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, 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.

Billy King: Rites Again, 311

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Auntie Militarism

Antimilitarism’ is not a term which is understood by everyone, I have even met many Norn Iron Catholic-and-Protestant-Peace campaigners who hadn’t a clue about it. In fact militarism, in selling itself these days, probably tries to look a bit like ‘Auntie Militarism’, your favourite auntie, who is going to treat you kindly and look after you. However it is, in fact, a Wicked Warlock (the male equivalent of a witch is linguistically a very fitting semi-personification of militarism even if it scapegoats this aspect of paganism……….though in fact I don’t know if those into witchcraft use the term). [I thought a ‘warlock’ was what the Irish government was trying to get the country into, forgetting the ‘triple lock’! – Ed]

This is by way of beginning to comment on the War Resisters’ International’s recent conference in London on ‘Antimilitarist Roots’. Unfortunately I didn’t make it there but caught a couple of the plenaries online. Everything that I heard was valuable – including from Olga Karach in Belarus, Milan Sekulović in Montenegro, and Camila Rodriquez in Colombia – but what I picked to relay to you was the contribution by Israeli peace activist Sahar Vardi on militarism and green issues/climate heating.

Most of us probably know already the connection between militarism, global warming and pollution; no inclusion in national figures, huge carbon emissions, and high use of ‘forever’ chemicals, not even mentioning depleted uranium. One speaker at a Dublin Castle session of the recent Consultative Forum on International Security even spoke of how hard NATO is trying/succeeding to be green! That about a nuclear armed and interventionist military alliance. And if that isn’t greenwashing I don’t know what is. However given that a lot of military carbon emissions take place high up (air transport, bombers and fighter planes) where emissions are much slower to degrade, it can be argued that military emissions are actually a hell of a lot (sic) worse than even the established figures indicate.

I can’t do it justice but anyway, in her talk to the WRI, Sahar Vardi spoke eloquently about the links between militarism and climate change. Militarisation sets priorities in international political discourse because nothing is as important as (a narrow concept of military) ‘security’. 78% of military emissions are in the air I heard her say – I can add that this is where they are far more damaging and long lasting. She spoke about the complete connection between the two issues. There is massive carbon use in normal military behaviour and in war – and then there is massive carbon use in rebuilding. In the Vietnam war half a million hectares of land were sprayed with (carcinogen and other disease causing) Agent Orange. Her challenge to completely link militarism and climate change is a difficult but fascinating one and scary in that, as she pointed out, climate change is adding to greater militarisation (because of the perceived need to be better able to use military force in a more unstable world).

The clash of the sash

We are into ‘the marching season’ in the North and although thankfully marching/parading issues have been fairly quiet in the last few years there is the ever present danger that things will flare up again. There are both general and geographically specific issues that remain, including for unionists and Orangemen the very existence and power of the Parades Commission to regulate parades.

The Orange Order has an exhibition in Portadown on 25 years since they were stopped from parading through the Catholic Garvaghy Road. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/new-exhibition-seeks-reflection-on-legacy-of-drumcree-parade-dispute-after-25-years/a851534926.html The argument by the district master of the Orange Order that the issue should be given the same attention as the cost of living crisis seems rather OTT, though that doesn’t mean there should not be an effort to resolve the matter and he does mention ‘shared space’.

I don’t know if the concept to the “Queen’s Highway” (well, now “King’s Highway”) is still a prevalent argument but the idea behind it is that people should be able to parade anywhere they want. This was disproved by Portadown loyalists themselves. Years ago the Drumcree Faith and Justice Group, https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157717096321767 a nonviolent body on the Catholic side of the fence, applied for permission for a parade up the town and back again, in a clever move to test the waters. There were loyalist threats and the march was banned from leaving the Catholic area (at that stage, the police were responsible for decisions on parades as the Parades Commission had not been set up). By their actions loyalists quickly disproved the notion that there is a neutral “Queen’s Highway” which should be open to everyone.

Derry showed the way in relation to an agreement between residents and the Apprentice Boys of Derry (an Orange institution specifically linked to that city). A solution to the Drumcree parading issue in Portadown (the site of pitched battles in the mid- to late-1990s) can only come through negotiation with residents, and while there can be recalcitrance on all sides, the reality is one of clashing rights. Military style parading is not my style or to my liking but if that is what people want to do as a demonstration of their identity and culture, then it is up to them. But on the other side of the, literal, fence, others have the right not to be intimidated, have their noses rubbed into it in triumphalism, or be unduly disrupted. Squaring that circle can only come through mutual agreement involving a modicum of understanding and even tolerance.

Helena Desivilya Syna and Geoffrey Corry’s book “Track III Actions”, mentioned in the news section of the last issue, has Brendan McAllister (who sadly died last December) writing on involvement with mediating Drumcree 1995-99, and Michael Doherty on the process for arriving at an agreement between the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Bogside Residents Association regarding the former’s parading in Derry. I haven’t read these pieces yet but am looking forward to giving them some undivided attention.

No to NATO, No to drones

Great rock videos from US based Mistahi on No to NATO can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kwc-XBjl1tc and on Killer Drones at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd1G0sUntcw

Selling your soul on the streets

The Headitor has been reminiscing about the days of Dawn magazine (1974-85) which he was involved with. It was widely distributed – see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/20321310120/in/album-72157609617432905/ – but also sold at events and in the street.

The most successful street selling came during the 1976 Peace People Shankill rally; a small team of 3 or 4 people sold over 400 copies in a couple of hours. The magazine had been going for a couple of years at that stage, and some of those involved had already been peace activists for longer, so it was a bit disconcerting to be told by a few people (just a few) on the rally that they (the Dawn sellers) were “not in the peace movement proper” – i.e. not on board the Peace People vehicle though in fact a member of Dawn worked on some early editions of the Peace People publication “Peace by Peace”.

However it is other altercations that the Headitor remembers better. Selling the magazine on the street outside the Europa Hotel in Belfast circa 1980 during a peace event inside, he was checked out by a regular passing police patrol. The security building (this was Troubles Belfast) to go through into the hotel was a prefab in front and someone there objected to having the selling of magazines outside and called the police. So a second police detail arrived and a sergeant questioned him for around ten minutes before moving on. However, and inexplicably, the police sergeant told him just before he went that he had been trying to get him to say something which would have justified pulling him in, i.e. arresting him. If that was what he was trying to do, why did he say so? And if it was trying to award brownie points for withstanding his questioning, surely that made his behaviour (the police sergeant) look bad? Strange. Maybe ‘image’ was the last thing on the police sergeant’s mind in those days.

Another time it was selling Dawn magazine (No.54, February 1980) outside a Corrymeela sale or fundraising event which was taking place in the Whitla Hall at Queen’s University Belfast. The cover of the issue had the words ‘Corrymeela’ and ‘H-Blocks’ on the cover. The Corrymeela feature was an interview with John Morrow and Ray Davey, founder of Corrymeela, when the former took over the leadership of Corrymeela from the latter. The article on H-Blocks was written by Una O’Higgins O’Malley, a leading figure in Glencree, the nearest equivalent in the Republic to Corrymeela in the North. Anyway, a woman came out of the event, saw the two words “Corrymeela” and “H-Blocks” and mistakenly put two and two together into two hundred and twenty-two: “We don’t like Corrymeela being linked with H-Blocks” she said as she moved past. The seller followed her for a few metres across the pavement trying to explain that they weren’t being linked, and the article on H-Blocks was written by a prominent peace activist. She wasn’t having any of it and told the male seller, “If you follow me any more I will have you taken in for molesting me”. Ouch.

Intending to sell Dawn outside St Anne’s Cathedral, again in 1980 or just after, while a service for reconciliation was happening, out of courtesy he phoned the dean of St Anne’s – he was not obliged to inform anyone. He wasn’t going to be on Cathedral property, and the magazine was rather in accord with the theme of the service inside. The seller was also unpaid and giving up time to promote a publication which might be of interest to those attending. However in the phone call the dean was not in listening mode, accused him of being a money changer in the temple, and slammed down the phone. A letter of complaint about this unreasonable behaviour, and pointing out that he himself was from a Church of Ireland background, brought no reply and no apology. This was not a very good response from the guy who was the first ‘Black Santa’ in Belfast (Christmas sit out for charity). But then St Anne’s also has a substantial British Army memorial chapel or wing (with its massive Celtic cross – visible on the outside – which seems extreme cultural appropriation on both religious and cultural grounds).

Prejudice comes in various forms and is not limited to any one section of society, and sometimes with ‘friends’ like those…. But with technological change, not having to sell a magazine on the streets has its advantages in not being abused – today abuse has however also moved online, big time, and given a whole field for vile vitriol.

Those of you who are not gardeners probably get fed up with my gardening references but this year, with a long hot spell in May-June, has brought about the earliest courgettes ever in our garden, a week or ten days earlier than ever before (picking courgettes ten days before the end of June). I start them out inside in a reasonable size pot so their growth isn’t stunted waiting to be put outside, and then plant them out in well composted and organically-fertilised ground and cover them with a cloche until they are strong enough to withstand the wind and needing to spread their wings/leaves.

However I am telling you this not to illustrate my gardening prowess (gardening disasters and mishaps could be shared too) but in terms of global warming. And the fact the seas around Ireland are several degrees warmer than they should be at this time of year is also scary, for the creatures of all kinds who live there but also for us. Ireland may not be as badly affected by global heating as others but there will be severe repercussions in storms, rain and drought, and even temperature drops if the Gulf Stream stops or slows up more.

But, in keeping with (my) tradition, in wishing you Happy Holliers and the hope that you are able to get your head showered over the summer, I will quote from Christy Moore’s ‘Lisdoonvarna’ on what holidays are about: “When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there”. Anyway, I hope you get your break and I’ll see you in September….. Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, NN 310

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello, and I hope you have been enjoying the recent sunshine, that can certainly boost our spirits as well as our vitamin D.

Gardening and the art of compromise

A recent editorial in this e-steamed [e-streamed? – Ed] publication was on The Art and Skill of Compromise. But I like to take a broader interpretation of things than expressed there, and a more ‘catholic’, i.e. universal interpretation [Lateran thinking??? – Ed]. So I wanted to look at gardening and the art of compromise.

You know the expression or aphorism ‘The best is the enemy of the good’. I take this to imply that if you get obsessed with perfection and achieving perfection you can fall by the wayside trying to achieve the unachievable – aside from everything else you ignore in life to get to that perfection, you actually become rather more imperfect. Like any aphorism you can of course have exceptions or the reverse being true in certain circumstances.

I recognise gardening is not a hobby that many enjoy, but I have stressed before that if you have space for a couple of window boxes or tubs then you can still do wonders and develop your green – and black – fingers. But particularly at this time of year in gardening you have to understand, or quickly learn, the art of compromise in relation to Uninvited Plants, i.e. weeds. Getting obsessive about removing weeds is pointless, you have to live with them, manage them, e.g. remove annual weeds or their seed heads before they do seed, and do the minimum with any perennial weeds to keep them advancing to take control. And betimes you may even get welcome uninvited guests.

Learning to work with nature and the cycle of different plants, desired (flowers, vegetables) and undesired (weeds) is an important part of it. If you have the space or the inclination you can of course go wild and rewild a patch, allowing nettles to serve butterflies, or dandelions to provide early nectar for insects (though you need to be very tolerant to allow dandelions to grow anywhere as they have perfected the art of aerial spreading). In our small patch of grass, calling it a ‘lawn’ would be an overstatement, I tolerate grass, clover and daisies but dig out creeping buttercups and dandelions because they can take over, but everyone can find their own tolerance level.

Gardening is a compromise, finding what you can do in the time you have to do it and not expecting perfect results. I think I have already written on Gardening and Mindfulness since I find picking soft fruit can be an exercise in mindfulness and entering a different state of mind – taking time to enjoy it as a process and not rushing it. [What’s next? ‘Gardening and the art of car maintenance’? – Ed] [Don’t tempt me – Billy]

The right to peaceful arrest

It is hard to know where to place our nearest neighbours, on another western European island, these days in terms of their politics. While it does look like the Tories will be replaced by a New New Labour government in the not too distant future (the Tories could struggle on to January 2025 unless the prime minister decides the omens are as good as it gets and they call an earlier election -Turkeys bringing Christmas forward).

But the current lot are a pretty right wing bunch. Its not that we don’t have our right wingers in both jurisdictions on this island (and I am not talking rugby or football here) but the manifestations of right wingedness in Britain are quite singular, and Labour seems to have lost any radicalism it had. The coronation of King Charles in May showed that protesters had the right of peaceful arrest (forget the right to peaceful protest) – and the police had been handed new powers immediately before the Corona-tion. And the government desire to despatch asylum seekers, entitled to protection in international law, to Rwanda is beyond both the realms of reason and any sense of human rights. The ‘spy cops’ revelations have shown actions by the state which one might have expected of the Stasi in communist East Germany.

Low tolerance has been shown for dissent from the ‘official’ Western line on fighting Russia in Ukraine including threats against a very well known London venue who cancelled a booked event [It is however to be noted that this isn’t too different to Ireland where a similar happening has taken place in Galway in regard to the defence of Irish neutrality, see News section in this issue – Ed].

Human rights in Britain are now openly discussed with reference to Hungary. There are of course proud and ancient traditions of dissent, work for human and economic rights, and peace in Britain, sometimes breaking through to the mainstream, but the going is currently tough. And it was both anachronistic and ironic to see people from the unionist tradition at a gathering in Londonderry (the name they would sometimes use, not always) celebrating the coronation of King Charles by singing ‘Rule Britannia’ when it is often Britannia who waives the rules and certainly does not rule the waves any more. Interestingly, a Belfast Telegraph poll showed just 42% of people in Norn Iron support the monarchy, the rest being opposed to it or indifferent.

Schadenfreude (A1 for AI)

I must say I felt a bit of the above when the ‘paper of record’ the Irish Times got caught in an AI generated text scam https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2023/05/14/a-message-from-the-editor/ – unfortunately they removed the original article which I had read at the time it was published so I can’t give you a link to it (the public service might have been to leave it up with clear information about its origin). Purporting to be from a Latin American woman living in Ireland, it more or less accused Irish women who use fake tan of being racist, in trying to project themselves as something they were not. It included a ‘photo’ of the purported author.

What did I make of the article and issue raised at the time (before it was revealed as a scam)? Well, one to ponder, not excessively, but an issue that might emerge more and as a white man I was aware it could be more of an issue for others. I did think the picture of ‘the author’ looked slightly strange but I couldn’t put a finger on it.

It was a hoax. Despite interaction with the Irish Times mentioned in the link above, there was no such woman and most of the text was AI generated – though apparently the issue has arisen elsewhere in Irish media.

The most important point is that if experienced journalists can be fooled by AI text and ‘photo’ (well, the text was tweaked by human hands a bit) then any of us can. Once bitten, twice shy, but there will likely be lots more people taken in by such scams in future. The biggest danger of course is where it is used for nefarious and possibly racist ends. You can’t believe things you read/hear/see anyway; now perhaps you have to await corroboration (a facility particularly available in the foothills of the Blue Stacks in Donegal where the Corabber river runs for about 8 kms down towards Lough Eske, the “Corabber 8’. That title, ‘Corabber 8’, is fictitious or just invented by me but the actual distance the river travels is something like that).

Though it is undoubtedly a serious issue I did think they could also have seen a slightly humorous side to it – that a mere student (supposedly) had got one over on them. They could have started off “We were done” before going on to look at the serious side of it. Oh well, I thought it had a lighter side to it along with the dark.

Oh, and a long long long [so long – Ed] time ago New Internationalist magazine produced an image juxtaposing commercial products from the two ends of the skin colour spectrum; a skin lightening product (which are usually quite dangerous) for people with black or brown skin to become ‘whiter’ (pinker?) and skin tanning lotion for those with white skin wanting to look more ‘glamorous’. Obviously there are all sorts of issues involved here including racism, the desire to look well or prosperous, and so on. But I think I prefer us all to keep our natural skin colour even if for most Irish people that is a lighter shade of pale.

Growth and sloth

Speaking of the Irish Times, I usually read David McWilliams’ Colm in the Saturday edition. He is the guy/economist who predicted a Hard Landing would come at the end of the Celtic Tiger and Birdie Aheron, then Taoiseach, told him what he should do in colourful and very violent language. Of course, as has been well noted, McWilliams was right and it was Aheron who was away with the birds, and he, like Icarus, contributed significantly to a Hard Landing.

However none of us are right on everything [Speak for yourself…… – Ed] and McWilliams seems to be unfortunately wedded to a very outdated concept of growth. Take his Colm of 13th May 2023 where he talks about what use will be made of the vast sums currently generated from multinationals in the Free Expensive State. He is quite right that the money, not a ‘windfall’ as he points out because it is not a one off, should not simply be salted away (the word ‘salary’ derives from being paid in salt). He proposes that it should be used “to create a start-up fund for young people rather than a pension fund for old people” and that this would then generate more growth and wealth.

While there is nothing wrong with this idea in principle, and using some money for this might even be A Good Idea, he misses points in relation to growth. We cannot – as we currently do – keep using more resources than the earth can sustain, and in Ireland ‘we’ (in general, obviously not everyone) have a rather unfair share. Of course there is poverty and obviously we want successful Irish businesses – but what kind, using what resources? And what about the redistribution of wealth which is a essential part of going green?

But the transfer to green energy and less energy use in total seems most important. Surely most of the money should be invested in much faster transition to being a green society – now that would really be an investment in the future bringing not only benefits for Ireland but for the world, including lower financial costs for families and society in the future.

War heroes and zeros

While there are ‘rules’ or laws of war, the fact is that in the heat of battle but also in the cold, calculating quiet in war outside of that, all sides will commit atrocities – that could be stated to be a ‘rule’ of war. Of course some countries and armies may be much more disciplined in regard to respecting the ‘rules’ – and some will pay deliberately no attention whatsoever or be so lax as amount to the same thing. It is in the nature of war that these ‘rules’ will sometimes take a back seat to cruelty, revenge, machismo, power and so on. You can of course say the individual soldier is to blame but I think far greater blame lies with those who sent ‘him’ (in 99.something% of cases it is a ‘him’) and who failed to control what happened.

These thoughts were occasioned by the case involving an Australian ‘war hero’ who was accused by newspapers of perpetuating atrocities in Afghanistan and, very unwisely for him, took a libel action, bringing the whole story to much wider attention. It is the old ‘Oscar Wilde’ failing. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-65717684 After a very lengthy case the court decided that the former soldier did murder unarmed civilians, as alleged by the newspapers concerned, and the complainant lost his defamation case and resultantly faces crippling legal bills.

This reminded me of a passage in a book by Diana Francis that “Maybe one of the reasons we do not radically review the realities of war is that those realities are unbearable to contemplate and almost impossible to imagine.” (in “Rethinking War and Peace”, Pluto Press, 2004, page 46).

And it is amazing how people get off the hook. Mass killer Henry Kissinger reached the age of 100 recently and the only references to his mass murder and culpability in coups and repression in a lengthy four page interview article in the Economist (Econo-missed/mist?) of 20th May 2023 was when it lightly referenced that “Mr Kissinger is reviled by many as a warmonger for his part in the Vietnam war, but he considers the avoidance of conflict between great powers as the focus of his life’s work.” Ah, so that’s why he secretly bombed the hell (sic) out of Cambodia, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leading to the nihilist brutality of Pol Pot, and why he was involved in overthrowing the democratically elected leader of Chile, Salvador Allende, to be replaced by cruel dictator Augusto Pinochet. For another take on Kissinger, look to Mother Jones magazine (named of course after remarkable Cork woman and USA labour activist Mary Harris/Jones) https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2023/05/henry-kissinger-at-100-still-a-war-criminal/

Maybe that is a bit sombre a note to end on. How about I mention the Longest Day, summer solstice, happens this month and then its is downhill to winter? [You are a joy – Ed] Anyway, summer is here so get out your swimming gear/raincoat/midge cream/sun lotion/Orange sash*/passport because of sashes* (*all denominations catered for in Norn Iron). See you in July, aye, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, NN 309

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Welcome again, my friends [Surely ‘friends’ should be singular? Ed] [You are being singularly difficult, you thran thing, you – Billy] to my May musings, some of which may amuse you. [Or belong in a museum? – Ed] Well, spring is now well on and I have often said before how ‘honesty is the best policy’ – I have loads of both white and mauve specimens of honesty in flower, thankfully, to give colour after the daffodils faded away. It is almost time to put delicate specimens of plants outside but in the cut and thrust of political and peace life you can’t be too delicate or you would never get out…..

Speaking of which, I thought the best humorous take on the Good Friday Agreement love in was the word bubble in Phoenix magazine showing a picture of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern where they are saying “Give peace a chancer”. I take that as a general comment on their machinations rather than specifically about the GFA which they did put some effort into, particularly Bertie who journeyed north immediately after his mother’s funeral to try to contribute, so credit where credit is due (and Bertie has a lot of other debits where debits are due).

Who fears to speak of ‘98?

Well, it is amazing to see 1998 and The Good Friedegg/Belfast Bap Agreement rendered as “’98” when “’98” to me certainly means 1798. But what is a couple of centuries between friends? There are however some people who still fear to speak of 1998 because that agreement has never been fully implemented and the stop-start-stop nature of powersharing/carve-up is a sorry tale of missed opportunities to take Norn Iron in a more positive direction.

Of course 1798 led to the 1801 Act of Union (1st January 1801 so obviously set up in 1800) which subjugated Ireland in a different way to being a subordinate separate kingdom, incorporating it into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; with the island of Britain having at that time slightly more than twice the number of people, ‘democracy’ was in sort supply. As has been mentioned in these pages recently, the Irish Parliament voted itself out of existence because of bribery and pressure by various arms of the British government (the same method had been used to bring about the union with Scotland previously) so for unionists to uphold anything to do with the Act of Union is, to me anyway, a bit bizarre. You can see where they are coming from but the details don’t stand up to any kind of democratic scrutiny, and the promises and expectations of fair treatment for Ireland were unmet.

The picture of the bringing about of the Act of Union is, however, not all bribery and corruption as https://www.historyireland.com/an-act-of-power-corruption/ reveals. Nevertheless to call it in any way ‘democratic’ is stretching language a bit far.

Coronation military fest

As you may know if you are a regular reader of this Colm I am not a royalist for a variety of reasons. But one of those reasons, which has been expressed in these pages, is the tie up between the British royal family and the military. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral was 95% a military pageant; King Charles’ coronation will be likewise (“the largest military ceremonial operation in 70 years” – News Letter). Military pageantry may be stirring for some while for me it stirs memories of war and a whole variety of other things including that militarism is the first refuge of untrammelled state power and, in the British context, a symbol of class and economic inequality (the military being used to make some part of the establishment look good when its policies are threadbare).

There will be 6,000 armed forces personnel involved in King Charles’ coronation event. To what end? To add military clout to religious clout bestowing je ne sais quoi mais vraiment rien on the new monarch. The military aspect alone – and royal family members falling over due to the weight of medals they have been given for doing nothing – makes me reject it as a spectacle. When the organs of the state do so much to inculcate militarism is it any wonder people in general, of all sorts and beliefs, decide violence is the way to go and get things done?

A sinking feeling

Ruby Wax waxed strongly recently on a visit to the Titanic Museum and hotel in Belfast labelling it as macabre and said that she was left shaking and traumatised as a result. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/news/comedian-ruby-wax-brands-belfast-titanic-experience-traumatic/328373932.html She wondered whether there are interactive rides at other disasters.

Various people attacked her but I sympathise. The Titanic story is obviously BIG but there is something a tad strange about such a successful visitor attraction being created around a disaster (“Come to Sarajevo where the First World War started – Experience the moment crown prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated” ?). If the Titanic had lived out its expected working life ploughing the seas across the Atlantic then the ship would be remembered as a luxury liner but only as one of many ships built in Belfast and primarily by aficionados of historic ships – and there would certainly be no Belfast visitor experience about it.

Of course all human life is there in the story – “Man’s pride can be his own downfall” as Johnny McEvoy sings in the best song about the disaster (you can word search his name and “The ballad of John Williams” but I suggest you choose his original video which is wonderfully anachronistic – cheaper that way – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOX5wIeKEcw ) that never even utters the name ‘Titanic’.

You can of course buy Belfast T-shirts emblazoned with “She was all right when she left here”. But she wasn’t OK when she left Belfast and this was nothing to do with the workers who built it. There weren’t enough lifeboats because the company wanted more first class promenade space; the rivets used were the ‘best’ which were inferior to ‘best best’; the hull and bulkhead design was deficient in relation to possible flooding making the ship unstable if the outer shell was breached below the water line; a fire in coal bunkers may have weakened the hull. It is a sad, sad story of pride coming before the downfall that Johnny McEvoy sings about, and I guess it is the contrast between the hype and the reality of what happened which has made the story so compelling and such a draw. But whether you want to indulge in Titanicitis (enthralment about the Titanic and its stories) is up to yourself.

Unionist unity unties unctuous ultimatums

Understanding unionism in all its forms in Norn Iron is a difficult task, even for commentators from within that broad tradition – and calls for unionist unity can be a) a call to keep them’uns out (the same can apply on the republican side) and b) an attempt at a sectarian roll call. The DUP has made some cataclysmacly bad strategic decisions in recent years which has contributed significantly to the current situation of there being something of an economic border in the Irish sea between Norn Iron and Britain, and a Norn Iron budget which is reducing rapidly at the rate of inflation. However we do need to understand the unionist minds (not one mind, mind). A good example of this came recently in a post by ‘Choyaa’ on the Norn Iron political website Slugger O’Toole (no relation to Fintan!). It is at https://sluggerotoole.com/2023/04/16/searching-for-the-holy-grail-of-unionist-unity/ written by Fermanagh unionist Choyaa.

His account is a critical but also nuanced one from within. “As a consequence of internal divisions and warring factions, Unionism has suffered, the bloc has shrunk, it’s continually on the back foot and there are endless fears about further splits. A movement whose core objective is to maintain the Union with Great Britain but cannot maintain any form of union with itself is an irony not lost on many….At every big decision in Northern Ireland’s history, Unionism has found itself split, isolated, or both, and each time the UK government has dismissed Unionist opposition. ”

Even the fundamentals are problematic within Unionism with so many having a different interpretation of what a Unionist is leading to the term “real Unionist” being bandied about, but what exactly is a real Unionist? Is it enough that someone votes to remain as part of the UK on referendum day, or should there be a core set of values that Unionists subscribe to? Many people within the “Other” bloc don’t want to be labelled a Unionist due to some of the connotations it conjures up, whilst others for the same reason prefer the term “Pro-Union”, this opens the possibility for a rebranding within Unionism along with some modernisation. ……”

Developing a coordinated approach within Unionism that can produce a plan to not only make Unionism an attractive option but the Union with Great Britain should be central to Unionist thinking. Ending the infighting (not the debates/introspection) and selling a vision of Unionism and Northern Ireland that is positive and attractive is a difficult ask, it’s much easier to remain at that crossroads dithering, squabbling and slowly dying. …” However I don’t expect unionist unity any time soon while on the other side of the fence the only unity is coming from the ongoing march of the Sinners (with a pronounced ‘h’ after the ‘S’!) and the ongoing electoral decline of the SDLP.

A positive future for Norn Iron, in a United Kingdom or an incipient United Ireland, needs a confident unionism which can negotiate for the future and what role and status they will have. Political unionism is no longer in an arithmetic majority though the North is far from 50% +1 voting for a united Ireland at this point in time.

Richard Deats didn’t accept defeats

Richard Deats was a longtime peace activist in the USA who worked for the FOR/Fellowship of Reconciliation there for three decades, with a long activist history before that. He died in April 2021, aged 89. A word search will throw up more about his life and work which was significant both in the USA and internationally. However why I am mentioning him here in particular is because I wanted to quote a few stories or jokes from his 1994 book “How to keep laughing – even though you’ve considered the facts” – I’m not not sure where I got the book but as it was published by FOR-USA it might have been from Richard himself at some international peace event.

Some of the entries are a bit US-specific and some are older than the hills [Rather like your attempts at humour then so you have something in common – Ed]. But, as the title might imply, if you didn’t laugh you’d cry, and we could do a lot of crying so laughing is a better option. Many of the stories in the book aren’t to do with peace or even politics but here are a few to lighten your day, a slight majority in my selection have turned out to be religious –

Regarding the USA’s involvements abroad, “Syndicated columnist Dave Barry defines the Monroe Doctrine as having three parts:

1) Other nations are not allowed to mess around with the internal affairs of nations in this hemisphere.

2) But we are.

3) Ha, ha, ha.” Many’s a true word was spoken in jest.

John Kenneth Galbraith referred to 1980s Reaganomics as ‘horse and sparrow” economics: the idea that if you just give enough oats to horses, some will be discharged on the roads for the sparrows.” There is a lot of this approach about.

Chant of a gathering of liberals:

What do we want?”

Gradual change!”

When do we want it?”

In due course.” “

And one of the best religious jokes: “A Zen disciple goes up to a hot-dog vendor in New York City’s Central Park and says, “Make me one with everything.” “

But my favourite story about an evangelist has to do with the time Billy Graham preached in Edinburgh, Scotland at the height of the Cold War when there were great fears about nuclear war. Lord George MacLeod, Moderator of the Church of Scotland and IFOR President, went up to Graham during a reception and said, “Billy, what do you think of nuclear weapons?” Replied Graham, “Well, I am an evangelist and my job is to lead people to Christ. Once they have been saved, then they will know how to deal with questions like that.” “Well, Billy,” said MacLeod, “you’ve been saved. What do you think of nuclear weapons?”

Once I received a letter asking if the Fellowship of Reconciliation was a non-prophet organization.”

And a final and old one: “A Philadelphia rabbi was asked if he knew that many of his members had become Quakers. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “some of my best Jews are Friends.”

Meanwhile an esteemed (e-steamed?) colleague in the peace movement has suggested that we should have a regular feature entitled ‘Negotiating Conflict’ to be written by P. Steele. [I had to steel myself not to groan – Ed] [Blame him, not me, I am just repeating it for pun-ishment – Billy]. With that thought I bid you a fond farewell until next month’s instalment though maybe in-stall-ment is reserved for Stormont, I don’t know….Billy [At which point there is a general collapse of readers – Ed] l

Billy King: Rites Again, NN 308

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello again. ‘April showers bring forth May flowers’ perhaps but April is on average the driest month in Ireland – so get out there while you can before the monsoon season soon appears in the summer.

Scamming using scams

There are a million and one varieties of scamming and fraud, and most are facilitated by remote communication and online financial transactions. You still can get the occasional ‘Nigerian prince/daughter of a dictator/unclaimed bank account’ type of email but most fraud has moved on to more sophisticated ruses.

However a new scam that came through my virtual letterbox in the last month concerned the alleged distribution of assets which had been retrieved from scams. Now why the ‘open’ distribution by email of such ill-gotten gains would be used as opposed to these assets going back to the victims was obviously not explained (or being used for charitable purposes where the victims could not be established). But actually mentioning scams in an attempt to scam people is a new and audacious move, I certainly hope it doesn’t work but who knows, it only takes one in a million and the scamster has a profit and a damn scam scam wham.

Letting out a whoop

I was outside in lake and hill land in Donegal when I heard an unmistakeable sound – Whooper Swans. As would be normal in flight, I heard them before I saw them and there were about thirty of them flying north in three V formations, two formations about the same size and one slightly smaller. It was very impressive and it being mid-March they were on the move, whether heading directly to Iceland or not.

The last survey done of Whooper Swans (2020) estimated that the population in Ireland in the winter was nearly 20,000, an increase from the previous survey and an indication that conditions are good for them in Ireland and in Iceland where there migrate to in the warmer half of the year. So I had just seen probably 0.15% of Ireland’s Whooper Swans in flight together. It is great – and unusual in the current era – to see some wildlife having a stable or even increasing population.

The same survey indicated only a handful of the slightly smaller Bewick’s Swans were in Ireland because with climate change they don’t need to journey so far in winter from Arctic Russia where they nest.

Before the advent of hot air balloons, and even more before human fixed wing flight, humanity had longed to fly. Flying was for the birds but humans wanted to emulate that. For many people now, flying is just a fast bus with wings. While some people have no choice but fly, for work or to see loved ones, many of us can choose whether we fly or not. Given the high environmental cost of flying, not just the amount of emissions but the fact that most take place a long way above the earth where they are slower to break down, we need to avoid flying when possible, certainly until the fossil fuel link is broken. And helicopter and private airplane flights, except perhaps for very light aircraft, should be banned except for emergency services. Once again flying should be for the birds and we can settle for marvelling at their ability and agility.

Shannon military airport

OK, he said “semi-military airport” but it still means the (US) military is big there at Shannon Airport. It was RTE Radio 1 on 14/3/2 at about 9.05 am, and Oliver Callan was standing in as presenter for Ryan Tubridy (he who is about to pass on the baton by being the late presenter of the Late Late Show).

The context was President Biden’s forthcoming visit to Ireland and I presume the remarks were scripted but in talking about the different places Biden could arrive at, Callan mentioned the US connection with Shannon, he said it was a “semi-military airport at this stage”. Many’s a true word is spoken when talking about something else (Biden coming). Shannon Warport it is, and an unofficial US base in effect. And the Irish authorities never check what is coming through. The history of course includes involvement in renditions but the biggest part of it is the day-to-day facilitation by the Irish state of the US American war machine. It is not just a crying shame but a dying shame – for many in Iraq and elsewhere. Two-faced doesn’t come into it, those who control the state have, in that Belfast expression, “more faces than the Albert Clock”. As always you can check out the US military doings, and peace resistance to same, at the Shannonwtach website at www.shannonwatch.org

On the duty…

of civil disobedience…. Interesting and thoughtful piece by Joe Humphreys in The Irish Times of 23/3/23 https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/2023/03/23/the-enoch-burke-saga-and-the-limits-of-civil-disobedience/ on civil disobedience and Enoch Burke’s struggle against the school he taught in and the state. If you don’t know who Enoch Burke is then a word search should throw up more than you want…….He has certainly been courting publicity. [Oh dear, punnets again – Ed]

I would make a number of qualifications to Joe Humphreys’ coverage. Yes, I agree that religious belief doesn’t give you any additional rights to be civilly disobedient, even if it can provide a particular motivation. But while being public in your disobedience is appropriate in many societies it is also much more difficult, if not suicidal, in other societies which are fascist or authoritarian; in the case of the latter, hidden disobedience is advised, at least until enough momentum has been built up to go public – and there will still be a very high risk there (think Iran currently). The same could apply within ‘tight ship’ business or other organisations, even government departments, where whistleblowing is tantamount to treason; resigning is of course an option but then you may be less well placed to draw attention to abuses.

He also quotes Prof Kimberley Brownlee saying that those who practise civil disobedience “are not revolutionaries”. Well, it depends what you mean by ‘revolutionary’. That particular word is used and abused. There is often a misunderstanding that to be revolutionary you have to be violent but revolutionary violence often ends up instituting a new regime which is worse than the first. Those practising civil disobedience may or may not be ‘revolutionaries’ – people proposing a radically different society – though how far they get with change can depend on many factors.

Nonviolent activists would argue that nonviolent civil disobedience is more radical and far-changing than violent – and the conclusions of Chenoweth and Stephan’s study of social change movements from the start of the 20th century would back that up. Being ‘revolutionary’ should not necessarily mean drastic and sudden change, by whatever means, but rather change which is fundamental and deep; it can be ‘revolution by evolution’, i.e. ongoing commitment to radical change, step by step.

Humphreys’ article is a useful one and he concludes appropriately with a quote from Henry David Thoreau which ends “What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” And I say ‘amen’ to that (religious or otherwise).

Peace studies and war studies

A report on a safeguarding investigation regarding a Catholic priest in a town in Norn Iron https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/co-tyrone-priest-on-leave-while-safeguarding-allegation-is-investigated/2027346995.html revealed that while a teacher at a Catholic boys grammar school in a town in the west of the North he had set up a “Peace Studies class” between his school and the Protestant boys’ grammar school “aimed at fostering good relations “ between the schools and this has continued for several decades.

However the report goes on to say “Over the years the Peace Studies class has seen pupils of both schools undertake collaborative research into the First World War, where they learned how Catholics and Protestants fought side by side, and marked the centenaries of both the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising.” Um, I don’t know anything more about the approach taken but I can safely say that studying wars and violence is unlikely to be ‘peace studies’ but rather ‘war studies’ – unless of course the approach was ‘How could this war have been avoided?’ (and there is no indication of that in the report but I am ignorant of the details). The fact it is bringing young people together across a divide might make it ‘good relations’ work but not ‘peace studies’; bringing people together like this can be very positive, this being situated in a residentially and educationally divided society, but how it is done and what it does also matters.

There has been a lot of work in the North and indeed on the whole island in reclaiming the lost and hidden stories of Catholic involvement in the British armed forces in both world wars. It is good to do that. No stories should be left untold. But this has usually happened at the cost of being uncritical of the wars in question and how they came to happen (and the Second World War was a direct result of the outcomes of the First World War which stemmed directly from imperial and imperialist rivalries). This all risks inculcating violence at a higher level than the sectarian.

Calling something ‘peace studies’ does not mean it is that.

Salad days

I gave up on growing lettuce a long time ago, slugs like it too much and cutting open a lettuce full of wee slugs is not what you want when preparing your meal. As an organic grower I only use beer in jam jars to trap slugs and snails – they don’t have a central nervous system so I hope it isn’t too bad a way to depart this life. Instead we more than get by with rocket, land cress, green in snow (it was totally unphased by the 10 days freeze up in December…), and red veined sorrel which is perpetual. The red veined sorrel adds a great bit of colour to the plate. Someone gave me perpetual (‘wall’) rocket last year so I am experimenting growing that but I don’t mind making about three sowings in the year of rocket and land cress.

I have been known to inscribe a water barrel (no ifs or butts? – Ed) in a peace camp garden with the phrase “Lettuce work for peas” however. If you have tasty leaves in your salad you don’t need a lot more beyond a dressing but we grow a varieties of chives and Welsh onions (which are like thick scallions only you leave the bulb in the ground to sprout more green stems), fennel, lovage, tarragon and occasionally other herbs for salad use (and basil if it grows for me indoors – outdoors it just gets eaten by said slugs).

All of these can be grown in tubs or window boxes – and red veined sorrel is reasonably decorative though there is a period when it goes to seed in the summer and you can’t use it. I will be trying to do a good sowing of land cress and green in snow come mid- to late- August for winter and/or early spring use – I think I enjoy fresh salads most in the springtime when they, or maybe me, feels full of the joys of spring and they feel fresh and new. It is easy to save the seed of these plants too – but you need to leave them in your soil or growing medium until well after their flowering and the seeds are fully formed.

Of course other kinds of salads than green leaves are great too, including the classic Waldorf, and it is amazing the salad you can make with some leftover veg or even a tin of chick peas. Maybe add some croutons on top of a leaf salad though and you have the makings of a meal [is that making a meal of it? – Ed].

I’m always sad to see the decline and fall of daffodils, I think it is because they are the first big burst of colour in the year and harbingers of warmer days. The mid- and late-flowering ones are still bright in our neck of the woods but not for much longer. Spring draws on.

That’s me until after May Day though the way the planet is going it perhaps, tragically, should be mayday. In the mean time take care of each other and our wee planet. Speaking of which I was sad to learn of the death in March of Sr Catherine Brennan SSL who was a founder and leading light of Eco Congregation Ireland, the Christian churches’ network on ecological issues; she was a lovely woman and a bundle of energy. May she rest in green and tranquil peace. – Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 307

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hell o again, writing that reminds me of the story about the church bulletin which mentioned that a meeting would be gin with a prayer. Anyway, on with the show.

They haven’t gone away (unfortunately)

The attempted killing of a senior PSNI detective in Omagh, and the very serious, critical, injuries he received, are an unpleasant reminder that paramilitaries have not left the stage in Northern Ireland, they are still waiting in the wings. This was presumably a very targeted murder attempt in that he had probably been the senior officer investigating some of the comrades of those who attempted the killing. He was not only an easy target – putting footballs away after being involved in regular training of young lads in football – but it was an attack on someone who was involved in youth work and sports training in his spare time.

Republican paramilitaries who reject the Good Friday Agreement may be small but they still have some capacity to hit hard, and if they had had ‘more luck’ in other operations then the injury or death count could be larger. Loyalist paramilitaries however have a larger ‘on the ground’ presence in some Protestant working class areas, and a larger involvement in illegal activities such as drug supply and dealing. Twenty-five years after the GFA they are still a feature of life.

While various programmes have tried to help paramilitaries move on, and most have, the reality is that paramilitarism is still a feature in Northern Ireland, and the return of paramilitarism on a greater scale an even bigger threat if the wind blew the wrong way. It strikes me that part of what provides self justification for them is the way that past violence on ‘their’ side (republican, loyalist and state) is justified. But another reason is the lack of understanding of the possibilities of nonviolent struggle – which is where us peace activists come in. However it is uphill all the way when so much effort is put into inculcating violence and the military on a larger scale – e.g. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral was basically one massive military event.

It is not just in Northern Ireland, obviously, that this applies. And the small voice of the advocates of nonviolent change and struggle is usually drowned out by a myriad of other voices which are both more numerous, better placed and better funded. But we will keep trying to have our spake even if there is a gale force wind taking our voices away from those who matter.

Twenty years after the Iraq war

Doesn’t time fly when you are having fun-damental questions about the nature of western society, anyway it is now two decades since the USA and Britain invaded Iraq, and two decades since a considerable part of the world, in the big demos of February 2003, told them not to do it. So is peace protest a lost cause? Not necessarily. Protests did put down a marker, raise consciousness about the illegitimacy of the war, and hopefully make our great leaders think twice about doing it again. Of course the whole debacle of the war itself, and aftermath, also emphasised its ill judged nature and it ruined what reputation Tony Blair had (he decided to back the USA, no questions asked)..

However the margin between ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in stopping a war can be very small. Milan Rai, who is editor of Peace News in Britain,, has an easily accessible article in the February-March 2023 issue of Peace News, available at https://peacenews.info/node/10508/how-we-nearly-stopped-war He has also written books about the Iraq war – before and after, including Regime Unchanged (Pluto, 2003) which discusses the issues in the article in greater detail.

In this article he details the wobbliness of the British government coming up to the war, and the fact that parliament was given a vote only because of the public pressure through demonstrations and the like. Had UN weapons inspectors been allowed to do their job (as opposed to being ordered out by the USA when going to war) this might have held up the whole affair and shown conclusively that Iraq did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction (the Weapons of Mass Distraction on the other hand included a ‘dodgy dossier’ from the British government claiming the unclaimable on this matter). The work of the weapons inspectors might have taken a few months – but the USA wanted war and it was not going to wait.

Milan Rai goes on to contrast the lobbying which went on of Turkish parliamentarians against the war, successfully, compared to the lack of lobbying of Labour MPs in Britain, most of whom voted for the war. “In the run-up to the British parliamentary vote on 18 March, the British anti-war movement did not mount the same kind of national lobbying effort as had taken place in Turkey. Neither the Stop the War Coalition, dominated by the Socialist Workers Party, nor the direct action wing of the anti-war movement, largely anarchist, believed in lobbying, and no other anti-war body took the lead. Stop the War concentrated on conventional marches and rallies. Much of the direct action movement was focused on protests at military bases; some of the rest focused on ‘Day X’, what to do when the war started. All of these were valuable activities. What was missing was a push to have a parliamentary vote on the war, and then to lobby MPs intensively. As it was, a majority of Labour MPs voted for war.”

Had Britain not jumped on the war bandwagon the USA’s position would have been much more difficult in terms of perceived legitimacy (I say ‘perceived’ because the war had no legitimacy at legal or strategic levels). But the above contrast between Turkey and Britain also leads us to the conclusion that no nonviolent tactics should ever be excluded from the panoply of what we might use. Lobbying, if done in sufficient numbers and with sufficient strength, can work.

Wars are relatively easy to get into and very difficult to get out of. This, tragically, applies to Russia and Ukraine today.

What springs to mind

Spring isn’t quite sprung yet but our snowdrops are nearly over, daffodils/narcissae are coming into flower or in full flower, and the days are noticeably longer. The spring is a great season anywhere but in Ireland April, coming up soon, is on average the driest month so a really great time to be out and about and ‘doing things’ in the great outdoors – mind you February has been a lot drier than usual too.

During Covid there has been a rediscovery of aspects of our own backyards, literally and metaphorically. Ireland doesn’t have the summer sun and heat of many countries to the east and south but if you are moving (walking, running, hiking, cycling, swimming etc) once you get going, if you are suitably equipped, then that should not interfere with your enjoyment. Ireland is green for a reason and that reason drops out of the sky in the shape of rain.

Spring is the season of new growth and all of us can be a part of that, almost whatever the circumstances. Window boxes and tubs can have a surprising variety of flowers or some salad vegetables growing. You can even grow sprouting seeds, highly nutritious, without any soil or compost. If you have space but don’t want a garden you have to do too much work in then a fruit tree or too can do wonders in terms of an enjoyable crop. And a wild garden may be home to a myriad of creatures and, with a little bit of thought, be another wonder with perhaps just a path (manufactured or cut) to have easy access..

My only plea in all this is to think organic and avoid adding to the chemicals which are far too present around us already. Going organic can on occasions mean more work but it is also more rewarding and nature will thank you. Something called the internet can assist you in finding out more and places like the Organic Centre in the north-west (see news section this issue) is a valuable resource.

A long time ago, like the 1960s and 70s, to ‘dig’ something could be to get it, to appreciate it. It was slang emanating from the USA, possibly coming from even further back, the 1930s and 1940s. ‘Dig’ has several meanings but one theory is that this sense of ‘dig’ comes from the Irish an dtuigeann tú’, and wouldn’t you know that we would get in there somewhere. Whether you are into digging or no digging gardening and horticulture you can cooperate with nature in whatever way you fancy and ‘dig it’. It may even put a spring in your step and it certainly won’t soil your reputation; to have green fingers is always an accolade. [Any more puns like that and I’ll be digging a hole to climb into, or take a dig at you – Ed].

Nukes are puke

Ireland, thankfully, avoided an inappropriate nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point at the end of the 1970s (it wasn’t a ‘sore point’ with activists when Dessie O’Malley’s successor as responsible minister dropped the plans). You can learn more about the anti-nuclear power movement then from an edited version of a thesis by Simon Dalby on the INNATE website at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/pamphlets/ and on the INNATE photo site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157607158367565

However every so often there is a letter in the Irish Times, and the issue raised elsewhere, of a small new-tech nuclear plant being The Answer to Ireland’s quest for ‘green energy’ and power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. If things were only as simple as that. Firstly, nuclear power is far from green and there are no known ways to keep waste safe for tens of thousands of years – think of the time from when Jesus was around and take that forward by a large multiple – no one is quite sure how long with the nuclear industry talking about 10,000 years but others clearly saying much much longer. Bequeathing such waste to our descendents seems totally callous and irresponsible. Secondly, while modern plants may be safer than heretofore, the unexpected still happens; think Fukoshima (or even think Chernobyl in the Russia-Ukraine war) – we don’t know what could happen. Thirdly, new nuclear plants are notoriously slow to be built and by the time Ireland would have one coming on stream we would have had to have green energy properly sorted earlier.

But this whole matter was dealt with recently by John Fitzgerald, a very competent but not exactly radical economic analyst in the Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/2023/02/10/nuclear-power-is-not-the-right-solution-to-irelands-energy-needs/ and the title says it all – “Nuclear power plants are simply too big to be viable in Ireland”. It is a perceptive and analytical piece although lacking mention of ‘the unexpected’, as mentioned above.

Anyway, Fitzgerald states “As the Department of Finance noted 40 years ago, nuclear generators come at a minimum scale, which is huge relative to the size of the Irish electricity market. In order to guard against the risk of a breakdown in such a single large plant, we would need to maintain equivalent generation capacity as a backup, which would be very costly. Nuclear plants are simply too big to be viable in our small electricity market……..Having invested massively in wind power, we need backup that can be readily powered up when the wind doesn’t blow and powered down again. Nuclear generators lack that flexibility – they are always on. So nuclear is a poor fit for Ireland’s energy needs.”

Of course Ireland does need generating capacity not dependent on wind or sun and that can be provided by a variety of sources including different forms of tidal power. These need developed rapidly, along with storage including pumped water and batteries. And we are, to begin with, arguably the best suited location in Europe for wind power to begin with. You would like to think that such an article as that by John Fitzgerald might mean the end of letters advocating nuclear power but some people just love a high tech, ‘simple’ solution, except it isn’t a solution at all.

That’s me for March and I’ll see you again in a month’s time, until then take care of yourself, others and the planet, Billy.