Category Archives: Billy King

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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.

BILLY KING: RITES AGAIN

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

I always welcome the end of January with a noticeable lengthening in daylight, no, spring is not here but there is light at the end of the winter tunnel. And it’s time for me to do some more work in the garden, to get things a bit in order, including digging out all the scutch grass from the Welsh onions (perpetual scallions to you) which will necessitate digging out everything and replanting the Welsh onions when the weeds are, hopefully, cleared. Leave the garden until spring is sprung and for me, anyway, it is already too late to ‘take control’ – I use this term very much in inverted commas because I know I can only work with nature and I can never beat it.

It was good to see Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting Kildare in late January to support the Pause for Peace on St Brigid’s Day, 1st February. Is it too much to expect then that the Irish government will get its Paws off War preparation and its support for arms production then????????

As you probably know, the Good Friday Agreement isn’t the greatest deal for the North since unsliced wholemeal bread but has been an important agreement and move nonetheless. The DUP have never agreed to it per se and its implementation has been extremely patchy with the Assembly at Stormont ‘down’ nearly as much as it has been ‘up’. However a poll in the Tele (Belfast Telegraph) showed a majority of unionists would vote against it today https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/a-majority-of-unionists-would-vote-against-1998-good-friday-agreement-today/43633102.html Yus, we need something better in the North but the GFA has been an important staging post and it to be rejected by 54% of unionists (the category is unionists, not Prods) is scary; overall 64% support it. A clear arithmetic majority of people in Northern Ireland, 60%, felt the DUP should get back into Stormont straight away – but only 21% of unionists. We’ll have to see how the proto calls develop in the next few weeks when the EU and UK come out with their new protocols on the Norn Iron Protocol.

Past caring

The phrase to be ‘beyond caring’ or ‘past caring’ indicates a certain amount of resignation and a lot of frustration and annoyance about whatever it is you are ‘past caring’ about. Use of the phrase actually usually denotes that the person does care, or certainly did until very very recently, but either tiredness or frustration have kicked in, big time, and the person concerned feels there is nothing more they can do. We have all been there.

But, to give the phrase a twist, ‘past caring’ can be ‘caring for the past’. I have written here before, some time ago, about the pain of being archivally minded – you can’t just throw things out that are of possible significance, like any normal human being, oh no, you have to try to find A Home for them. And that is usually a frustrating search because someone or some institution will take part of what you have, leaving you with a smaller amount of whatever it is and an even more difficult task to find A Home for those.

It has been an interesting task to be involved in going through the INNATE archives. Much has been added to the INNATE photo and documentation site as material was sorted and before going to PRONI (Public Record Office) or wherever. This current issue of Nonviolent News has a listing of resources from INNATE.

Past, present, future. Scientists and philosophers have no coherent theory of time. What we can gather however is that past, present and future are linked in very real and causal ways. We don’t need to be deterministic and believe in preordained realities but we do need to recognise how the past has set up the present and that is creating the future. And we need as true an understanding as possible of the past if we are to avoid self-justifying conceits such as that the Troubles in the North were ‘unavoidable’. They happened and we need to understand why. But to say they were ‘unavoidable’ is nonsense, history could have taken a different path. The tragedy is that there wasn’t a different path tank, and the necessity is to avoid travelling down a similar path in the future.

Brendan McAllister

The death of Northern peace activist Brendan McAllister came as a shock – he was 66 and someone had asked me how he was doing only ten days before he died and I said I didn’t know but presumed he was busy with his work as a deacon (in the Catholic church) – he had just ‘qualified’ in February last in this new career or should I say calling. There are a number of photos of him on the INNATE photo website but my favourite is https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/7122164753/in/album-72157629555375796/ because, although not detailed of him and from the back it shows him in typical, contemplative stance in a less than contemplative situation and also represents the power of the individual. For those interested in such things, https://www.newrycathedralparish.org/2022/02/14/profile-deacon-brendan-mcallister/ gives a fascinating account of some of his faith journey to be a Catholic deacon.

I will tell you one other story. Around 1990 the political parties in Northern Ireland were still not talking to each other, and particularly not to Sinn Féin from the unionist side because of their unequivocal support for, and link with, the IRA. As a result when Pax Christi and others were running immersive/information programmes for people from outside Norn Iron about the situation they had a problem. How to have all political views represented in a panel discussion? So they developed a model using actors to represent individual political parties or positions, I became a Fianna Fáil TD for the duration (“I’m very glad you asked me that question” emanating from my mouth while in role I clearly writhed and objected strongly to being asked….). Brendan McAllister played the role of a middle class member of the Ulster Unionist Party who believed everything was fine before 1968 when civil righters and republicans came and stirred up trouble. It was quite fun but we did our best to represent faithfully our respective roles and it was a learning experience for the actors too, to talk – if not walk – in someone else’s shoes..

Anyway, one time this model for a panel discussion was being used there was quite a crowd and one attendee missed the introduction to say all roles in the panel were being taken by actors, and why this was so. They got up at the end during questions to demand to know why the poor Sinn Féin rep was being ostracised and ignored by the others……. All quite instructive really and also an indication that maybe us actors weren’t too bad.

But back specifically to Brendan McAllister; he was a peace activist and peace thinker, with Corrymeela and elsewhere including Pax Christi, long before he became the first director in 1992 of what is now Mediation Northern Ireland (it went through a few changes of name which I won’t go into here). Policies which he bravely undertook in that position included work on parade disputes (most likely to anger loyalists but also possibly republicans) and work with the police in relation to changing their culture and practice (this was way before the Patton report reforms and it was most likely to anger republicans). He subsequently held different victims commissioner roles among other international work.

I feel Brendan was always someone who tried, to his fullest extent, to be true to himself and to think strategically. He was small of stature but not small in spirit or in the contribution he made. He deserves to rest in peace and like many I will miss him and his quizzical but intelligent expression as he sought to understand what you were saying or your reaction to something he had said, and make sense of the ridiculousness of so much of what happens in the North.

Chess pieces

The bould Prince Harry put quite a few cats among a lot of pigeons with his various revelations about British royal shenanigans in his memoir. [I hope you will ‘Spare‘ us too much detail – Ed.] However here I wanted to pick up on his comments on his work with the UK armed forces in Afghanistan, and now breaking the army (most armies) code of omerta in speaking about how many people he had killed. From a purely personal point of view, regarding his own security, he wasn’t very wise to say how many Taliban he reckoned he killed since it could trigger a violent reaction (it was 25, he reckoned) but it was very honest.

He was castigated by Norn Iron’s own (retired) Colonel Tim Collins for being so specific, and by him and others for letting down the military ‘family’. Tim Collins himself is known for a stirring militarist speech before the 2003 Iraq war and a number of questions emerged around that time about Tim Collins’ behaviour himself (see Guardian 22.05.03 and The Sun 21.05.03) although he was later cleared by the army. Collins said about Prince HarryThat’s not how you behave in the army; it’s not how we think. He has badly let the side down. We don’t do notches on the rifle butt. We never did.” What Collins says is true – but the reason is that to contemplate how many lives you have snuffed out is generally not conducive to doing the same thing again, i.e. such contemplation is going to make you a less effective soldier and killer in the future so from a militarist perspective it is better to just ‘forget about it’. And you might also have more nightmares if you count the notches.

But there is a point also about the military as ‘family’. If you have gone through the heat of battle, and lived closely beside other people, it is not surprising you feel your comrades in arms are ‘family’ but to me it is actually the antithesis of family – real family, whether blood relations or not, are not generally in the habit of killing and trying to avoid being killed. But to tell the truth about how many you killed? That is letting the side down because it doesn’t look great, does it. This is without it even being bragging about killing lots of people; it is about being specific about the results of being a soldier; killing is what you do in such a situation. It is cutting through the military mystique to tell the tragic truth about your actions – dead bodies, and that is true whether you feel such killing is justified or not. Such things need to be hidden in order to perpetuate the military system.

Using the phrase “chess pieces removed from the board”, as Prince Harry did for those killed, is actually quite an appropriate metaphor – in terms of military thinking – since, while it has moved beyond that, chess is in origin a ‘martial’ game. Those seeking to kill cannot think of the humanity of the enemy, doing so could either stop them in their tracks or give them severe PTSD and mental health problems. The British general who denied they thought in terms of chess pieces was seeking to give a benign but false take on the reality – troops are specifically trained to dehumanise the enemy so they can kill them. And with high tech weaponry, killing is increasingly akin to a video game, a modern version of, or alternative to, chess.

Modern armies try to give the impression of being caring, sharing organisations whereas the essential role, if it comes to the bit, is obeying orders and killing capacity. Meanwhile as Irish neutrality gets sold down the river, the Irish Army, with a proud role of military peacekeeping abroad for many decades, risks becoming simply another unit in the might of the burgeoning EU empire and its role in wars later in the 21st century.

Details on the non-existent Irish arms Industry

While armaments manufacturing gears up in the North, of course the Republic has no arms industry worth talking about (or so Simon Coveney would have us believe). However a different story emerges when the matter is studied and government propaganda is waded past.. You may already be aware that Phoenix magazine has the best coverage of Irish foreign affairs and neutrality – most of the rest of the media is more than content to extol the virtues of the emerging EU military empire, while the Phoenix takes a more rational view.

Phoenix Annual for 2022 took a look at the arms industry south of the border down Doubling way. It makes pretty disturbing reading. Military licences granted in 2020 amounted to over €108 million – more than double the figure of over €42 million for 2019 which in turn was up on the year before, and that up on the year before that. Business is booming – literally as over €3 worth of explosive devices and related equipment went to the USA in 2020. But as we have often stated here in these pages, ‘dual use’ equipment which goes for military purposes is indeed military equipment.

The Phoenix also refers to Simon Coveney’s statement at the Aviva Stadium arms beano (for the protest there see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/52408699982/in/dateposted/ and accompanying photos) that “…Ireland does not have a defence industry like other European member states…” to which the answer must be “Oh yes it does! And you have been trying to grow it exponentially.”

Of course the term ‘defence’ is also mainly a euphemism, as if arms manufactures are only used for ‘defence’. The only successful attack on the USA’s territory in modern times, arguably since Pearl Harbour, was 9/11 and that was conducted using commercial air planes hijacked with violence but not something that conventional armed forces could have prevented. If arms were indeed only used for ‘defence’ then the arms industry would be very much smaller than it is.

There are more details on Irish arms exports in The Phoenix Annual for 2022, page 8..

Mustard Seed 1976

It was mustard, or was it (‘mustard’ as a slang term/adjective originating in England can have different meanings, positive and negative). Anyway, Mustard Seed was a big ‘alternatives gathering’ which took place in April 1976 https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/20003062983/in/photolist-2m9Zbio-wtAVJg – this entry has an explanation of the purpose behind the festival, written afterwards. Though I am showing my age by saying I remember Mustard Seed well [you certainly are – Ed.]

Far more people crowded into the Glencree Centre in the Wicklow hills than would be permitted today by health and safety or insurance. I think probably 400 people attended in all over the weekend with maybe 150 or more staying overnight, people sleeping anywhere they could find in the buildings and some in a big marquee. I slept behind and under the reception desk (the warmest out of the way place I could find…) – I find I sleep quite well under tables. [No comment – Ed] [‘No comment’ is a comment – Billy] (En français – ‘Comment’? – Ed]

The programme was varied and catered for many different interests though I think it played a significant role in the evolution of an ecological consciousness, and confidence, and networking for many. Of course the informal meeting was just as important as any plenaries or workshops, though when a ‘geographical areas’ exercise took place for people to group and network together – going around the compass of Ireland, N, NE, E, Dublin, SE, etc, one neglected person from the Midlands came up to the organisers – they had forgotten to include the centre of the island as a networking area! And believe it or not, Ireland does have a centre…..

While the event took place at Glencree it was organised by the SCM/Student Christian Movement, an ecumenical left-of-centre student group whose Dublin based organiser at the time was Michael Walsh. What I found interesting, as a kind of Christian, was the fact that aside from a couple of different faces of the SCM itself, the ‘Christian world’ was entirely absent. Looking back this seems, if not prescient, at least a foreteller of the decline of Christianity as a major, or the major, force in Irish society. That is a vast generalisation but I hope you know what I mean. Now many of those present may have been inspired by an individual religious faith of some sort, Christian or otherwise, but it certainly wasn’t something which was obvious in any way. And that was 1976.

Again I am not wanting to write off the contribution made in many fields by people of a Christian faith, of whatever denomination, then or since. And some Christians have caught up, think of Eco Congregation work for example https://www.ecocongregationireland.com/ in relation to ecology and green issues. However it seems to me, looking back, that it was a straw, or perhaps a mustard seed, in the wind of what was about to happen to the Christian edifice in Ireland ‘on all sides’.

Fair play….

…….To Edward Horgan, he was back at Shannon Airport only a few days after being acquitted of criminal damage for a nonviolent action there almost six years ago (see news section this issue). As those familiar with such expeditions to Shannon know, the verdict in the actual trial is only the culmination of a long drawn out process which can put lives on hold for years. His Facebook entry for 30th January reads:

Back at Shannon airport today, US Marine Corps Hercules KC130T arrived at Shannon today at 14.45pm, coming from Al Udeid US air base in Qatar, Persian Gulf via Sofia in Bulgaria. This is a multipurpose war plane also equipped as a mid air refueller. Such breaches of Irish neutrality are happening almost daily at Shannon airport.
On Friday Omni Air most likely having delivered armed US troops to Wroclaw in Poland, refuelled at Shannon on its way back to the US. On Thursday Omni Air N378AX refuelled at Shannon coming from Al Udeid US air base in Qatar, and flew on to Fort Brag in North Carolina.

On Thursday 26 January The President of Switzerland Alain Berset not only ruled out any involvement in sending weapons to Ukraine, but explained on television that Switzerland had a unique quality of “neutrality.” Their role, as reflected in the Geneva Conventions, is so much more important than joining a parade of weapon providers. “Today, it is not time to change the rules” against exporting weapons. “Neither is it time to change the rules of neutrality. On the contrary, it is time to recall our basic principles, to stay committed to them and find a right path for the country in this situation.” Switzerland has “a different role from other states.”

Our Irish President and Irish Government should now make similar statements and act accordingly.”

I was sad to see the death of Fr Mícheál MacGréil during January, aged 93, and as well as being a sociologist of renown and a campaigner, e.g. on Traveller issues, he was also a peace activist and, presumably the first, chaplain to Pax Christi in Ireland https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/21063426348/in/album-72177720296414662/ A great and gentle guy.

Winter is still here so careful as you go. Careful as you type/keyboard too, our Flickr site inputter reports attempting to key in “Mediation Skills Workshop” and what came up was “Mediation Kills Workshop”, which, as you may gather, is something else entirely and not what we might wish to project.

CU soon, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 305

In the damp of Irish weather you might not always recognise relatively warm weather outside of summer, but the autumn has been just that. In the garden, leaves and foliage have been very slow to die back and perennial plants to take on their winter garb (or lack of it). ‘Our’ lilac – actually in a neighbour’s garden – still has quite a few leaves on it and the new growth which came after it got chopped back in the summer looks perfectly green and healthy. Marigolds and rudbeckia are still flowering away. The gorse/furze/whins/aiteann outside the city looks like it is coming into nearly full bloom. A few decades ago you could have expected a hard frost before the end of October – I define a hard frost as probably something below -2° although in practice I see it as when all the nasturtiums turn to mush. Last winter there was no ‘hard frost’ at all. It’s global warming at work, and in the Irish context that can mean more rain and wind. And you may want to issue a religious or secular prayer that the Gulf Stream doesn’t stop or Newfoundland here we come…..

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is an interesting word and concept, conciliation is too but what does it mean and especially in the context of the North? Rev Norman Hamilton, a former Presbyterian Church in Ireland moderator, recently accused the various governments and politicians of not having a clear definition https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/politics/ex-presbyterian-moderator-asks-london-dublin-washington-and-ni-politicial-parties-for-their-definition-of-reconciliation-3906790

There are technical definitions of reconciliation in relation to accounting and legislative processes but relevant definitions in this context include “The act of reconciling parties at variance; renewal of friendship after disagreement or enmity” and “the process of two people or groups in a conflict agreeing to make amends or come to a truce” – obviously in the context of the North, however, we are talking about group processes, so “the process of making two people or groups of people friendly again after they have argued seriously or fought and kept apart from each other, or a situation in which this happens” is a bit more apposite (as opposed to opposite). We probably all need to work on our own definitions of reconciliation, and indeed our understanding of forgiveness (another difficult one to be clear about).

I am reminded of the old cartoon about a character expressing thanks for advice they were given about dealing with interpersonal conflict rather than letting it fester. Asked how they resolved the matter they stated, “I killed the bastard”. No, not funny except just possibly in a fictional circumstance of someone doing the unexpected. And doing something positive and unexpected is an excellent way to promote reconciliation. A positive gesture or undertaking can be a great way to assist travelling to reconciliation. Actually listening to each other in the North, as opposed to talking at each other, could be such a gesture.

The U?S of A

There are bodies which proclaim themselves unreformed and unreformable. However realities change over time even if systems do not and the US political system seems singularly inappropriate for the 21st century, likewise the idea that you need a billion dollars, or thereabouts, to even enter the presidential race, and before that there is a long race to enter the bigger long race.

I have been following events there with some interest especially in the Trump era and afterwards, including Republican moves to get into key election posts where they can call the shots (sic). I know US democracy, such as it is, is teetering on the brink. But I was astounded to read an article in the Guardian where all three writers took quite pessimistic views on the topic of how close the USA is to civil war https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/nov/06/how-close-is-the-us-to-civil-war-barbara-f-walter-stephen-march-christopher-parker?CMP=share_btn_link

Of course definitions of ‘civil war’ do not need to move to images of Gettysburg, it can be assassinations, turmoil of various kinds, political violence. The ‘U’SA is certainly already very divided and did have what amounted to some sort of coup attempt within the last couple of years in the Capitol invasion of 6th January 2021. Where the legitimacy of the decision making process in the political system is already hotly contested then there are certainly Big Problems.

Will mob rule trump or can the USA move to a more democratic system? I am not sure of the answer to that one. There are strong labor, civil rights, peace and other movements within the US which are often not recognised. But whether they and those on the left and centre of the political class can avoid meltdown is an unfortunate question to have to ask.

The extent to which the USA is being overtaken as an economic superpower is also relevant. People may go with the ‘bigger pie’ argument of economic development, unsustainable as that is, and many people have gone with Trumpism, it would seem, because of hits they have taken economically. However the Donald is not as much flavour of the decade in US Republican circles since the US mid-term elections didn’t show he was delivering the goods (in terms of people he was backing doing well) but it would be a brave person to write off Trump. To mix metaphors, you can’t keep a rotten apple down.

Edumbification

There are many questions about the economic development model in the Republic and its reliance on multinationals but there is no denying that It Has Worked to a considerable extent in helping to bring wealth. And why did it work? Relatively low taxation, a largely English speaking environment, membership of the EU, and an educated population attracted the, mainly US, multinationals. And where did the population get educated? Partly from (what were) the regional technical colleges, now technological universities, established from the start of the 1970s, but also because of an emphasis on education within many families.

However the relative lack of investment in education in the Republic is a danger for the future, as quality may decline in some instances. But in the North under the current British government regime, and no Stormont, there are going to be actual cuts as opposed to inflation eating away at educational spending power. This is so short sighted as to be dangerously myopic.

A recent survey by the ESRI https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-63779243 showed economic productivity in the Republic to be 40% higher per head than in the North – there are some uncertainties about the role of multinational profits in this but the study tried to take this into account. “An additional economic modelling exercise undertaken by the authors suggests that almost all of the productivity gap can be explained by lower levels of investment and skilled workers in Northern Ireland. Low investment and relatively low levels of skills are chronic problems in the Northern Ireland economy, although there has been some improvement in skills in recent years. The authors suggest that if firms in Ireland were faced with the same labour market as exists in Northern Ireland productivity levels would fall by an average of 30% and as much as 60% in some sectors.”

Cutting spending on education, at any level, is simply crazy. Skilled workers have to be paid for and their skills built up from the first day of kindergarten and primary school, not in a rat-race way but in terms of allowing the potential of the child or young adult to develop. For the North to have to cut back on education at any level, and in the economic context most directly post-secondary education, is totally crazy. But that is where things are at, and it is sadistic as well as sad for those whose life chances will be stymied by such cuts.

Celebrating murderers

Celebrations of gunmen who have killed others in the Troubles are common in Northern Ireland, in numerous different formats including especially murals and ‘wayside shrines’. However the writing is certainly not on the wall for violent murals like the new UVF one on the Shankill Road, Belfast which celebrates two arms-toting men and a red poppy wreath (on the latter my comment is ‘no comment’). Naturally the daughter of someone murdered by one of the gunmen is distraught; having the killer of your father openly celebrated must be painful beyond the imagination.

However the law, as interpreted, says this mural is legal. It is certainly not a moral mural but it is judged legal by the police who have said that while it is abhorrent it does “not constitute the offence of Encouragement of Terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2006, or other offences.“ If that is the case then the law is a wal-ly and needs to change. How paramilitarism is remembered and celebrated in the North is deeply problematic and paramilitary memorialisation is a key way in which territories are defined and marked, something which has to be overcome if divisions and hatreds are ever to be transcended.

Maybe in time in Northern Ireland we can come to celebrate togetherness in a vibrant and meaningful way which overcomes and leaves far behind the divisions which exist but marks our common humanity. Last time I looked, Catholics and Protestants in the North, or however you describe those two cultural-political grupings, were both human beings and members of homo not-too-sapiens.

Leprechauns and leps forward

It would be remiss of me, given the news item about The Steel Shutter film and 50th anniversary conference in the news section of this issue, not to mention a little saying by one of the participants involved in the original event. Belfast community worker Sean Cooney, who was in the 1972 encounter group, used to talk approvingly, in the community context, about “the leprechauns – the people close to the ground”! My only surprise in mentioning this is that he is the only person I have heard using this expression or joke.

Well, the year is drawing towards a close, not a year to look back on with any fondness in relation to building peace and progress at home or abroad. In fact with the ecological crisis closing in on us there is a more than a sense of trepidation. But I wish you a peaceful and pleasant Christmas/New Year and, well, a peaceful world in 2023…..and if I wish you a Preposterous New Year then what I wish for is some people stepping outside of their constraints to do the radically positive actions which are needed to transform the dire circumstances we face. Imagination and not procrastination is what is needed in many areas of life and the world. I hope you have a great break over Christmas and New Year, and c u in 2023…. Billy

Billy King: Rites Again, 304

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Here is my pot-pourri for this month, or, given the content, perhaps my veggie hot pot…..[Or is it just you going to pot? – Ed]

Hopefully never taking off……

A considerable part of success in nonviolent action lies in creativity and imagination. Doing things differently, perhaps with humour or verve (not to mention nerve), can be vital. On the other hand repetition (e.g. walk ons at Shannon Airport) can also be symbolic, particularly where the potential cost to participants is high (legal charges lasting for years and the risk of a significant sentence in the case of Shannon walk ons).

But links are important too – what are the buttresses or pillars that hold up a particularly unjust policy? People around the world have been aghast at some of the goings on in British politics and policies, and none more than the dangerous and crazy, human rights destroying policy of exporting asylum seekers to Rwanda where they will be out of sight, out of mind – and probably driven out of their minds by being dumped thousands of miles away by a rich world system of screwing anybody unable to stand up freely for themselves – and a lot of those as well.

Lateral thinking on the ‘pillars of injustice’ front was what came to mind by news that an airline which had contracted to deport people from Britain to Rwanda had withdrawn. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/21/airline-hired-uk-rwanda-deportations-pulls-out-privilege-style?CMP=share_btn_link

In this case, human rights and anti-torture activists, in opposing a woeful British government policy, put pressure not directly on the British government (which might be considered a bit of a lost cause, in more ways than one) but on a firm which had been willing (wiling?) to sell its soul to do the government’s bidding. Taking the anti-deportation case directly to bodies who do business with the firm and and other potential customers has succeeded; the firm realising that being a human rights destroyer was not a good image and likely to be detrimental to the business overall. So they have withdrawn. And hopefully that is a significant undermining of a British government policy that is inhuman, racist and a lot of other things beside.

So think laterally, and think of commercial pressure you can bring.

The home manager

The citizens of the Republic most likely face a referendum in 2023 on Article 41.2 of the Constitution which states “… the state recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” and “the state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

There is more to this area than meets the eye. Of course this anachronistic and discriminatory piece in Bunreact na hÉireann should be obliterated and removed. But there are lots of issues herefamily, cultural, economic, human rights, and so on.

The term ‘housewife’ (a term not used in the Constitution) is also anachronistic. In the era of hybrid or remote working, many men are also in the home and it is up to a couple or the household to sort out who does what. Statistically women still do far more work in the home on housekeeping and child care than men but things have been changing even if equality may be some considerable distance away in heterosexual households.

If someone, woman or man – currently more likely to be a woman than a man – decides to stay at home to look after children and manage the home then that can be a Good Thing in terms of the family’s lifestyle and wellbeing. It is likely to lead to less pressure overall, and that can be good for all concerned, because combining paid work and looking after a home can be stressful. There are many tasks to be done about the home, especially with young children, including conveying them to pre-school or school, cleaning, washing, cooking and shopping, organising other eventualities such as doctors visits, play dates, and so on. There is a lot to be done.

Finance is an essential element in this. In many or most families today and in the recent past, if there are two adults then both may need to go ‘out’ to work to survive financially (today ‘out to work’ can mean paid work remotely at home), or they may prefer to do so. On the other hand if children are very young then creche fees may cancel out an adult’s pay. People can make their own decisions about what is possible and feels good for them and their family and it is right that people should have a choice without feeling constrained one way or another by norms and societal expectations. Making a statement in the Constitution about gender roles, except to support and promote gender equality, is inappropriate in 2023, whatever about 1937 (when the Constitution was first enacted). Providing adequate financially accessible support for pre-school children in creches where both parents work is a major issue in the Republic (and also in the North).

Finding a replacement for the term ‘housewife’ which is non-sexist and recognises the role a stay at home parent or a parent who does a significant amount of work in the home is a difficult one and it does not need to be in the Constitution. I would suggest the term ‘home manager’ – because that is what the role entails.

Taoiseach goes ballistic at the plain truth

He was raging. “Taoiseach Micheál Martin has angrily rejected an accusation that the Government is “cynically using Putin’s war to drive a coach and four through Ireland’s neutrality” https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2022/10/25/it-makes-my-blood-boil-taoiseach-rejects-accusation-the-government-is-using-putins-war-to-address-irelands-neutrality/

Oh no, he would never do that when it is as obvious as anything that is precisely what the three government parties (FF, FG and Greens) are doing and have been doing by both commission and omissionin alliance of course with others in elite circles including in the army and business. I am not saying they don’t want to do ‘right’ for Ukraine according to their views of what is ‘right’.

But hey, they didn’t need the excuse of the Ukraine war to support moving ever closer to EU and NATO militarism through Nice and Lisbon referenda, joining NATO’s so-called ‘Partnership for Peace’, and EU’s PESCO. The Ukraine war has been an added opportunity to get Ireland on board the militarist train.

But Martin let the cat out of the bag (or the missile out of the silo) in going on to say “I made it clear that we’re not joining Nato, that no government decision has been taken. People can have different perspectives on that. I suggest we have a citizen’s assembly in the fullness of time, but not now in the middle of this conflict, this war.” In other words it is clearly on the government agenda to move towards NATO membership and/or full EU-military participation, whatever proves possible; a citizens’ assembly would only be mooted if a change is desired. They just don’t judge the time to be the most opportune at the moment. If there was an open and accessible citizens’ assembly on the issue, as opposed to a government stitch up, then the peace movement and neutrality groups could face that eventuality with confidence as an opportunity to put their case. The political elite currently continually say ‘nothing to see here’ when their role has been to slowly whittle neutrality away until it is totally meaningless..

Frank Aiken, former Fianna Fáil Minister for External (i.e. Foreign) Affairs for 15 years in total in the 1950s and 1960s, and a stalwart campaigner for non-alignment and disarmament, would have something rather strong to say about the turncoat government of today and particularly his own party. How are the mighty peacemakers fallen.

Spicing it up

As some of you may remember [How could we forget?- Ed], I jump into matters culinary from time to time and have a wee publication on veggie and vegan cuisine to my name https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/pamphlets/ on this very site. [No one else would have published it? It sounds like you jumping from the frying pan into the oven – Ed] I am returning to this area of life because a request was made from a relation for suggestions about spicing up their cooking. Now I was wary of teaching my granny to boil a kettle (the vegan equivalent of teaching my granny to suck eggs…) and wanted to suggest fairly straightforward and easy ways to make meals more interesting. I thought it might be worth sharing a shorter and simpler version of what I shared with themsome suggestions are lacto-vegetarian and more are vegan. Bon appetit!

Using condiments: Try different pickles and sauces, perhaps from Asian/Chinese supermarkets; and there are some great Irish pickles and chutneys around that are well worth trying – or make your own;.use grated parmesan (or other grated or dried) cheese to put on top of stews and other food; use fried battered onion to add flavour and crunch on top of dishes (may be much cheaper in larger bags in Asian supermarkets); use nooch (nutritional yeast) as a topping (it is vegan), either plain nutritional yeast or mixed.

To make nooch ‘plant based parmesan equivalent’: Take 100 – 150g raw cashews, sunflowers or other nuts/seeds, 30 – 40g of nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon garlic powder; salt to taste (needs very little, a sprinkle if you like, or none at all). Grind the mixture quite fine and keep in an airtight container, probably in the fridge. I am not sure I particularly like the US English word ‘nooch’ and think I would prefer something like ‘nuteast’ (a shortened word from ‘nutritional yeast’) but nooch it is.

Toppings

– Use mashed potato as a topping to turn a bean. lentil or other dish/stew into “shepherd’s pie”. You can use flavourings in the mash as well as butter and milk (or olive oil and plant based milk) such as wasabi/horseradish.

– Use a crumble topping to turn a bean or vegetable mix into a vegetable crumble. Mix vegetable oil with wholemeal flour until like breadcrumbs but add whatever herbs, curry, cheese, nutritional yeast to flavour and add umami (richness). Cook in oven for c.20 minutes.

– Use breadcrumbs, again with herb or spice flavourings, cheese or nutritional yeast, as a topping on bean or vegetable mixes. Cook in oven for c.15 minutes.

– For a cheap highly nutritious addition to crumble or breadcrumb toppings, add ground linseed (I use a coffee grinder); grinding makes the linseed more digestible. Golden linseed look better than brown but the latter are much cheaper and equally nutritious and look little different when mixed. Whole linseeds are much cheaper to buy than ground.

Accompaniments

– Roasted nuts or toasted seeds make an easy way to add a contrast, different taste (and protein). Lightly cover nuts in oil (a teaspoon or two and mix by hand) and lightly salt as desired; you can use a mixture of cashews and peanuts but cashews in particular can burn very easily so keep an eye on them, 15 minutes is probably plenty in the oven.

– Sunflower seeds can be dry toasted on a heavy pan over a low to medium heat, stirring and shaking frequently to see they don’t burn. When golden brown slope than pan so they bunch up and cover lightly with soya sauce and stir; the soya sauce will dry fast and as the salt is on the outside you get more taste for less sodium.

– Easy ‘sweet and sour’ sauce’; mix together tomato ketchup and half that volume of cider vinegar and less again of soya sauce; add water to double the volume and a small amount of sugar. Heat and add cornflour in water to thicken, stirring well, it will darken as it thickens, add more water if too thick.

And some fairly easy dishes:

Colcannon

Sauté onion and kale (or cabbage) in oil until cooked (you can use uncooked scallions instead of the onion) and mix with mashed potato which has plenty of butter or oil and milk (plant based if desired) added, and seasoning such as black pepper. It’s as Irish as champ.

Vegetable crumble

Sauté chopped veg until nearly cooked. Add parsley sauce or a tin of condensed soup. Top with crumble mix and cook in oven for 20 – 25 minutes.

Sesame fried cabbage

Sauté chopped cabbage or kale in toasted sesame oil and add sesame seeds, add more oil or a little bit of water if starting to burn – cook on medium heat, covered most of the time.

Nan bread pizza

Lightly sauté whatever ingredients you would like for the topping – onion, garlic, chilli, finely cut other veg such as broccoli, peppers etc. Cover nan bread with tomato puree and add sautéed veg on top. Cover with cheese or nutritional yeast/nooch and grill as desired.

Pasta

Add a jar of pesto to cooked pasta along with olives and/or dried tomatoes chopped, possibly tofu cubes, and/or anything else you fancy.

Gram (chick pea) flour

Make savoury pancakes with sieved gram flour (sieve or have lots of lumps) with chopped rosemary and other flavourings (e.g. curry, cajun spice, bouillon) and water. You can add bread soda if desired to help make the pancakes rise/be lighter but just adding water makes the batter, and for vegans – and coeliacs – that is obviously a better batter. Gram flour is also the basis of bhajis and pakoras.

Additions to stews etc: Try different flavourings including wasabi (horseradish), cajun spice and Marmite (yeast extract, other brands may be available); add nutritional yeast (flakes) for umami; try different soup stocks and bouillon powder (but go for ‘Reduced salt’ or ‘Low salt ’versions if you can because others can be very very salty); use coconut milk or (it’s cheaper) creamed coconut (blocks) to give things a different ‘east Asian’ flavour and umami; if roasting potatoes, add a mix of paprika and chilli (or other flavourings such as cajun spice) sprinkled over the oiled potatoes. Or do ‘roasted roots’ (e.g. carrot, parsnip, beetroot, onion as well as potato).

Only slaggin’

I can’t remember what it was in but the late Frank Kelly had an audio skit where he was an Irish reporter for the BBC describing the Irish sport of “slaggin’”. While much of slagging is not in strict accord with nonviolent communication, and can be rude and crude, it depends on the spirit it is offered and the spirit it is received, it can be good natured…..and it is obviously easier to be on the issuing end of slagging than the receiving end. It can be difficult, however, requiring considerable skill, to be a nonviolent slagger. And it can indeed be cruel if the slagee (person being slagged, I think I just invented a word….) takes great offence. However in Frank Kelly’s sport report it is dynamic in that the slagee comes back at the original slagger and so it goes on.

In the following thread referred to there are many instances where someone never wore a garment again after a particularly effective jibe, but there are some brilliantly innovative comments made on the spur of the moment. Indeed slagging seems to be an Irish sport, and that has minuses as well as pluses, though as a sport it is preferable to plain hurling abuse.

However you would want to have a stone sense of humour not to laugh at some of the thread about comments made to people about what they wore (and other comments) at https://twitter.com/janky_jane/status/1426981976142123010?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Sometimes people have been marked by a nickname for life after one evening or day’s sartorial incident. Many of these tales are shared by the slagee themselves. There are other major questions about Twitter with its recent elongated musky smell [Now that is really slaggin’ – Ed] – that it is likely to become even more tolerant of intolerance and hate speech, but we are not [the royal ‘we’? – Ed] exploring that here.

Not all comments on this thread are perceived sartorial misdemeanors one was about the son of a guy named Con Kearney who got called Chilli. But on clothing:

– “I wore a suit with a matching tie and pocket square to my first day of work at an advertising company (I thought I was going to be in Mad Men I guess) and the staff sent around and signed a communion card for me with a fiver in it.

– “I once wore a silver jacket to college, turned up late for class, said ‘sorry I’m late’, lecturer said, ‘that’s ok’ then waited til I was halfway across the front of the full class before following up with ‘trouble with the spaceship again was it?’. “

– “Early 90s Omagh, bloke comes into the bar wearing a puffa jacket, 120 notes it cost, everyone is mocking him, barman says ‘not sure why you’re mocking him I’ve one of those at home…’ lad getting mocked “See?” Barman continues ‘aye its round the immersion heater’ uproar

– “Back in Dublin after travelling S. America, decked out in a visually assaulting combo of zebra print leggings and tiger pattern knee high boots. Queuing into well known Dublin nightclub that evening was asked “Did you get let out of Dublin zoo or make a break for it yourself?”

Slagging can consist of severe and cruel put downs which are rather unfair to anyone on the receiving end but that is at its most negative. It’s not about slagging as such but put downs when I once get in trouble with someone well known on the peace scene for accompanying their article on affirmation in school situations with a word bubble cartoon. In that the teacher says “Can you give me an example of a ‘put up’ instead of a ‘put down’?” Reply: “How do I ‘put up’ with you?!”. Fair or unfair satire and humour? You judge. To me it was attempt to make the article lighter and therefore more accessible.

One time I felt justified in a bit of slagging was when someone arrived late for a committee where I was the paid secretary. He was an intelligent and useful but verbose participant who was known to arrive late from and/or leave early for another ‘important engagement’. He had just retired but continued his position on the committee concerned. As he came in rather late I said “I’m glad to see retirement hasn’t changed you….”. I got away with it and they didn’t sack me for it either (the sacking came later for other reasons….)

Well, if you are a soap fan you haven’t needed to look further than UK politics in the last couple of months for on the edge of your seat excitement and ‘follow-uppers’. In politics, boring can be good but with a near-billionaire now in charge in the UK, what could go wrong????? The UK economy on the wane isn’t good news for De Nort but as Larry Speight puts it eloquently in this issue, it’s a fairy tale to think the pie can keep getting bigger, and that’s still a fable that most people in most places believe in, including Ireland. When will the reality kick in that redistribution of wealth, along with a different lifestyle, is part of the answer? For a free printable A4 poster on this see https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ and scroll to “Economic Justice…[EJ]”

In the Northern hemisphere we are now approaching the Real Winter which may not be much fun for many people. So I hope you can stay warm and stay warm-hearted, until we meet again, I know where and I know when (the December issue), I remain, Yours truly, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again – 303

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Airy ferry notions

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

You can look at a wide variety of websites to check out the facts. These are just a few of them: https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transport-energy-and-environment-statistics-notes-and-definitions/journey-emissions-comparisons-methodology-and-guidance

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49349566

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

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

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

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

Card carrying members

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

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

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

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

War on our doorstep

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

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

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

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

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

Making sense of, and after, the Norn Iron census

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful questions

I’m not a Quaker though sometimes people who see I am into peace think I must be one (!). However I did have a Quaker great-great-great-grandmother from Westmeath – maybe she was great – and at the time ‘marrying out’ (mid-19th century) she would have been cast out from the Religious Society of Friends – a not very friendly action perhaps which is part explanation for the small numbers of Quakers in Ireland today. Anyway, that’s a preface to mentioning the lecture at Quaker Irish Yearly Meeting this summer was given by Lynn Finnegan on the topic Embodying the Quaker Testimonies in Service of a Living Planet: The Challenge of Asking Beautiful Questions’ and it can be found at https://quakers-in-ireland.ie/2022/08/16/iym-2022-public-lecture/ If you are into Quaker-style spirituality and action, environmentalism and justice, you might want to give it a look cos it has lots to ponder.

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

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

Billy King: Rites Again, 302

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

As always, summer comes and goes fast, but then we are only really talking about a couple of months, and less when we are thinking of our ‘time off’ or ‘time out’. I hope you were able to get your head showered, metaphorically speaking, and at least a bit of a break. Welcome to the autumn – and the autumn equinox takes place later this month when we enter the darker half of the year. Every season has its pluses and minuses but unfortunately this winter we will have to see how well people can survive in terms of heating, what government financial supports people have to help them get through it, and the knock on effects of the expense involved for the rest of their lives and living. So it is a time of great uncertainty and dread for many.

Currant affairs

Was it global warming in general, a short but very hot spell in July, a mild winter and spring, all these, or what? Normally the redcurrants last on our bush – if protected by netting from the birds (who have plenty else to eat at that time of year!) – until a good way through August. We used to pick them all together but then discovered that they lasted well on the bush for quite some time. Not this year however – they were turning to mush before the end of July and when we went to pick them all a significant amount were unusable. I don’t know the reason but it could be all the factors mentioned above. Incidentally you can make beautiful wine from red/white/black/any colour currants – I haven’t done it but have sampled some excellent Finnish currant wine, indistinguishable to my palate [or your pallet? – Ed] from a good grape wine.

In gardening, as in life, some things are blindingly obvious, the reason for some things can only be guessed at, and the reason for other things remain beyond even an educated guess. But as a gardener for some decades I do know that the certainty of a hard frost before the end of October has disappeared completely with climate change, now it can be the end of the year or into the new year. When nasturtiums go to mush is my visible guide to a hard frost; this last year some – not all – survived right through to grow afresh this spring, and have provided great colour up a trellis on a shed wall.

As yet Ireland has escaped relatively unscathed from climate change. But what if the Gulf Stream slows further or stops? And what damage will storms wreak in the future? And drought could strike the east of the country. We should not be complacent for ourselves, and certainly not for others as the world hots up and droughts and floods increase. We remain to see whether Roman nomenclature of ‘Hibernia’ for Ireland could be an accurate blessing or curse – if the Gulf Stream stopped the label might indeed be even more accurate – Newfoundland here we come?

More generally this July and August I found it amazing to stand in the sunshine and watch the insects, including numerous Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, on our oregano, helichrysum/strawflowers, fennel and other flowers. They were all busy as bees, some were bees, but it felt a privilege to watch such a display of life and insect industry. It may seem a bit crass and simplistic to say, but if we take care of the insects (a small but not the smallest of life forms yet a vitally important part of our ecological system) then our world will certainly help take care of us.

Civil and religious liberty for all

The concept of ‘civil and religious liberty for all’ is a noble one and anyone who supports equality would find it hard to disagree with it. But what does it actually mean in practice? Is it just a slogan? Is ‘all’ all-inclusive? And if there are competing or conflicting rights, who gets to decide? Such issues are of major import in Northern Ireland or, indeed, anywhere.

Civil and religious liberty for all’ is a central slogan of the Orange Order. The marching season in the North is now over and this year was the first year that things were ‘normal’ for it after a couple of years of Covid. Thankfully things passed off relatively peacefully, a wheelie bin thrown towards a band and a broken window (in the one incident) are not, by the standards of some previous years (and centuries), anything much to write home about, distressing as this may have been for those involved.

Arlene Foster has been busy reinventing herself as an activist-cum-spokeperson for civic unionism. And there is a case to be made for unionism and the Norn Iron link with Britain which is often ignored in shibboleth-laden diatribes. In the same way that some supporters of civic nationalism have been trying to move on with what a united Ireland would mean in practice, unionism can examine itself and what ‘the Union’ means or could mean, and rational debate or argument on both sides is to be encouraged. There are debates about whether ‘the centre ground’ has actually grown in the North or simply coalesced more, in electoral terms, around the Alliance Party, but ‘the fact is’ that it is this ‘centre ground’ (covering quite numerous views) which will get to swing the day if it comes to a referendum on a united Ireland in some years to come. Yes, nationalism is somewhat waxing and unionism waning but the floating voters will be the people that both sides have to persuade to go with them.

This is relatively positive in import in that it might persuade unionism and nationalism to be at their best and most cooperative of behaviours – though ‘might’ here is the operative word. For example, unionism shows no sign of compromising on the Northern Ireland Protocol although they would say that it is a question of principle; a LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph showed 82% of unionist voters believing the DUP should not return to Stormont until the Protocol is scrapped or significantly changed. Yes, that certainly indicates the issue needs dealt with but the Northern Ireland Protocol is not the only issue around and Claire Hanna of the SDLP has pointed out how much nationalists have to constitutionally compromise on a day to day basis in the North: “hundreds of thousands of us in Northern Ireland who do not identify as unionists constitutionally compromise every single day; we live in a reality where the governance lines do not directly match up with our identity…..” https://www.irishtimes.com/world/uk/2022/06/30/london-letter-belfast-banter-in-westminster-reveals-protocol-home-truths/

To return to Arlene Foster, she presented live coverage of the Twelfth parades for GB News television (the BBC were only doing a compilation programme this year, leading to loyalist protests) and wrote a piece in the News Letter https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/arlene-foster-bbc-ni-wont-cover-the-twelfth-live-so-we-are-stepping-in-with-gb-news-and-if-you-see-me-in-armagh-be-sure-to-say-hello-3763031 advocating for the Orange cause.

However I suspect Arlene Foster’s grasp of Irish history is a bit lacking, she probably never had the opportunity to study it at Enniskillen Collegiate, or in the unlikely event she did get to study it she is ignoring a crucial element. She said in the article that “This 12th of July, whatever about the naysayers, we will once again celebrate William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne and the Glorious Revolution — Civil and Religious liberty for all.” King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ did not establish ‘civil and religious liberty for all’ in Ireland or elsewhere, it perpetuated control by the Protestant, Anglican, upper class and in Ireland the impoverishment and exclusion of Catholics from society and the possibility of economic or political advancement. To think that the Battle of the Boyne established civil and religious liberty for all is a myth and a dangerous one as well because it justifies radical discrimination that is not labelled as discrimination. King James might have been as bad, or worse, the other way around, if he had won, but it is William’s forces who won the day and the effects of his victory that we are judging.

In a divided, polarised society like the North there can be a tendency to think that ‘our’ side is better, all round more civilised, than the other lot, and this is across the board, it is a middle class trait as well as working class. It is present in polite society who may extend the feeling of ‘otherness’ to working class people in general; sectarianism and classism can be intermixed.

Getting people to acknowledge the flaws and imperfections on their/’our’ side, and examine their/our myths and shibboleths, is a major task. However until this happens there remains the risk of fractures in society in the North, and resultant violence. United Kingdom or United Ireland, it does matter but overcoming prejudice is a major task whatever flag flies. Northern Ireland at the start of the recent Troubles is a strong lesson in how a society with such fissures can quickly deteriorate into violent chaos – and the former Yugoslavia is an even more brutal example.

Dam it anyway

Typoos – typographical errors – are impossible to eraddyate. Getting rid of one you may cause another. However a classic appeared in a Belfast Telegraph article in mid-July on “15 of Northern Ireland’s hidden gems for staycation visits”. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/15-of-northern-irelands-hidden-gems-for-staycation-visits-41843818.html Regarding Mossley Mill, north of Belfast, this advised that “Located in the heart of Newtownabbey, Mossley Mill is a fond location for anyone familiar with the small village’s flax milling community. The location has a large damn visitors can walk around and even offers fishing.” Well, dam it anyway. But I am a veggie and I think fishing is cruel, and fish are sentient, social creatures. So that might even cause me to utter a dam or something worse.

My humorous or light-hearted headline of the month, though, goes to the BBC NI website: “Pole-dancing axe thrower wins world title”. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-62717150 There can’t have been any ground for the article to be axed, it wasn’t a hatchet job, the writer had no axe to grind – and I wasn’t bothered to axe about it since I saw it on the website. It all sounds like an interesting way to fly off the handle, and good to hear of someone from this island reaching her target on the world stage. Take a bow, Ceola McGowan from Sligo who is clearly at the cutting edge of her sport. [Billy, unfortunately you seem to have missed the bull’s eye for puns here – Ed]

On a more serious note, it was good to see Suzanne Breen, also in the Tele, https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/suzanne-breen/bloody-friday-and-role-of-14-year-old-hero-stephen-parker-must-not-be-forgotten-41845237.html (pay wall though) writing to remember Stephen Parker who died fifty years previously. Stephen Parker was a young hero, warning people of a bomb on Bloody Friday in north Belfast in July 1972. His father subsequently founded Witness for Peace. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157675161158637 Dying while warning others of the IRA bomb that killed him, Stephen Parker deserves all the memorialisation possible. Had he lived he would now be approaching retirement age and possibly playing with grandchildren but his life was snuffed out as a young teenager on a day that acted as a very effective recruiting sergeant for loyalist paramilitaries (just as Bloody Sunday had done for the IRA).

Apropos of nothing, I thought of the old (more than a century old) pun “If you weren’t so Ballymena with your Ballymoney we’d have a Ballycastle to be our Ballyholme” – Ballyholme is near Bangor, Co Down so they are all Northern places. But unfortunately in the winter to come most people will not be thinking of a castle for a home but just staying warm and fed. And on a world scale those who have done least to cause the ecological crisis are those who are suffering most from climate change. Anything we can do to make it a less cruel and more caring world is certainly required of us and that includes collective political as well as individual action.

Until I see you again, take care of yourself, take care of others, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 301

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Ah, ‘summer’ in Norn Iron, and the fifth season of the year, the Marching Season (as Colum Sands so admirably marked in song). A few days ago I was passing along a small back street in East Belfast, now it is a modern back street, with loyalist flags. And I saw a sight which made me think “No, they wouldn’t, they couldn’t be……” and they weren’t. A workman was placing a ladder against a lamp post which had on it an illegal paramilitary flag….was it just, incredibly, possible he had been delegated – and been willing to risk his safety – to take down this illegal flag? Two out of the three flags there were paramilitary ones. But of course he and his workmate weren’t taking the flags down, they were fixing the lights or replacing the bulbs. It is nobody’s responsibility, you see, to deal with such violent and sectarian branding which can be (and probably is) against the wishes of most residents.

7m

The population of the island of Ireland is now 7 million – 5.1 million in the Republic and 1.9 million in Northern Ireland with both showing increases, though at a higher rate in the Republic. At the current rate of increase it will take another couple of decades to reach the 8 million that was the pre-Famine/An Gorta Mór population, a particularly symbolic total given that the population of area of the Republic continued to decline from that time until the 1960s – it reached a minimum of only 2.8 million in 1961. Emigration was, of course, the main scourge. If trends continue the Republic’s 1961 population will have doubled by 2040 or not long after that. If the population of the 1840s had continued to grow, to be half the population of Britain (as it stood then) it would be over 30 million now.

Northern Ireland has moved from a population of around 1.25 million in 1921 to 1.9 million now. Because Northern Ireland’s population grew more steadily, if variably, since partition compared to the Republic’s more recent rapid increase, the proportion of the population of the whole island living in Northern Ireland has only declined from around 29% to around 27% in a century, so it stands at slightly over a quarter.

Is there such a thing as an ‘optimum’ population? That is very debatable and can be used (e.g. Britain) as a poor excuse for throwing people out who are seeking refuge and a new life. Ireland is relatively underpopulated by many international standards. Of course there are questions about sustainability and food sovereignty which are important but these are much more questions of policy – as is the provision of reasonably priced housing in Dublin which is a total disgrace and indictment of Irish government policies. Net immigration has been a major factor in population increases, particularly in the Republic, and that, as we have oft stated, has been a positive factor in Irish life in numerous ways over the last few decades.

Deaths in the family

It may not actually be true in a very meaningful sense but I tend to think of peace movement people around the world as ‘family’ – hopefully not in the manner of the mafia!. I have been to enough international peace events, and worked with others in other ways, to have made some great friends and learnt many things from them – not least that, through learning about their work and coming to highly respect them, even or particularly where there approach is different to my own, that ‘different strokes for different folks’ is important. I try to carry that through to work at home; obviously I believe in my own approach but one size doesn’t fit all, and what someone else does or says may communicate to others in a way that my own work does not. And peace is a jigsaw, made up of many different shaped bits.

So I am sad when I learn of an activist’s death that I know or know by name. Most have never been in the media spotlight, certainly outside the peace movement, but have been people of stature and impact – I think of someone like Tess Ramiro of the Philippines. Some are known widely internationally in peace circles, someone like Richard Deats from the USA who died in April 2021 (a web search will give you details of his life). Tess Ramiro and Richard Deats actually appear in the one photo on the INNATE photo site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50679396881/ even if it is not a particularly brilliant photo of either of them as they are in the background. Others are known internationally and in different circles, someone like Thich Nhat Hanh who died in January 2022; a profound peace activist, he was a ‘founder’ of ‘Engaged Buddhism’ and of mindfulness, and again there is plenty available on his life and teaching.

A more recent death, on 8th June 2022,was Bruce Kent, perhaps the best known peace activist on the island of Britain, and no stranger to Ireland, visiting and speaking a number of times at CND events both in the North https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/3337020641/in/photolist-65T6V8-65T6YD and the Republic https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/14890287515/in/album-72157614961149810/ For his life see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/09/bruce-kent-obituary Bruce Kent is of course most associated with CND but had strong involvements with other organisations such as Pax Christi and the Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW).

I am not into nonviolent sainthood. Few of any of us are saints and we all have our failings and faults which we may or may not know about ourselves. But family is family and I mourn all their deaths and am thankful for their lives and the dedication of peace and nonviolent activists around the world, many of who have difficulty to survive because of repression, ridicule, or basic questions of survival, and in all cases face difficult questions of direction.

The Midas militarist touch

Midas got more than he bargained for in everything that he touched turning to gold; you can’t eat gold (and with modern dentistry having moved beyond using it, gold is not a particularly useful metal). If you are involved in the arms trade, well, maybe everything you touch does turn to gold in your pocket. But as someone into peace and nonviolence I am amazed at what militarism touches and makes totally unpalatable for me.

I am not into royalty and that whole scene but if you take the recent Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, a whole day seemed to be devoted to military pageantry – and the members of the British royal family were groaning under their chestfuls (double meaning intended) of military medals. The Orange Order, and other loyal orders in Northern Ireland plus the bands that accompany them, are into military style marching, symbolism and regalia, and as I have already stated now is the Marching Season in Norn Iron. A fairly recent innovation is an ‘Armed Forces Day’ in the UK which is also celebrated in the North, which attempts to portray militarism as simply kind-hearted, family-friendly culture.

The standard welcome for a foreign dignitary is a military ‘guard of honour’ (what I would usually consider a guard of dishonour). The Republic has a commission on the future of the defence forces but not one of peace and neutrality. And who represented the President of Ireland at the funeral of Ciaran McKeown of the Peace People in Belfast in September 2019 – why, a military aide-de-camp in uniform….how appropriate was that for the funeral of a well known believer in nonviolence but it was certainly a fascinating juxtaposition.

And if you scratch the Christian churches, particularly the Protestant ones in Northern Ireland but the Catholic Church in Ireland a different way, well, militarism is part of the whole ideology. Some Protestant churches have got rid of military or military related flags in some of their buildings but the likes of St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Belfast has a military chapel. Has no one told them, these professed and sometimes professional Christians, that in the first couple of centuries after Jesus it was considered impossible to be a Christian and a soldier???????? [You are going to add to a world shortage of question marks – Ed] The lack of connection there is absolutely stunning.

Of course the decline and fall of Christianity as a default belief system in Ireland opens up new possibilities, and there have always been some Christians who stood against militarism but they have tended to be a small minority ever since the time of Constantine turning the Christian church into an adjunct of the state.

We have a huge task to liberate whole cultures from the militarist death wish. And unfortunately the Russian war on Ukraine seems to be reinforcing the view of many that militarism is the only way to go when it is the path to armageddon.

Peaceful Ireland

The Republic came in as third most peaceful country in the Global Peace Index (GPI) for 2022. See https://reliefweb.int/report/world/global-peace-index-2022 for summary and link to full report. Overall peacefulness was judged to have declined considerably. “Iceland remains the most peaceful country, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the Index by New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark and Austria. For the fifth consecutive year, Afghanistan is the least peaceful country, followed by Yemen, Syria, Russia and South Sudan. Seven of the ten countries at the top of the GPI are in Europe, and Turkey is the only country in this region to be ranked outside the top half of the Index. “

Of course it all depends on what your criteria are. They say the GPI “uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources to compile the index. These indicators are grouped into three key domains: Ongoing Conflict, Safety and Security, and Militarisation.” And while there might be some correlation between peacefulness and happiness there can be other factors not included which impinge on quality of life.

The cost of violence to the global economy was $16.5 trillion, or 10.9% of global GDP, which is the equivalent to $2,117 per person. For the ten countries most affected by violence, the average economic impact was equivalent to 34% of GDP, compared to 3.6% in the countries least affected.” This is only the economic effect that they measure and you cannot put a cost on trauma and injury. Not all the news was bad (war in Ukraine etc): “There were substantial improvements for several indicators, including terrorism impact, nuclear and heavy weapons, deaths from internal conflict, military expenditure, incarceration rates and perceptions of criminality. Terrorism impact is at its lowest level since the inception of the GPI. “

However it looks like the Irish government is trying its damnedest to join NATO and EU militarism to the full – and that would be sad in so many different ways. One of the things which Ireland (Republic of) can be proud of historically as an independent state is some of its international dealings, from de Valera and the League of Nations through work on nuclear issues, landmines and cluster munitions, and being previously somewhat non-aligned. That risks all going down the drain. The Irish government believes in cutting peacefulness into pieces.

Well’, as the water sprite said spritely, summer is here and I hope you are able to get a break in the routine and some holliers to enjoy. I often quote Christy Moore here and his definition of holidays (in ‘Lisdoonvarna’) – “When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there”, though with Covid over the last couple of years there wasn’t too much of people going here or there. Make hay while the sun shines cos September will be here in a flash, and I’ll see you again then, meanwhile take care of yourself and some others, Billy.