me for now. May Day, May Day or thereabouts will see the next instalment in my perverse [oh, are you going to take to poetry? – Ed] take on the universe [more poetry? – Ed], until then, Billy.

PS in reply to the Ed, above, it may not be known that I am an accomplished poet, in fact I wrote an epic poem years ago having seen the poet Padraic Fiacc (he died in 2019) in my local supermarket. My poem includes the memorable lines:

I saw a poet shopping in Dunnes

I presume for bread, and not for puns.

Meanwhile I await my No Bells Prize for Litterature (sic).

However, I admit I cannot write as profound and sublime poetry as deceased Irish citizen Spike Milligan who penned the immortal lines:

Said the general of the army

I think that war is barmy’,

So he threw away his gun,

Now he’s having much more fun.

Billy King: Rites Again, 317

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello again – I have a funny-strange attachment to flowers. I look forward to the arrival of certain flowers, daffodils being a particular example partly because they are so significant in spring, and in a very definite kind of way mourn their passing, sad to see them go when they stop flowering. This makes perfect sense in one way and in another, if I am always looking forward to ‘the next’ flowering, this does not make sense because tempus fugit, fecit. Scientists still don’t understand the nature of time and getting our heads around it for ordinary people is a full time occupation, ho ho. Anyway, here are my musings for this point in time –

Anon

I received an anonymous letter there some time back. Enclosed in an A4 sized envelope, the contents were photocopied materials with parts marked, seemingly randomly. The address was computer printed, cut out and adhered with clear sticky tape. There was no name or address of the sender. It was also sent to me at at the address of an organisation I am associated with but not the one I am most identified with; no one else at that organisation received a similar letter.

The contents were not the objectionable political views they first seemed to be at a glance – as the letter was passed to me just before the start of a meeting, I didn’t have a chance to study the material in detail there and then though I did remark on its anonymity and my first impression (stated as such) of the contents. In fact the material, while close to conspiracy theory, were not objectionable to me. What was somewhat objectionable was the manner in which I received this missive as an anonymous letter.

There are reasons some things are anonymous, such as candidate identities in exams. This is to create a level playing field and promote fairness so there is less possibility of bias by the person doing the judging, the examiner or marker in the case of an exam. But there is a clear reason for such a process to be anonymous and it is expected to be such. In this case someone was trying to inform me about certain information, and affect my political views, without identifying themselves, or so it would seem. However the haphazard or even random marking of some points in the photocopied documents makes me wonder about the sender’s logicality. I am deliberately not sharing the content of the letter.

This incident is relatively benign, though strange. It did make me wonder though about more aggressive anonymous communications, of whatever sort, which ‘ordinary’ citizens might receive, or media personalities and politicians, particularly through social media. You would have to adopt a thick skin and an effective psychological coping technique. I am fortunately not in that position – it was not a ‘nasty’ letter. Nevertheless I am left wondering as to why I was singled out and what the sender’s intentions were; while I was the only person to receive such a letter at the organisation concerned, the fact that the address was cut out of a computer printed sheet was presumably not only to avoid giving telltale handwriting but it could have been from a sheet full of other addresses elsewhere, people who also received such anonymous material. And some things never get explained.

The strangest thing is if someone had sent me the material with a covering, signed, note I feel I would actually have taken the matters concerned more seriously, and certainly I would have been much less suspicious of the sender’s motivation.

Buy your winter woollies while stocks last

Atlantic currents are what make this neck of the world woods quite temperate (it is other things that can make us intemperate….), what is often referred to as the Gulf Stream – this is part of it but the more comprehensive name is Amoc (Atlantic meridional overturning circulation), a sophisticated interaction going on in the Atlantic. This is what means we don’t have the freezing winter weather of Newfoundland at the same latitude (the system may be running out of latitude…), see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2024/feb/09/atlantic-ocean-circulation-nearing-devastating-tipping-point-study-finds?CMP=share_btn_link Amoc is the weakest it has been in a millennium. It is not going to run amock – it is potentially going to shut up shop.

Amoc, which encompasses part of the Gulf Stream and other powerful currents, is a marine conveyer belt that carries heat, carbon and nutrients from the tropics towards the Arctic Circle, where it cools and sinks into the deep ocean. This churning helps to distribute energy around the Earth and modulates the impact of human-caused global heating.”

Arctic and Greenland melt water is seriously affecting Amoc and recent scientific analysis indicates it could collapse in a short period of time and “changes are irreversible on human timescales”. It would have negative effects worldwide and Europe would be colder and less wet. In some parts of the Atlantic the sea level would rise by a metre, flooding many cities.

Like I say, maybe you should stock up on your winter woollies while stocks last. All this is of course brought to you by human action (incompetence?) and the resultant global heating. Oh the irony of that human stupidity, global warming could make us colder in our neck of the freezing woods…..and another thing to worry about as our heating up goes globe-trotting.

Not a Troubles-era loyalist group – but harmful nevertheless

No, it is not a positive entity, a French peace group, the Union Pacifiste de France, or even a Northern loyalist group, the Ulster Protestant Force. ‘UPF’ in this context stands for something dangerous in a different way; Ultra Processed Foods. These are industrially produced fast foods containing lots of additives, emulsifiers, flavourings, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Research has shown that they are dangerous for human health (if tested on mice, not that I am advocating that, I am sure it would do them harm as well) with 32 negative health effects. See e.g. https://www.irishtimes.com/health/2024/02/29/ultra-processed-food-linked-to-32-harmful-effects-to-health-review-finds/ The findings have been published in the British Medical Journal and are based on pooling research from studies of a massive number of people. One conclusion is that “Greater exposure to ultra-processed food was associated with a higher risk of adverse health outcomes, especially cardiometabolic, common mental disorders and mortality outcomes.”

Still you get totally fatuous and self-interested comments like the CEO of Kellogg’s in the States (earning upwards of $5 million a year) saying poor people could eat packet cereal for their dinner; he certainly isn’t, and analysis showed it wasn’t necessarily a cheap option and certainly not a healthy one.

Removing the health dangers here requires a multi-faceted approach. Indirect state control of what the food industry can produce is only one approach. Education is another necessity including about speedy, healthy and economical food options and food preparation where one prepared ingredient can quickly be turned into another meal, or one dish be used (including being frozen) for several meals. But this is certainly not all. People may choose ultra processed foods for a variety of reasons but poverty and work pressures are certainly a major part of the issue. Dealing with the last requires societal change and greater financial equity. So things are as not simple as telling people their dietary habits are unhealthy.

Down in arms

In these straitened (crooked?) times it is good to see some companies thriving, particularly in a recession-hit country like Britain where Brexit has put a hex on business. Indeed one company has near record profits and its shares have doubled in the last couple of years, since February 2022……..oh wait, what happened then? Oh, yes, the full scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia. And what is the company? BAE. Yes, it’s an arms company and international uncertainty after the wars in Ukraine and Gaza is leading to boom times (literally and metaphorically) for such companies – I am not being serious above in welcoming BAE’s thriving. The arms industry projects itself as productive employers but in fact they soak up massive amounts of government money and produce less employment per unit of money than virtually anything else.

Meanwhile, and shamefully, the Irish arms industry is actively encouraged by the Irish government to develop, and said industry are also adept at lobbying https://www.ontheditch.com/pro-militarisation-group/ And moving a bit north, British Ministry of Defence spending in Northern Ireland increased by 20% in 2023 to £190m, most of that being for the NLAW missile system which is manufactured by Thales in Belfast. INNATE has a new poster available on the arms race https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Arms-are-for-hugging.pdf

That’s your just desserts for now (just deserts are what we get with global heating), and I will see you again in another month, at Easter time, Billy. l

Billy King: Rites Again, 316

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello again – You may not know that there are hundreds and hundreds of varieties of snowdrops with some rarer ones changing hands for perhaps a hundred quid a bulb. Chacun à son gout. We just have a couple of varieties and one of them, for the first time ever, was in flower before Christmas and new year. That is global warming/warning for you. A few decades ago you could be almost certain, in our neck of the woods, of a hard frost before the end of October while now it could be a couple of months later, and one year our nasturtiums, which go to mush with any hard frost at all, survived through to the spring. In the damp cold of an Irish winter you may not notice it too much but the weather times have been changing. And more damaging storms and floods will be our lot, Isha-n’t that the truth.

Nun better, nun worse

I don’t know if you watched the two programmes on RTE about the ‘last priests’ and ‘last nuns’ in Ireland, presented respectively by Ardal O’Hanlon and Dearbhall McDonald in mid-January. There has been an amazing change in my lifetime, from an ‘oversupply’ and export of people in this form of religious life to very few and most of those being at or past normal retirement age – and retirement age for priests is 75. They may be few and far between in the future but as species (Irish born clerics) they are not going to die out, and if women priests appear (eventually) and celibacy becomes optional in the Catholic church (somewhat sooner) then there will be more who can join.

Of course we are better of without the belt of a crozier being something to fear. All the Christian churches, Catholic and Protestant (with the possible exception of a few churches catering primarily for migrants) are having to downsize and be creative in what they do and don’t do. And no longer being a bastion of the state (choose which state) perhaps they are also free to adopt a more radical mission and even rediscover the nonviolence which was certainly part of the early Christian church – you couldn’t be a Christian and a soldier for the first couple of hundred years of the Christian church. Well, that stipulation certainly vanished, didn’t it; sometimes states said – and say – men had to be a soldier to be a Christian (and this was backed up by subservient churches).

O’Hanlon had it handy in that he had a couple of old school friends who were priests; they came across very well. And to survive as a priest today in what is to some extent an anti-clerical environment, certainly for Catholic priests, you need to be together as a person and sure of your vocation. Meanwhile watching nuns be emotional and very human in relation to things done by their order in the past was moving. Of course atrocious things were done by priests and nuns but brilliant things too, and religious sisters, some not having the same institutional responsibilities as the men, have got up to some amazing projects, and moved with the more secular times, pushing out various boats. Part of O’Hanlon’s feature was about the ultramontanist (not a word used in the programme) movement in the Catholic Church in the mid-19th century under Cardinal Cullen; this elevated and isolated the priesthood and led to many of the evils perpetrated by some in the years following.

I only watched the two programmes once, as they were being screened, and their purpose wasn’t to revisit the evils of the past. But unless I am wrong there was no mention of the slowness of some religious orders to cough up the lolly that they were meant to for the government compensation fund for victims. And an order like the Christian Brothers have made it unnecessarily difficult for victims bringing legal cases. There are still lots of outworkings from the past.

Aotearoa and Norn Iron

As you may know, the Maori word for New Zealand, Aotearoa, is usually translated as Land of the Long White Cloud. This presumably was what impressed most upon Maori people as the characteristic of those islands when they arrived from Polynesia, or was how the Polynesian settlers who became the Maori found it when sailing there. It is a beautiful and evocative name.

The old Northern Irish loyalist slogan in favour of partition was that “We will never forsake the blue skies of freedom for the grey mists of an Irish Republic”. We don’t hear that quoted these days for a variety of reasons. However it struck me recently that, politically speaking, Norn Iron could be known as the Land of the Impenetrable Grey Mists. This is also an evocative name but not exactly beautiful. And no, I don’t know what that would be in Ulster Scots or Irish, maybe someone can enlighten me (before some “tír’s” are shed). And just because Stormont may be returning doesn’t mean those political grey mists will be clearing up either. And you could say the whole people of the North have missed out there.

You can’t vet me, I’m part of the Union

History isn’t always what we think, and is often more complex and nuanced than our preferred take. For example, the anti-imperialist struggle in Ireland by ‘nationalists’ (in inverted commas because there are all sorts, and various forms of resistance) is tempered by the extent to which others in Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, bought in to the British imperialist and colonialist project, and the 19th century British army would have collapsed without Irish soldiers, primarily there for the job.

In the recent past, loyalists in the North have bemoaned the departure from previous norms which the Northern Ireland Protocol and then the Windsor Framework represented. A legal case that the Northern Ireland Protocol was, among other things, incompatible with the 1801 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland, and therefore invalid, failed in London. But some loyalists have continued to bang that drum; in treating Northern Ireland differently in the economic sphere to the rest of the UK, the new arrangements were deemed a traitorous betrayal of solemn agreements in the past. The first point here, perhaps, is that there was very considerable bribery and corruption involved in getting the Act of Union agreed, and the Irish Parliament to vote itself out of existence, and it represented such a small section of people in Ireland, that thinking of the Act of Union as in any way ‘democratic’ is a nonsense.

However an article in the Belfast News Letter made me aware of another salient factor. The Act of Union did not institute free trade between Britain and Ireland. So calling for a return to the ‘equal treatment’ it is supposed to represent does not necessarily entail getting rid of the ‘Irish Sea border’ since there was one in 1801. Henry Patterson in the News Letter of 29th January https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/henry-patterson-legalistic-attempts-to-restore-article-6-of-the-act-of-union-would-be-a-disaster-4495902 pointed out that tariffs continued between Britain and Ireland after the Act of Union: “the restoration of Article 6 of the Acts of Union to its pre-Protocol status would be a very bad business indeed. The original Article 6 (the so-called ‘same footing’ clause) actually included a list of significant duties on goods moving between Great Britain and Ireland. In addition to duties on goods like whisky, cider and chocolate, it also entailed that countervailing duties could be imposed by the UK Parliament.”

And Patterson goes on that “The lived experience of “equal treatment” under Article 6 of the Union was nothing of the sort. This was particularly the case after the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 which, in truth, was the real constitutional foundation of Northern Ireland. From that point, there has always been differentiation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Section 21 of the 1920 Act required extensive checks by customs officers on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” He continues with examples of divergence during Unionist rule in Northern Ireland but also towards the end berates the Irish government on legacy issues and its inter-state case against the British government on that matter.

Perhaps it could be said that Britain has always treated Ireland and Northern Ireland differently to its own island, and Northern Ireland, from its foundation at partition, has reciprocated. So the historical case against the Windsor Framework is not a good one. That in no way determines what the future of Norn Iron should be but without its people working together then its future will be a revisiting of aspects of its past.

That’s me for now. When I write again the daffodils will be coming out in our part of the world, yellow harbingers of the slightly warmer weather that we know as ‘spring’ and ‘summer’. Until then, take care of yourself and others, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 315

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Gender equality, how are ye

It caught my eye on the BBC NI website on 27/11/23: three stories in a row about the treatment of women and girls. Under the heading of ‘Latest updates’ were three stories in a row, “Childminder’s husband jailed for abusing children”, “Upskirting and cyber-flashing laws come into effect”, and “Medic admits sterilising woman without her consent”.

The first story was about a former senior civil servant from Co Down who sexually abused two young girls (age unspecified) in his wife’s childminding care. The second story might be considered ‘good news’ in that new laws came in to effect on upskirting, downblousing and cyber-flashing with perpetrators potentially facing up to two years in prison and up to 10 years on the Sex Offenders Register. But the question underlying this is – why was this new law necessary? The NI Assembly (remember it?) had backed this law in spring of 2022 before the Assembly disappeared in a puff of smoke, with the bill, now law, being introduced by Naomi Long. And the final story was about a male consultant gynaecologist in a regional hospital in the North who admitted sterilising a woman without her permission and without medical need.

These are three stories covering different aspects of the treatment of women and girls in our society, all concerning aspects of what I would consider violence against them. These things happened to happen in the North but could be anywhere. You could come up with many other examples from different aspects of life and society. It doesn’t look very much like equality for women and girls, does it.

Bill Hetherington

The death of long time British peace activist Bill Hetherington removes another of the ‘old’ faces from the peace movement there. He was 89 years old. While associated most with the PPU/Peace Pledge Union (where, incredibly, he was on their Council for fifty years) it is hard to think of a substantial peace initiative in past decades, in Britain or internationally, that he was not involved with. He was well informed on, and involved with, Northern Irish and Irish matters and, if I recall correctly, had some Irish blood in him. He was involved with the BWNIC campaign to withdraw British troops from the North and subsequently was on trial in 1975 for his involvement in that (and was imprisoned for a while, accused of breaking bail conditions) – were the BWNIC 14 encouraging British soldiers to disaffect? Maybe they were but fortunately were found not guilty.

An appreciation of his life as a peace activist can be found at https://www.ppu.org.uk/news/peace-movement-mourns-lifelong-pacifist-campaigner-bill-hetherington and there is a great photo of him there, looking a bit like an old seafarer – and he certainly had to negotiate lots of choppy waters in his time.

The INNATE coordinator remembers fondly the socio-political walking tour of Dublin that he (Rob Fairmichael) conducted for a group from the 2002 WRI/War Resisters’ International Triennial conference. This ran, or rather perambulated, from the Garden of Remembrance to the Dáil; he would give a short take on the relevance of the building, memorial or topography involved….and then Bill would, as was his wont, extend it “with the due parts of legal and constitutional history in detail” as the Triennial newsletter related. There is a photo of just such a scene at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/3269226483/in/album-72157613605954884/ Small of stature, Bill Hetherington was a big presence. For me he was one of those people who I didn’t have much contact with on an ongoing basis but knew were contributing hugely to work for peace I definitely feel sad that he is no longer around.

Shannon ‘not being used’ – but Varadkar is…..

Ah yes, the main supplier of lethal equipment and just as lethal money to Israel is of course the good oul USA. It was kind of Leo Varadkar to tell us https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2023/11/19/shannon-airport-not-being-used-by-us-to-supply-military-equipment-to-israel-varadkar/ that Shannon Air/Warport is not being used by the USA to move military supplies to Israel. He has the USA’s word on that.

But since the Irish state never inspects what is coming through on US military or military-contracted planes he really doesn’t have a clue. And while the US army has no boots on the ground directly fighting in Gaza – I am sure there are lots of military advisors somewhere – he might think that is OK. But any support to a military aggressor or supporter of aggression is plain and simply wrong. And despite the atrocities committed by Hamas in southern Israel on 7th October I think we can be quite clear that Israel is an aggressor in its assault on civilians in Gaza. And, in general (and for generals), armies need soldiers so transporting soldiers through Shannon is every bit as nefarious as transporting weapons.

The Irish state is complicit in supporting US military aggression. [full stop]

EU Bottlegroups

Useful little piece by Conor Gallagher in the Irish Times of 16th November https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2023/11/16/ireland-faces-embarrassment-as-just-35-troops-volunteer-for-eu-battlegroup/ and follow up on 23/11/23. The first story was that “Ireland faces embarrassment as just 35 troops volunteer for EU Battlegroup”, less than a fifth of those needed from Ireland for a German-led ‘rapid response’ battlegroup being formed in January. It would be good to think that this was Irish soldiers voting with their feet not to get involved. The Irish Times reported that “It will act in support of UN-authorised missions and will also be deployed to aid humanitarian crises and support existing peacekeeping missions that face heightened difficulties” but given the plan to remove the Triple Lock on deployment of Irish troops overseas, and developing EU militarism, it is a further move towards Irish military integration with other military powers.

However this article and the follow up indicated that reluctance to sign up may be mainly due to uncertainty about additional financial allowances for being part of the battlegroup (interesting term that, they don’t even use a euphemism – which they are so good at – such as ‘peacekeeping group’). It is expected that the government will introduce financial incentives to get the 182 soldiers they need (however, it being an army, if needed soldiers could be ‘volunteered’). However amazingly Ireland already withdrew from participation in military peacekeeping in the UNDOF operation in the Golan Heights to get involved in this battlegroup which will be training for most of the next year and on standby for 2025.

Starmint

Is it a new mint flavoured confectionery in rounded star shape? Or a rather unpleasant tasting confection currently out of production? The varmints in Starmint, the House on the Hill, are still not meeting thanks to a DUPlicitous party. Please note I am not saying other political parties are not or cannot be duplicitous, it is just as clear as day that the DUP turned what they saw as electoral survival into a principle. And there are principles involved for unionists who have been sold down the river, again, by a British government intent on its own nationalist project and their desire for survival.

But unionists are not the only people in Northern Ireland, or indeed in the United Kingdom to which they have allegiance. And while they stick to their principles the whole of Norn Iron is going down the tubes in relation to most things – including health and social services, poverty, community groups and the services they provide, and education (how can anyone hope to pull out of such a downward spiral when education funding is cut so badly?). The economy is just ticking over with remarkably low unemployment but also lots and lots of low pay. And Chris H-H as Shockretary of State compounds the problem by using, and adding to, the suffering of ordinary people as a weapon to try to get the DUP back in residence in the House on the Hill. I was thus wondering whether Chris Heaton-Harris deserves the title of (Vindictive to a) Tee-Shock. Meanwhile Troubles victims have been terribly short-changed again.

What a mess. While the new year was being signed up in the last while as a possible point for a return departure, the stars do not seem to be aligned [is Sammy a star?] for, or rather within, the DUP who may struggle on with an assembly boycott while the North falls apart at the seems (sic). Perhaps political bravery could win out but I suspect what is in store is that is not mint to be in NOrthern Ireland. I hope I am wrong, I would be delighted to be proven thus.

Waking up

It’s official, sort of. The Irish – and in Ireland generally culturally Catholic – way of death is superior, certainly compared with another western European island. It is something many of us have known for a long time, and Kevin Toolis’ book “My father’s wake” is on the topic, but research has now proven it (usual caveats…) that active social engagement and collective remembering after the death of a loved one can help you. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-67462985 “The Ulster University study, which involved more than 2,000 people, looked at prolonged grief disorder (PGD). It described the disorder as an enduring yearning for the deceased persisting for more than six months. About 10.9% of grieving people in Ireland featured in the research fulfilled the disorder’s criteria, compared to 15.3% in the UK. The study does go on to say “cultural differences with regard to death may be an explanatory factor” in relation to waking and so on.

So not only is the West a-wake but much of the rest of the island too. You may not be able to wish ‘slainte’ to the deceased but being able to do it to and with their kin, even with a cup of tea, can assist in coming to terms with the death. There is no simple answer or time limit to, or remedy for, grief when you lose your nearest and dearest. But waking can help and waking up to that fact is important so it is never lost.

Recently we have come on for a cold spell (blame the witch/wizard/warlock though I thought the last of these was Micheál Martin’s alternative to the Triple Lock….) but I have bright red salvia still in full bloom in the gordon, however the current cold may knock them on the head – being in a city and only a few k’s from the sea we escape some frosts manifested elsewhere.

But Christmas and New Year festivities and break are coming up fast and so I wish you an enjoyable and restful time (when you get there!) and, as always, a Preposterous New Year – the new year will be well established when I join you again. One piece of good cheer is that a song about Norn Iron trade union and peace activist May Blood is to be released just before Christmas https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/music/news/song-about-work-of-ni-peacemaker-for-christmas-release-a-lot-of-people-dont-really-know-who-she-is/a2133175073.html

Let’s hope, and work that, 2024 is more peaceful than the current year – Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 314

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

A tale of two reports

OK, we were involved with the Swords to Ploughshares/StoP report on the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy which took place in June so are somewhat biased in its favour [Biased? Never! – Ed] – but we think it demolishes the premises of the official report from Dame Louise Richardson. In this case, unfortunately, there was nothing like a Dame for doing the Irish Government’s bidding. The StoP report is methodical, even forensic at times, much more comprehensive, and better presented to boot. Louise Richardson’s is poorly argued – see e.g. Dominic Carroll’s letter demolishing her argument against sense being spoken by the common people of Ireland compared to the ‘ex-perts’ invited by the Government. https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/2023/10/20/forum-on-neutrality-report/

It has to be said that in her report Louise Richardson does what she was hired/expected to do, and what she might have been expected to do. Given public opprobrium for moving away from neutrality there were limits on how far she could push the EU-NATO boat out but the minimum expected of her by the powers that be was that she justified a move away from the ‘triple lock’ on the deployment of Irish troops overseas – and, surprise, surprise, that is just what she does. It is as if Micheál Martin told her exactly what he wanted and she went away and did it. There is nothing original or innovative in her report. Nul points to Richardson for imagination.

As for her assertion that sustaining neutrality in the future would be difficult, she would say that, wouldn’t she, as she tries to lay out a path for further diminution ( = demolition) of neutrality. Does she imagine that Ireland aligning fully with EU militarism and NATO will be easy in terms of the consequences? Oh, of course, it would mean Ireland fits right in with the prevailing militarist model in north America and western Europe and that would make it ‘easy’ because they wouldn’t be asking awkward questions. But is Ireland a country with a proud international record of standing up for peace and justice (well, some of the time) or is it merely a support player to the Big Powers? The latter is where the Irish elite, political and otherwise, want to take the country.

In the official report there is not one shred of an idea as to how neutrality could be developed as a force for peace in the world, and of security for Ireland; the only show in town, so far as she is concerned, is how to get rid of this damn spot on Ireland’s (well the political and other elites’) attempt to blend with the EU-NATO military industrial complex. She does acknowledge that there is no desire to get rid of ‘neutrality’ but as government policy is to neutralise neutrality what it might mean would be meaningless. Whatever she believes, this report seems to support the idea that preparation for war war is better than preparation for jaw jaw.

Your homework for the month: compare the two reports – you can, if you like, write an essay to Compare and Contrast the two but I won’t insist on it. The StoP one is at https://www.swordstoploughshares-ireland.com/report and the official report at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/36bd1-consultative-forum-chairs-report/

One overall sadness though in this whole matter is how a prominent person such as Louise Richardson, who sometimes talks a substantial amount of sense https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/?s=louise+richardson+what+terrorists+think and is obviously a public figure on both sides of the (Atlantic) pond, could be used as such a tool of the Government and of said military-industrial complex. It makes me sad. However it also makes me mad (angry).

That autumnal feeling

Many natural systems slow down or stop as winter approaches – it can be a pleasant excuse for us humans to take some things a bit easier too. While Ireland can have four seasons in a day, and seasons are more mixed up than they were due to climate change and global heating, there still are seasons. We usually divide the year into four seasons but I prefer to think in terms of micro-seasons, a period of similar weather at a particular time of year which can last for a few days or a few weeks – and weather forecasts not withstanding, we generally don’t know what we are going to get more than a few days in advance.

But there is joy to be found in nature at all seasons, however you think of them. Many people enjoy autumn colours, and I do too, but there is something amazing about walking through or past trees as the shed their leaves and these drop down to the ground. Their first and primary job is done. Next, hopefully, they will become – or be allowed to become – an addition of humus (not hummus/houmous don’t get humus spread on your bread!) to the soil and the earth. Death and life are together although the tree will have its hibernation and be ready for new growth in the spring.

If I am warm and active, or about to be active, I enjoy the feeling of chill air on leaving home, It is fresh and invigorating. That is not to say I don’t enjoy warm days in summer (or any other season). Every season has its joys. Autumn is now later than it was, I don’t think it is exaggerating to say that some decades ago trees were bare or virtually bare by the end of October – well, not any more. Anyway, ‘Happy autumn’. Hereby ends my paean of praise to autumn [or is ‘paean’ a misspelling of ‘pain’? – Ed].

Souper

Speaking of autumnal feelings, we are in our neck of the northern hemisphere now well into the season for taking soup. Taking the soup is however another matter – and my ancestors had no need or temptation in that direction as they were already well ensconced on what was then the winning side. My grandparents’ ethnic origin included Ulster Scots (probably through natural migration rather than plantation due to their geographical location in north Antrim), Huguenot, and two of English plantation origin – though again not Ulster Plantation. I am sure I have told you before that the French chef in England who devised a soup recipe for the giant cauldrons (‘famine pots’) for public distribution during An Gorta Mór – take a dozen turnips….kind of thing – was thanked by the establishment in Dublin….with a sumptuous banquet….

But back to getting souped up today. It can be the heart of a lunch, a snack, or even a dinner if you have a hearty thick soup with croutons or savoury dumplings. Making soup from scratch is of course possible but most of the time we would make it with leftovers, especially around leftover lentil dhal with other leftover veg plus perhaps additional onions, chilli or garlic, possibly vegetable water/stock, and flavourings or herbs. Most of the time we wouldn’t liquidise the soup although other times we would, partially or wholly. You can also add leftover noodles or pasta, chopped up if needed and you have it. Finely liquidised lentils can make for a really creamy soup.

However you may not have the leftovers or the time to make soup and fancy something warming. We had been able to buy some non-supermarket organic instant soups without emulsifiers before Covid but those have disappeared. We can still buy instant (dried) miso soup which is fine but a bit thin and boring if you have it too frequently.

However I was mulling [I thought that was for wine, not soup – Ed] over the theme of miso quite recently which I would have used as an ingredient in soups and stews. I realised that I could make a great instant soup – apart from the stirring! with just three ingredients – miso paste, bouillon or vegetable cubes, and nutritional yeast (e.g. Engevita, this is yeast flakes not ‘yeast extract’ Marmite-type product though you could try that too – I haven’t). The miso adds depth and nutrition, the bouillon or veggie cube gives taste, and the nutritional yeast tops it off with richness or umami. There is a bit of stirring to do with the miso paste but it is still pretty instant and no preparation is needed.

Miso and nutritional yeast may seem on the expensive side but they go a long way, and miso paste will keep a long time in the fridge. Take a dessert spoon of miso, a teaspoon of bouillon powder or a half soup cube, plus a teaspoon of the nutritional yeast and put them into your favourite mug. You can use heaped spoons or less depending on your taste. You can fill it with boiling water straight away or, it may be easier, a little boiling water until you get the miso mixed and then top it up. It may take a minute or two to get it all mixed or you will be left, as you drain the last drop of liquid into your mouth, with half solid miso at the bottom. This is a rich and satisfying ‘instant’ soup. And I have no extra charge for culinary advice. © Billy King Cuisine 2023

A Hugh presence

The death of the former Olympic medal boxer and Irish News photographer Hugh Russell has featured in a number of media and I am not going to go much into his life here, that is available elsewhere and online. Though small of stature he had a huge presence and a great smile. His best known scoop was the iconic photo of Gerry Conlon as he was just being released from his wrongful imprisonment.

Why I am mentioning his death is mainly because as a ‘demonstrator in the street’ I wanted to pay tribute to him as a friendly media presence in different situations in Belfast when we would have been wondering whether any media would turn up, and if so whether they would be interested in the cause concerned. He was always willing to chat and make suggestions for the best photographic shot, and you knew if he was there then it was likely a photo of something to do with the event would be in the paper the next day . He was only approaching retirement age when he died. I will miss his friendly presence and infectious smile on the street.

Gazing at Gaza

It is hard to wrench your gaze from Gaza and if you do look then it is heart breaking, if you don’t you feel you are ignoring terrible suffering. Some of the people of southern Israel knew terror when attacked by Hamas. The revengeful attack on Gaza by Israel is relentless and impossible to escape, creating terror on a daily basis. Those moving south in Gaza, as ordered by Israel, are still not safe. There is nowhere to go. What people can do in the West is limited but their plea publicly for a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities is important. Israel’s avowed aim to destroy Hamas is destroying Gaza and its people – half of whose population are children. Many governments in the West, including those in the USA and UK, are complicit in the destruction and death in Gaza by not pushing Israel to cease fire.

If you are looking for some facts about Gaza, at least in terms of recent history, you can do worse than see/listen to an interview with Prof Norman Finkelstein on the USA Jimmy Dore Show at https://rumble.com/v3okvw3-gaza-israel-and-the-hamas-attacks-w-prof.-norman-finkelstein.html It is long but informative – I wasn’t able to fast forward at any point, you probably need to let it run. Finkelstein’s spoken manner is a bit shouty but much of his analysis is first class – there is also some US politics at points.

I don’t apologise for ending on a ‘down’ note again. The Irish born comedian Dave Allan (born O’Mahony) had a farewell greeting of “May your God go with you”. In that vein I and we might offer ‘a prayer’ or a determined wish, secular or religious according to your orientation, “May God help us all and particularly the people of Gaza and all those affected by the curse of war.” – Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 313

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Not coining it

I confess. I am a lapsed numismatist. That doesn’t make me particularly dangerous to know, just that I used to collect coins, tokens (non-official monetary items), and medallions (non-monetary commemorative items in round form). A comparison can be drawn with philately – which may or may not get you everywhere; while the bottom has fallen out of some of the stamp collecting market now that people have other things to do with their time through gaming, streaming, TikToking and so on, there are some indications it is considered by some as retro chic and may be making a come back (I think rare stamps retained their value, others did not). Coin collecting was never as popular as stamp collecting anyway, except in Ireland and Britain around the time of currency decimalisation in 1971, so while it also may have declined it had less far to fall.

I still have retained a very modest number of coins, tokens and medallions in the form of a small exhibition on Irish history comprising a couple of dozen items and the rest I disposed off – some politically marked or ‘defaced’ coins were given to the Ulster Museum, e.g. an Irish coin stamped ‘UVF’. But I fell greatly in luck to begin with when I was a young teenager; family friends had a box full of old coins, tokens etc which had been in their possession for years and which I was given gratis, and got me well started. I never learnt their origin beyond that but I suspect they may have been rejects/throw outs from a guy living locally who did have a very valuable and world class collection of classical coins.

There was nothing particularly valuable in my collection, most were not silver or in great condition (an important point in their value) but there was lots of interest. I wasn’t trying to build up a valuable collection and in any case didn’t have the money to do so. But to hold in my hand an historical monetary token from my home town, or a political ‘Buy Irish’ medallion from the Repeal Movement in 1841 https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50632724311/in/photolist-2k9eWVn I just find absolutely amazing. Likewise to hold a coin from the Williamite war of 1688-90, Cogadh an Dá Rí (The war of the two kings), is to hold history in your hand and wonder about the fate of those who possessed such an object long ago, and, literally, whose hands it passed through.

A fascinating detail of the ‘Gunmoney’ coinage produced on James’ side in Ireland (so called because some was made from melted down old guns) is that it was minted in base metal but includes the month as well as the year in the design. The intention was that when James won (!) the coinage would be gradually redeemed in silver coinage in monthly order; instead, when William’s side was victorious the value of this ‘Gunmoney’ was devalued – a Gunmoney shilling became worth a penny, one twelfth of its face value. But turning guns into money to help finance a war is not turning swords into ploughshares.

Coins and banknotes, physical money, are endangered species because of Covid and card/phone payments and many locations refusing to take cash. However I think physical ‘money’ will stagger on for some time to come, albeit in much reduced prominence and use. There are also many social reasons why cash should continue, not least for the cash strapped who may not have access to bank cards. And there is a fascination with something which has been in endless people’s purses and pockets.

But what nonviolent or political activist could not be fascinated by the early 18th century Irish boycott of Wood’s Halfpence? https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50632799571/in/dateposted/see also https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/wood-s-halfpence-1724-1.1063593 To have one of those is to have an object of controversy from three hundred years ago in your hand, and the subject of a successful boycott a century and a half before the term ‘boycott’ was coined in Ireland (to coin a phrase…..) and entered the English language – and other languages as well, including Dutch.

Gunmen or Queen?

Loyalist loyalty in the North is a rather variable concept. It’s not that most people on the Protestant side of the house in Northern Ireland don’t identify as British – obviously they do – but there is a huge variation in what feeling or being British means to them. In his heyday Rev Ian Paisley could tell a British prime minister to stop interfering in Northern Ireland, for example, which is a rather strange image for someone identifying as strongly as he did in being British.

So it was intriguing to find an item about a mural in north Belfast where a picture of Queen Elizabeth replaced one of loyalist gunmen, and some people weren’t pleased. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sunday-life/news/hardliners-anger-as-queen-replaces-mural-of-uda-gunmen/a1342196603.html (paywall after title, photo and first sentence). “Loyalist hardliners have accused the South East Antrim (SEA) UDA of “going soft” after one of its most famous murals was replaced with an image of Queen Elizabeth II.” You can’t get more loyal to the Crown than portraying the monarch, or former monarch, and so far as I know it is not the custom for people on the island of Britain to decorate gable walls with murals of illegal gunmen. And a picture of the Queen on a gable wall in Norn Iron still strongly identifies the area as Prod and loyalist.

While disputed by some unionist commentators, I found, and find, the analysis in David Millar’s “Queen’s Rebels – Ulster Loyalism in Historical Perspective” helpful. This was published many moons ago (first edition 1978). As I remember it he portrayed unionists and loyalists as seeing themselves as having a covenant with the British Crown dating back to the Plantation of Ulster; hold ‘Ulster’ for the Crown and after that do what they like. Of course with the passage of time, and the advent of parliamentary democracy, the power of the Crown waned but loyalist allegiance was still to, their concept of, the Crown – and thus they could see themselves as loyal British subjects, and loyal to the Crown, while being intensely disloyal to the British government – and, I would say, to some of the values that British people on the island of Britain would mainly hold or (say they) subscribe to. Loyalists can try to portray themselves as misunderstood or even forgotten by inhabitants of Britain but what does that say about the reciprocity of the relationship?

I am not saying on the other side of the house that nationalist/Catholic political views are straightforward either because do they identify with a concept or a state? How are Nordies seen in De Sout? And what are the practical and financial implications of a united Ireland? How does acceptance today by many of armed struggle by the IRA in the past fit with other values they hold?

Moving forward for the North also needs people to look back, not to justify or glory in what has been done by any side but to understand the complexity and the reality of very different views. Some people have done that while others are still stuck in silos. Getting out of those silos, of all kinds, is not an easy task for any of us.

From pretty to petty – and back

Living in Norn Iron, as I do, I follow the slings and arrows of the outrageous British policies on asylum seekers and migrants. The Republic’s ‘direct provision’ system for asylum seekers is appalling too and counter-productive in helping people (who become entitled to do so) to settle. But for sheer vindictiveness the British system takes some beating.

Take the decision earlier this year, made by a British government immigration minister, to remove cartoons from the walls of of a reception centre for migrants for fear that children would feel welcomed – the walls were considered too welcoming. Repainting the walls to drab nothingness actually cost an appreciable amount of money – to make the place less welcoming to children who have probably been through quite traumatic experiences to end up there; “It later emerged that a child-friendly mural at a separate detention camp had also been painted over at a cost of £1,549.52.” This is simply inhumane and vindictive.

However many professional cartoonists weren’t taking this removal of visual signs of life and welcome lying down: “leading cartoonists have created an uplifting Welcome to Britain colouring book to be given to children arriving in the UK. The drawings reflect quintessential aspects of British culture, including the Loch Ness monster, London buses, seaside donkeys, the royal family, cake and lots of animals, including some playing football. The 62-page book has been created by the Professional Cartoonists Organisation (PCO) and will be distributed to children newly arrived in the UK via refugee charities and support groups.” Some of the most prominent British cartoonists have been involved. A second book may go on sale. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/sep/22/cartoonists-colouring-book-refugees-welcome-to-britain?CMP=share_btn_link

This is simple and simply brilliant, and a great example of building a positive alternative to inhumanity. Perhaps we can say that in drawing attention to a petty injustice they were illustrating just how possible it is to picture a brighter future through action, they didn’t mickey mouse around but were able to show that the writing was on the wall for inhumane approaches.

Saints alive

I am not sure how I end up on e-mail lists that I haven’t signed up to, at least deliberately. Is it accidental, is it someone trying to increase the size of their mailing list, have I been deliberately targetted, is it that I have inadvertently ticked something or failed to cancel an automatic inclusion on a website? I don’t know how I ended up on the mailing list for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Sometimes when this happens I hit the ‘stop sending’ button but often I let them come and ignore 95% but pick up the odd thing.

And one odd thing from the past, which I have told you about before, from the same source was a press release which obviously hadn’t been checked after the spell check – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had become Dairymaid Martin and Bishop Colm O’Reilly was now Calm O’Reilly. However a recent press release spoke about a Catholic diocesan stand at the National Ploughing Championships – an important event in the Irish rural and farming calendar, and this caught my attention.

Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin in whose diocese the Ploughing Championships was held (Co Laois this year) announced a quest (a competition?) to find Ireland’s favourite saint. Nominations could be made at the diocesan stall. Now I know there are plenty of saints to choose from, and all churches are struggling for relevance in today’s world, but I must say I found this a bit strange – a popularity contest for saints. They were, after all, living breathing humans who are remembered and venerated by some people. What could come next, Top of the Popes?

There were other religious offerings at the stall concerned, including the opportunity for meditation and reflection, and that I find appropriate. But sometimes in trying to appeal to people and find relevance we can take things too far and this particular quest I find fits into that category. And no, I don’t know who ‘won’ as the most popular saint, we will have to plough on without knowing.

Nation shall wage war against nation….

…..and they shall study war evermore…. The possibility of AI (i.e. Artificial Intelligence, not Artificial Insemination as someone like myself living in an agricultural country might think or have thought going back a few years) being used for weapons production is a scary prospect. Even the British government is worried. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/sep/25/ai-bioweapons-rishi-sunak-safety?CMP=share_btn_link Deputy UK prime minister Oliver Dowden said “Only nation states can provide reassurance that the most significant national security concerns have been allayed.” This made me think – there is possibly only one thing worse than non-state actors developing weapons through AI, and that is states, with all the resources they have at their disposal, using the results for nefarious ends. Being on the peace spectrum we don’t trust nation states with their weaponry. And the Irish government, for all its blather about commitment to disarmament, backs Irish involvement in the arms trade and cosies up to nuclear-armed NATO.

Sorry folks, that is not a very upbeat note to end on. But that’s me for now, it may be meteorological autumn but I think temperature winter arrives in October, so I wish you warmth of all kinds, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 312

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Hello again, as always summer doesn’t be long in going in, and as often happens in our neck of the woods the best (driest) weather is early on, in our case May to part of June. Although my school days are but a distant memory I hate to see the sight of school uniforms again at the end of August as the new school term starts. This isn’t because of hateful memories of school but because it broadcasts that autumn schedules are due to start, and all that busyness which has been held at least partly at bay during the summer. Time rolls inexorably on. So also on with the show.

Dropping everything

We are all prepared to drop everything should circumstances demand. It could be a crisis concerning a friend or loved one, it could be something important we have proposed to do but forgotten about until the last moment, in work it could be an urgent request from your boss to attend to something. Of course some people are more flexible than others and happy to drop everything in circumstances where others might say “Sorry, I’m not free, I have to……” Recently I was happy to drop everything to have a medical procedure I needed and was waiting for.

But as part of having that medical procedure I am not meant to bend down to the ground to pick up things for a period of time. That has been when I realise I drop everything regularly; a piece of paper or magazine, a pencil or biro, a piece of fruit or vegetable waste, a box of tissues that is sitting on the window sill, one or more of the runner beans I have been picking, some cutlery, a battery (or indeed, as happened to me recently, a battery of batteries which are for recycling). Normally if we drop something we probably don’t even notice because a swift reach and the item concerned is back where it should be.

But thankfully there is a tool which might be called a picker upper, a handled stick with a clasp at the end to grab things from the ground, similar to what street cleaners might use to pick up a single piece of rubbish. It can be quite versatile and make the difference between leaving the relevant object on the ground or, unwisely, defying medical advice to bend down and pick it up. When I currently drop something then I usually drop everything else to get my picker upper and bring the required object back into hand’s reach. Satisfaction. But I never would have believed so many things in the course of a day can end up on the ground. Even the picker upper itself.

4.5 million

I am always amazed when people look up to the US of A as a country, eulogising that whole entity, though of course it has many great and innovative people. Ireland has deep connections forged through centuries of emigration there including Presbyterian founding fathers of the US state (there were mothers too but they don’t usually get a look in with the narrative) and later Great Famine-era mass migration. But is being the most powerful country economically and militarily something to be proud of? I don’t think so, particularly when you consider the reality for many of its citizens and the political, racial and economic divisions that exist – and what US military intervention has meant for the people of the world. US democracy, such as it is, is also on a knife edge these days.

The no questions asked handing of Shannon Airport to the US military is symptomatic of the sleeveen (slíbhín) approach by the Irish government and elite to the USA, acting in a shoneen (seoinín) type way. It was as if the US can do no wrong.

This is where some research by Brown University in the USA is relevant. “The wars the United States waged and fueled in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan following September 11, 2001 caused at least 4.5 million deaths, according to a report by Brown University. Nearly a million of the people who lost their lives died in fighting, whereas some 3.6 to 3.7 million were indirect deaths, due to health and economic problems caused by the wars, such as diseases, malnutrition, and destruction of infrastructure. These were the conclusions of a study conducted by the Cost of Wars project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs………..In a separate study in 2021, Brown University’s Cost of Wars project found that the United States’ post-9/11 wars displaced at least 38 million people – more than any conflict since 1900, excluding World War II. This 2021 report noted that “38 million is a very conservative estimate. The total displaced by the U.S. post-9/11 wars could be closer to 49–60 million, which would rival World War II displacement”. See https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/57769.htm and https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2023/IndirectDeaths

4.5 million is only half a million less than the population of the Republic; all wiped out because of US military action. 4.5 million individuals, each with a name, identity, and hopes for a future, cruelly dashed. And the USA is the country that many people look up to and the Irish government facilitates its military! There is something wrong with people’s thinking, perceptions and analysis in this case. Look at the facts, folks.

Vulture fund(amental)s

Vulture funds, that unpleasant phenomenon of late capitalism, give vultures a bad name. Vulture funds serve little or no useful purpose, their aim being to turn a quick profit by selling off what they can from some enterprise, and usually giving nothing in return. The Cambridge Dictionary online gives two examples: firstly, they may take control of a failing company but “are looking for quick exits after short-term gains”, or secondly they buy a poor country’s debt and then take legal action to get the country to pay it,threatening the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.” Vultures however, the creatures that is, provide an important niche or role in the ecological cycle.

A piece in The Economist of 26th August detailed the decline in vulture numbers in India, and the dire effect on humanity there, an illustration of our interdependence. As the article (“Carrion Call”) states, “Vultures act as nature’s sanitation service”. From the 1990s, a drug used by farmers for cattle caused kidney failure and death in vultures. Rats and feral dogs picked up the pieces, so to speak, but carried diseases and are less efficient at cleaning up and pathogens in rotting remains got into water supplies. One estimate puts additional human deaths in India at 100,000 a year in the period 2000-2005 due the decline of vulture numbers.

Vultures are obviously not top of the list in anthropomorphic, cuddly terms. But human intervention in using a drug for certain animals, cattle, has had a dire effect on another animal or bird, the vulture, and this in turn has had serious effects for humans. The complexity of our interdependence is messed about with at our peril. We are not very good at learning the lessons and looking out for dangers.

A decline from 27% to 3%

Ireland is in a slightly peculiar position in relation to colonialism, being both colonised and, through some people’s participation in the expansion and running of the British Empire (including a number of my ancestors), at least a partial coloniser or co-coloniser. Though I would say, given the Irish government’s approach to US military use of Shannon airport, and desire to be part of the Big Boys (sic) in NATO, if not HATO itself, you wouldn’t always know we have been a colonised country. Of course the legacy of colonialism in the main division in Northern Ireland is also very much alive.

In Britain and elsewhere there are many people who seek to whitewash empire, portraying the British Empire, for example, as more of a British Umpire (a disinterested participant out for the good of all and arbitrating between conflicting parties) than a collection of lands subjected by military force against people’s will and held by forceful occupation. Railways are often portrayed as one benefit of colonialism but railways were introduced for the benefit of the colonisers, not the colonised, and were part of being able to control the land concerned and reap the economic benefits of ripping off the goods of the country concerned.

I sometimes quote from the New Internationalist and its unparalleled coverage of world affairs. One statistic in issue 545 for September-October 2023 stood out for me. India’s share of the global economy was 27% before being colonised by Britain; when it got its independence (shambolically and lethally organised, or disorganised, I might add) its share was 3%. To me that says it all; one of the richest countries became one of the poorest. Colonialism was systematised, daylight robbery. The result was development for the coloniser and a process of underdevelopment for the colonised. I suggest you quote that sadistic any time someone suggests or even hints that colonialism wasn’t so bad after all…… You could also study the pauperisation of Ireland over the centuries.

Another statistic which shows just how shameful colonisation was is included beside the above; in Kenya on independence (1963) there were 35 schools for 5.5 million young people. This was early on in the so-called swinging ‘sixties in Britain and meanwhile in a British colony there was the equivalent of one school for each cohort of 157,000 young people……..

There you go, or maybe there I go. The days are drawing in and autumn is upon us, the autumn equinox awaits us this month, happy autumn to you, Billy.