Category Archives: Editorials

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

Editorials: MADness, The Law of the Innocents

Humanity and MADness

The risk of self-destruction is a real one for humanity. This is not the aim of people’s actions but the result, applying to both war and global heating. It is not that we rationally want to destroy ourselves, literally or figuratively, but that this is the possible result of our actions and policies. During the Cold War there was the doctrine – policy – of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD): NATO (the USA and it allies) and Warsaw Pact (Soviet Russia and its allies) threatened each other with nuclear war which would have wiped out many cities and regions of the northern hemisphere and, ironically given global heating, brought about a nuclear winter which would in turn have wiped out the vast bulk of humanity through cold, hunger and radiation-related illnesses.

MAD was a threat; attack us and this is what you will get. But unlike conventional warfare which aims to destroy the enemy and only the enemy (not factoring in so-called ‘friendly fire’, ‘collateral damage’ to civilians, and retaliation), the result of MAD would be, as the name suggests, mutual destruction. There is a myth that this ‘kept the peace’ (we would strongly dispute that it did) and avoided war because the stakes were not only high but suicidal. This ignores the very real risks involved at the time such as with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 or false alarms when warning systems indicated one side was being attacked. The balance of terror involved in MAD was itself a form of madness and a very real risk to the future of the billions of individual people who make up humanity.

Unfortunately we live in another era of MADness, in relation to nuclear warfare but through ecological destruction too. We seem to have learned little about how to deal with threats. It is as if we do not want to know, and to some extent we do not. Considering global heating which is a threat to the whole world, fauna (including humanity) and flora combined. We know where we are going in general terms – if not precisely what temperature increase we face – and we know the likely catastrophic effects – but we seem incapable of taking the necessary radical actions which would minimise the risk. Yes, we will do a certain amount but not so much as to discomfort ourselves currently. It is rather like a scary film with a train hurtling towards destruction down the line; we know where the brake is, we know how to use it but we are unwilling to apply it because it might make for a bumpier ride in the here and now. There is an analogy here between the real prospect of global heating armageddon and the high risk (over time) of nuclear armageddon,

And the risks of nuclear warfare have certainly not gone away. Conflict and mediation theory are clear; it is through a process of discussion and building understanding that we can make progress. Threats and counter-threats simply escalate the problems. Of course there are people or countries who do harmful things (including very much those in ‘the west’), and these need dealt with, but how do we deal with them and end cycles of violence and oppression? The Irish constitution commits the southern-and-western state to the pacific resolution of international disputes; there are only occasional signs that this is a policy as opposed to an ignored semi-aspiration.

The current war in Ukraine is a scenario reminiscent of the First World War’s death and attrition on both sides. Neither side feels they can give way. Both sides feel justified in their actions, and they are unwilling to sacrifice their sacrifices to date (move away from continued sacrifice of lives and resources because of the lives and resources already ploughed into the warfare). This is a recipe for ongoing disaster. In invading Ukraine, Russia thought it would easily gain territory and solve a problem (its military security); in doing so it created a monster. But NATO and the west, in expanding eastwards in Russia and clearly not regarding meaningfully Russia’s fears, was instrumental in the creation of that monster. We are now in the grips of a limited form of MADness. Lives and money are being thrown away on both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war in a situation of attrition just like the First World War and its trench warfare but with modern weapons and technology. It is a form of ‘chicken’, racing towards each other at speed in motorised transport, in a macho confrontation which is inimical to anyone’s wellbeing.

However the greater form of MADness is lurking in the wings. Nuclear weapons have not gone away. NATO has no doctrine of avoiding first use of nuclear weapons. Neither does Russia and Putin has upped the ante by mentioning the use of nuclear weapons on more than one occasion in the last couple of years in the context of the war in Ukraine. This would presumably be ‘tactical’ (battlefield) nuclear weapons, i.e. ones with smaller explosive yields, but this would or could open the way to all out nuclear warfare. The Deputy Commander of the Air Force and Air Defence Forces of Belarus, Leonid Davidovich, has stated that the Belarusian military is ‘theoretically and practically’ ready for ‘actions with non-strategic nuclear weapons’.

On the positive side of things, the vast majority of countries in the world reject the concept and use of nuclear weapons, a position which was eventually codified in the 2021 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which explicitly bans the use, development, testing, production, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transferring, receiving, threat of use and deployment of nuclear weapons. This treaty has been totally ignored by the nuclear powers and their fellow travellers; so much, then, in terms of respect for the international community and developing peace.

Nuclear weapons are held as a WMD/Weapon of Mass Destruction that countries can use in extremis. But the problem is not only, if used, the unleashing of everything in this Pandora’s box; the problem is that, when holding nuclear weapons, others then wish to hold them as a counterweight. This is the case with India and Pakistan, frequently at military loggerheads. All of this leads to increased international instability.

The Economist, a well informed but in many ways conservative journal, gave its analysis of nuclear weapons in its 6th April 2024 issue entitled “The balancing act gets harder” (along with a satirical graphic of Xi, Putin and Biden barely balancing on a tightrope held up by nuclear missiles). It considers various aspects of the situation. If we take The Economist article as representative of a certain important strain of western thought on the matter, there are some startling omissions in it. What it does not consider is how nuclear de-escalation and disarmament can happen; this is a bit like wondering what to do about a fire without calling the fire brigade. There is no mention of trust building, treaty making, mediative and communication processes. There is simply a detailed description of the mess nuclear issues are in and what options are considered to exist within the framework of nuclear deterrence as understood by western power holders. Nuclear disarmament has to happen for the long term security of our small globe; we have been lucky so far in avoiding nuclear war (and luck has played a part) but do we imagine we can be lucky in perpetuity? That is a nonsense assumption.

A second related issue in The Economist’s coverage is that there is no real analysis of the dynamics of arms escalation, and of why Putin and Xi are maintaining and/or building up their nuclear arsenals. One side responds to another. The USA is modernising and developing its nuclear capacity but this is not understood in the west as a problem issue for other countries, a culturally specific omission of great importance (i.e. it is a very pro-western view). Of course Russia and China may want to have strong nuclear capacity to throw their weight around, but is that any different to the USA throwing its weight around? Or indeed ‘little’ (by comparison) Britain retaining its nuclear weapons because it wants to still play with the big boys?

There is also no mention whatsoever in The Economist article of the 2021 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which has been supported by the vast majority of the world, including Ireland, but not the nuclear powers and their fellow travellers. The nuclear powers ignore the developing consensus internationally against such weapons of mass destruction. While the Treaty may be aspirational it is through aspirations that we move forward. If the Economist piece is representative of western powerholding opinion then we are in trouble.

There was a slogan in the peace movement of forty years ago that ‘Unilateralists are multilateralists who mean it’. In other words, if we wait around for ‘everyone’ to agree on nuclear disarmament then it will never happen. We need countries to be brave enough to say ‘We will start the ball rolling….’ Nye Bevan, a founder of the National Health Service in Britain, opposed the abolition of nuclear weapons by the UK on the basis that it would mean “going naked into the conference chamber”, i.e. losing a bargaining chip. But someone has to start any process and those familiar with nonviolent tactics will know that voluntary nakedness can actually be a very strong and effective tactic in situations of injustice and political tension; in voluntarily choosing vulnerability in this way it shows real strength (it has various connotations in different cultures which can be part of this). We are not advocating literal nakedness here but going nuclear-naked.

Safety does not grow from aggression and threat. Safety comes from people being comfortable with each other and this in turn needs justice and equality, relatively speaking. Belligerent words (mentioning the possibility of engaging directly in the war in Ukraine) and actions (increased supply of weapons to Ukraine) does not deal with the conflict. Wars are ended by victory and defeat or by talking, or both.

We are currently in our world, northern hemisphere certainly, in a period of MADness. We cannot continue this way, for the wellbeing and survival of humanity. We need a different form of MADness – Mutually Assured De-escalation, which perhaps we could label SANity – Simple Action on Needs, dealing with the real needs of the world which are so pressing rather than adding additional worries. We need a process of dialogue and actions which take us to safety and cooperation to deal with the urgent needs of the world in relation to global heating and ecological sustainability, as well as much greater global justice, and allow for people to feel secure and unthreatened.

MADness or SANity – we have a choice.

The Law of the Innocents, 21st century

There are different positive approaches or responses to war, and there can seem to be a dichotomy between those who a) refuse to participate or back war in any form, and those who b) try to limit and/or deal with the effects and extent of war through measures such as extending ‘laws of war’ and so on. In the first category are people who could be labelled believers in nonviolence or nonviolent activists and, in increasingly archaic and abused language, ‘pacifists’. In the second category are bodies like the Red Cross/Crescent, addressing the effects of war and other disasters, and activists who have brought about the banning, in international law, of landmines and cluster munitions, or indeed those who have worked for nuclear weapons non-proliferation and for bodies who work in early intervention and addressing the causes or war.

Life is not usually very simple and different people will take different approaches as to where to address issues of war and mass violence, or stated colloquially, there are different strokes for different folks. There are many different factors in war happening including greed, injustice, imperialist (sic) attitudes, issues of resources, xenophobia and nationalism, as well as the well of history and geography. Some of those who oppose war in totality, category a) above, may get involved as a pragmatic choice in working on restricting what is considered legitimate in war so that the effects of war are not so terrible, and warfare becomes more circumscribed.

Wars will continue as long as nonviolent alternatives are not available or are not seen. It can certainly be argued that most people’s approach to mass violence and war is a blind spot; wars are entered for reasons that are considered ‘worthy’ – however mistaken they may be – but the fact that the war in question is subsequently proven to have negative consequences – think Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya among many others – does not bring about a thoroughgoing reassessment of views and a more critical approach ‘the next time’. This is despite clear research which shows nonviolent struggle is more likely to be effective (Chenoweth and Stefan, 2011, see e.g. https://www.innatenonviolence.org/readings/2020_03.shtml and https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2022/04/01/nonviolent-resistance-to-invasion-occupation-and-coups-detat/ )

All approaches to undermining war and aspects of war as a legitimate and legal form of action are welcome. The project on The Law of the Innocents, 21st Century, is one such enterprise and deserves support. As those who are familiar with the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland are aware, there can be problems in defining who is ‘innocent’ and who is not, who deserves sympathy for deprivation and loss (including loss of life of self or loved ones) and who either deserves less sympathy or none at all. The nonviolent approach is to say that all those who suffer are victims; Russian soldiers in Ukraine may be fighting on the side of an aggressor but if wounded or killed they are also victims. The new law states that “Given the indefensible nature of modern warfare, defence can no longer justify engagement in war or military aggression of any kind OR the military industrial complex, including the arms industry and all other associated institutions. In its protections, Lex Innocentium, 21st Century, renders modern warfare impossible without breaking this law, and necessarily rejects the Just War Theory.”

We therefore should not be too literal in our understanding of who the ‘Law of the Innocents’ might apply to in 2024 CE, more than 1300 years later after the original. Undermining the credibility of war – which includes its tie up with the state and state identity – is a major but necessary task, and all projects and critiques of war as a viable and legitimate form of action are very welcome. The Law of the Innocents, 21st century, also draws on Irish history and is part of an honourable tradition in Ireland of rejecting and seeking to ameliorate the effects of war. Various cultures around the world in antiquity had similar attempts to impose restrictions on warfare. Including the earth in the categories covered in the “21st century” version is of course a necessary and welcome move; the military are major polluters and carbon contributors even without the devastation of war which wreaks total havoc with the environment.

Editorials: Peace and global inequality, The politics of threat or trust

Peace and global inequality

The world is shaping up for some tough times since, on top of all the existing conflicts and disputes, global heating will make many people’s lives literally hell on earth – through oven like heat and drought, flooding, displacement, exile, increased poverty and precariousness, danger, and, if they do reach somewhere else to live, then in many cases rejection, deportation or at best a tough reception. And Covid was a straw that broke many backs around the world.

A UN human development report shows a growing gulf between rich and poor countries and portrays this as a ‘recipe for much darker future’; “the pandemic, conflict, globalisation and populism have combined to disproportionately affect lower-income countries” https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/13/growth-of-gulf-between-rich-and-poor-countries-recipe-for-much-darker-future-says-un?CMP=share_btn_url and https://hdr.undp.org/content/human-development-report-2023-24 The gap was narrowing until 2020 but has been widening since Covid began then.

One feature of conflict and poverty worldwide is migration. It is is is interesting to see the frequent hugely negative reaction to refugees and asylum seekers in rich western, Christian or post-Christian countries. This is highly ironic given that the founder of Christianity, Jesus, was, according to the Christian bible, himself a refugee in Egypt as a young baby with his parents; so where are the much vaunted ‘Christian’ values of the west? These are often claimed by nationalist politicians in many countries whether they are individually Christian or not as a euphemism for ‘white European’. Most refugees find a new existence – and it is sometimes just an existence – in neighbouring countries to that from which they have been ejected or fled. Those coming to ‘the west’ including the EU face an increasingly tough time, if they are able to get there at all.

But the solution to any perceived refugee crisis is staring people in the face; increased global equality and increased global peace. This sounds highly grandiose, like waving a magic wand to make things good. But if just a fraction of what was spent on the military and the arms trade went instead for human security and sustainable development worldwide then there could be a remarkable difference. That is in everyone’s interest, rich and poor countries in different ways. Conflict is also stirred and exacerbated by (lack of) access to resources (and by resource extraction) whereas greater global equality and human security would also lead to less demand for weapons and less inclination to war and warfare.

Peace and greater global equality are inextricably linked and, tragically, peace is also dependent on limiting and effectively dealing with global heating, something which is not happening in the way that it should. Global heating and inequality both feed into conflict – and likely to lead to violent conflict – in a very direct way. ‘Resource wars’, particularly over water, may be an increasing feature globally as the 21st century progresses. We already see, for example, how Israel uses and abuses Palestinian water resources. The EU, as it develops its army and arms capacity, will be a major player in this big boy militarism; it is a total illusion to imagine that it will not throw its weight around. This will be a new imperialism among both former imperialist powers and others – including Ireland if current directions continue.

We have to resist militarist developments. We have to curb global heating as fast as we possibly can. We

have to work for greater global equality. And Ireland has the opportunity to move from the vestiges of neutrality to being a real, enthusiastic, and effective, player worldwide on all these issues but not if current trends continue – the stand which the Irish government has taken on Gaza does not mean it is not still a slavish advocate of EU militarisation and NATO collaboration.

Replacing the politics of threat and fear with the politics of trust

That the world is currently going to hell in a handcart is difficult to deny. Rampant global warming is accompanied by new wars and increased tensions globally. It is easy to feel totally powerless in such a situation. But ‘we’ – the forces of peace and environmentalism – are not powerless; we may not be powerful like warmongering governments and alliances, or fossil fuel companies, but ‘we’ are many and they are few. It is a matter of realising and operationalising our power, including through building alliances locally and globally.

There is a problem with the term ‘nonviolence’ since it starts with a negative. The problem exists in other languages, sometimes even more so than in English. April Carter likened it to the way that what we now know as a ‘car’ was initially called a ‘horseless carriage’, i.e. it was first of all described for what it was not before a more neutral term emerged. Now whether the dominance of the internal combustion engine is a good thing in relation to transport is another question but the point is nevertheless valid. We are trying to build an approach which will become the norm. One of the suggested terms for nonviolence, though it only encapsulates one aspect of it, is ‘relentless persistence’

We have often pointed out the way that violence and nonviolence are judged differently, using different measurements. Nonviolence is quickly judged to have failed. While particularly egregious wars sometimes lead to changes in behaviour, in the longer term lessons are seldom learnt. The slogan of the First World War being ‘the war to end all wars’ was not only nonsense but the victors’ behaviour towards the defeated Germany, and the failure to invest in new systems such as the League of Nations, led to another conflagration.

Chenoweth and Stefan’s research showing the relative effectiveness of nonviolent struggle compared to violent is open to debate including some of their detailed conclusions (it is questionable whether the IRA’s campaign in the Troubles in Northern Ireland can be labelled as partially successful – compared to what?). However you might analyse their work, it surely shows that nonviolence is not any less successful than violence and has frequently better outcomes for the future in relation to human rights and so on.

However powerholders rarely roll over and say, yes, let’s change, though it does happen – Gorbachev in the USSR is one example, in moves which allowed the dismantling of the Russian-Soviet empire in eastern Europe. The end result was generally hugely positive though how change happened in Russia, and was responded to in the west, allowed the old authoritarianism to creep back with Putin.

For social and political change movements there are issues of policy and practice. We have to show that there are better ways than the politics of threat, violence and division. The world, and the people of the world, cannot afford that without misery upon misery being heaped on the poorest and many others. This is initially a matter of building concepts of change and how it can come about before actually doing it.

Many people in Ireland identify with the plight of Palestinians, particularly in relation to the war in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Irish people can readily identify with lack of self determination and outside control. Many are also starting to make connections, such as the misery and desperation of the people of Gaza with the role played by the arms trade. There are many such linkages to be made about how the rich, powerful and unscrupulous exercise their greed and control. Conscientisation is not an event, though it can begin with a particular event, but a process of learning how the world works at the moment.

There are other ways, as the reference to Chenoweth and Stephan above indicates. There are lots of examples in Ireland too where the positive forces of change have prevailed. Sometimes it can be a matter, not of biding our time, but building slowly so that when the time is ripe then real change can happen. Ireland is a different and generally more positive place than it was a few decades ago while there are new challenges and issues to be dealt with.

One of the most simple images, which has often been used by Quakers, of cooperation rather than conflict is of two donkeys pulling in opposite directions to get at hay in their vicinity. When they cooperate and go together to one pile of hay, and then the other, they can, so to speak, have their cake and eat it. Conflict is a part of life; it is how we learn to live with it that matters. The powerful will rarely concede their advantage without a struggle; it is in our building strength through nonviolent struggle that we can make progress and build a world without the fear and division which exist today.

Editorials: Ireland’s future and Ireland’s Future, The EU gets even more bellicose

Ireland’s future and Ireland’s Future

Ireland’s Future” is a nationalist think tank which recently released a report entitled “Ireland 2030” with proposals for the period between now and then, i.e. 2024 – 2030. https://irelandsfuture.com/publications/ireland-2030-proposals-for-the-period-between-2024-and-2030/ While this editorial is not intended to be a full scale analysis of this report, it does refer to some points of agreement and disagreement while looking at aspects of what “Ireland’s future” should be.

The Irish government needs to be pro-active – in a way it has not been – to explore what a united Ireland might entail. One point of disagreement with the Ireland’s Future group is on timescale. It is important that nothing is rushed and therefore that the short timescale in that report should not be followed. Some things take time.

The reason we would say that the Irish government should be proactive is not to push a nationalist agenda but to avoid a vacuum. At the moment, while various discussions have been held, there has been no officially-sponsored discussion from the 26-county state on what a 32-county state might look like – despite the ideological commitment to same. Ireland’s Future recommendation to have a dedicated Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on ‘the Constitutional Future of the island of Ireland” is fair enough as far as it goes but it should not be limited to constitutional change – it should be considering social, cultural, economic and human security matters as well. The Civic Forum type body (“”All-Island Civic Forum/Assembly/Dialogue”) which Ireland’s Future recommends, however, is much broader.

There are obvious reasons for the state in the Republic not having done more, and one being not to inflame loyalist passions in the North is positive in the sense that they are thinking of others. But it is also irresponsible because at the moment ‘a united Ireland’ can mean anything, and also people in the Republic have not thought through what it might mean and entail, e.g. in relation to national symbols or to the nature of the state. We know, to a considerable extent, what a ‘United Kingdom’ with Northern Ireland as part of it means; of course there are uncertainties on this, much arising from Brexit, and currently from British government attempts to reassure northern unionists on their commitment to the Union.

We cannot currently compare like with like, or unlike with unlike. If a united Ireland does come about there will of course be some uncertainties right up to whatever changes take place. But we need to know a general impression of what is likely to be the template so that people can be encouraged to make a rational decision – insofar as they are willing to do so – in both the North and the Republic.

Ireland’s Future also recommends that “Human rights, equality and environmental assessments – and associated values – must shape every stage” (of the process they recommend). This is commendable. However the idea of harnessing international opinion (in favour of a united Ireland) is unhelpful and should only be utilised if it is clear that a Secretary of State should have called a referendum, based on what is in the Good Friday Agreement, but has failed to do so for whatever reason. The most important opinion to be influencing is in the North, not internationally.

The fact that Alliance is no longer a small-u unionist party, with more party members supporting Irish unity than the continuation of the existing United Kingdom, is certainly a straw in the wind. It is only a decade ago when prominent Alliance party member Anna Lo caused very considerable angst by proclaiming herself in favour of a united Ireland. For unionists, this will be proof that Alliance has ‘gone over to the other side’ but in reality Alliance as a party has taken no position, and it is another clarion call to unionists to up their game in being able to demonstrate that the continuation of the status quo (or something like the status quo) is in the interests of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, so that they note and vote accordingly. While some unionists are starting to express this point of view there is not much evidence as yet of it being put into practice.

Whether a Labour government in Britain, likely within the next year, affects things significantly remains to be seen. It will be less English-nationalist and perhaps less defensive of the British army and its deeds or misdeeds (cf NI Legacy Act) but it is unlikely to significantly loosen the purse strings. Of course many people will vote on simple unionist/nationalist lines when, and if, it comes to a referendum on Irish unity, but the ‘middle ground’ of Alliance-type voters, and other swing voters, may decide on economic and social grounds as to what is best in the medium to long term for the people of the North. In this case such people may decide that some short term pain, in relation to economic wellbeing and general disruption of existing institutions and practices, is worth the long term gain. Alternatively they may decide the divil you know is better than the divil you don’t.

However there are many things which would need to happen first before there would be a referendum, not least changes and developments in the Republic irrespective of the nature of the proposed constitutional arrangements and any ongoing devolution to the six counties of Northern Ireland under either jurisdiction. An initial point we would stress is that Irish unity, if it is to come, should be a process and not a sudden volte face. There are many ways of organising such a process but a sudden move from UK to Republic without very considerable planning and consultation could be a disaster in a variety of ways – societally, organisationally, financially, and in relation to resistance, violent or not, to such a move by unionism and loyalism.

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement of 1998 gives the power to the British Secretary of State to decide if and when to call a referendum “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.” This is very imprecise, gives the Secretary of State a lot of power, and no Secretary of State as yet has clarified exactly what circumstances would lead him or her to that conclusion and course of action. And if a vote was in favour of a united Ireland then ”the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.” Unfortunately not all of those holding the position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could be said to be first class players in British politics or indeed imbued with great understanding of the realities of Northern Ireland (this is an considerable understatement).

It all does get pinned on a simple arithmetic majority (50% +1) either way in a referendum. A multi-option vote would have been a better way to proceed but we are where we are and neither side is likely to want to change from that. This is where the importance of process comes in. However here is nothing to say that a multi-option referendum or referenda could not be held at any stage after the simple arithmetic majority vote.

We would strongly argue that even if there is a vote for a united Ireland in such a referendum that should be the start of a process, perhaps with an indicative time frame of a number of years and certainly not the next morning, next month or even next year. If the writing was already on the wall then many more unionists would seriously engage with the issues involved and the definite shape of a new Ireland could be thrashed out; at the moment only a few from the unionist side of the house are willing to engage with such questions. Without adopting the details of the time frame advocated by Ireland’s Future – and it is a different context, this is the sort of thing which should come into play after a majority in a referendum vote for Irish unity, if that comes to pass.

And if unionists want to have any chance to continue a link with Britain then they need to facilitate a situation where nationalists are happy to continue under the UK umbrella because their needs are addressed and they also feel they can express their Irishness north of a border. Without that then changing demographics are likely to do their work for a united Ireland. It is clear that some unionists already grasp this but not a majority, and the default position is still nearer ‘what we have, we hold’.

If a united Ireland is coming then how unionists’ British identity and culture can be protected is a key issue. We would argue strongly that this can be done culturally without the Irish state becoming a pale reflection of the neighbouring island, and nor should it entail NATO membership. With freedom of travel between Ireland and Britain, in a united Ireland anyone from Ireland who wanted could, as now, join the British armed forces.

Nationalist commentators – including those in Ireland’s Future – are right that ‘reconciliation’ should not be a precondition of unification but then reconciliation should be a key element in any political moves, full stop. Independent work for reconciliation should continue but be a consideration in all political moves, unionist, nationalist, or other, and the two or three governments involved.

Decisions about the future of Ireland are complex, despite unionist or nationalist simplicities. Clarity is of the essence. The people of Ireland, both sides of the border, deserve honest analysis so that the best decisions can be made for the long term future.

The EU gets even more bellicose

Bellicosity’ is perhaps an old-fashioned word, and comes from the Latin word for war or warlike, ‘bellum’, and perhaps ‘warlike’ is more prosaic English. But, whatever word you prefer, the EU is gearing up for a fight with Russia, and unspecified others, along with supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia. The mind boggles. The EU, along with its NATO allies the USA and UK, and Russia are all nuclear armed. It is crazy to continue to push forward with confrontation and a new cold war arms race which no one can win. Donald Tusk talks about a “pre-war era”. A senior NATO official recently told EU ambassadors in Dublin that it was a matter of ‘when’ that Russia would invade the EU, not ‘if’.

Rapprochement and conflict resolution or even conflict transformation are difficult but are not even being thought about. And Russia under Putin is not easy to deal with. Those favouring armament and a military approach talk about Munich and British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s mistaken deal with Hitler in 1938. But this is not 1938 or 1939 and Putin may be a murdering quasi-dictator but he is not Hitler and has a more rational approach to what he feels he can get away with. Putting more money in the armaments basket simply leads to the other side doing more of the same. ‘The West’, EU and NATO ignored Russian security concerns when they decided to take NATO membership up to Russia’s boundaries.

It takes two sides to have an arms race. Those who lose are initially the poor when money is diverted to pay the arms merchants and armies. And if the weapons and armies are used in anger then everyone loses big time.

How can we engage non-violently with a somewhat belligerent ‘other side’ without either giving in to unreasonable demands or seeming weak and vulnerable? And what about ‘our’ side’s warmaking (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya)? Why are Europeans not thinking in ‘win/win’ terms, difficult as that may be? What common goals could be decided on that would convince all sides that win/win solutions are possible? What are Russia’s legitimate security concerns? How can Russia be turned from an ‘enemy’ into a friend, as it seemed it might become after the fall of communism? And what went wrong there? Putin may be in power for more than a decade from now but how do we assist a less nationalist and more open Russia to emerge during and after his rule? These are some of the questions which need to be asked but are blatantly not being aired.

Of course it may feel different if you are sitting beside Russia’s borders than if you are falling off the western edge of Europe like Ireland. But it is precisely the ongoing NATO expansion to Russia’s borders which was the occasion for Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine. It may be counter-intuitive to those with a militarist mindset but building up your armed capacity does not necessarily make you safer, it may simply make your perceived enemy more anxious and trigger-happy, and you more likely to use the weapons you do have. Think of what led up to the First World War and where that ended up.

Neutrality has been disparaged by the NATO powers that be and their fellow travellers in Ireland. So it is good to see a congress happening in Columbia on neutrality as a way to aid international stability. There are so many possibilities for neutrality which those in control of the Irish state seem not to see; the sky (plus the earth and the sea) is the limit. We need to build up the visibility and perceived viability of neutrality as a rational and effective means to work towards international and global peace.

In ending this piece it is worth quoting the entirety of a recent statement from MIR in Italy on developments in the EU:

The Movimento Internazionale della Riconciliazione – a historic Italian pacifist organisation affiliated to the I.F.O.R. – expresses its dismay and concern at the attempt to transform the European Council into a ‘war council’, with the expansion of the EU’s military commitment, not only in terms of war production but also by ventilating a worrying ‘readiness strategy’, which envisages an emergency plan to ‘prepare citizens for conflict’.

“The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, did not hesitate to dust off the old Roman motto ‘If you want peace prepare for war’, hoping that Europe would produce more ammunition and weapons and increase its defence spending,” said Ermete Ferraro, president of the M.I.R., “Moreover, pandering to the invitation coming from the very summit of the E.U. executive, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel clearly hypothesised the transition to a ‘war economy’, preparing citizens for a defence perspective in a blatantly warmongering key”.

M.I.R. Italy considers these statements to be very severe, as they do nothing but exacerbate the current armed conflicts, sidelining the European Union on a ground that betrays its own founding principles. Indeed, Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty (2012) states that ‘The Union shall aim to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples’, and Article 5 states that: “(The EU) contributes to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights […] and to the strict observance and development of international law, in particular respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter”.

“These principles cannot be reconciled with openly bellicose policies, in which solidarity is understood as sending arms to a country at war,” commented Ferraro. “Therefore, together with the other pacifist organisations, we strongly denounce these dangerous positions and reaffirm the ethical but also constitutional principle of repudiation of war as a mean of resolving international disputes, reaffirming instead the need to develop an unarmed, civil and non-violent defence method”.

Editorials: Defence and offence, Western hypocrisy and power

Irish neutrality

Defence and offence

Irish neutrality is an ongoing hot potato, not least because the Irish government and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, wants to gobble it up and fall in totally with NATO and EU militarism while always proclaiming ‘neutrality is not at risk’. The so-called Consultative Forum on International Security Policy of mid-2023 provided no justification for any change, especially abolishing the ‘Triple Lock’ on the deployment of Irish troops overseas, but Martin and the Irish government pretend it does. See the StoP report on that ‘Forum’ for more details https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2023/10/18/stop-report-on-consultative-forum-on-international-security/ A move in the Dáil to get rid of the Triple Lock could happen at any time; see the Irish Neutrality League leaflet on this at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53559581373/in/dateposted/

However there are various other developments and pressures taking place, not least in the mainstream media (especially The Irish Times) to support moving closer to NATO. And regular comments in mainly British media, and sometimes from unionist politicians, allege Irish ‘freeloading’ off NATO, by relying on British ‘defence’. This only makes sense if a) you accept the militarist mindset that Ireland could be invaded or attacked in some way by, presumably, Russia and b) you don’t see NATO policies as themselves antagonistic and likely to inflame international tensions, again with Russia. And a British report recommended that the UK strengthen its military presence in Northern Ireland, see https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/politics/leo-varadkar-defends-irelands-security-commitments-after-london-report-accuses-dublin-of-freeloading-on-defence-4506500

The Irish government is an enthusiastic fellow traveller with NATO. It does not proclaim any desire to join NATO (because that would cause an uproar since ‘neutrality’ is still supported by a considerable majority of citizens) but participates in various forms of cooperation, e.g. https://www.irishtimes.com/crime-law/2024/02/09/ireland-enters-wide-ranging-agreement-with-nato-aimed-at-countering-russia-threats/ We would not say that there is no threat to Irish-linked undersea cabling by Russia but we can be clear that any such threat is part of NATO-Russia antagonism and the best way to tackle this is through active neutrality and engagement with the parties, including working for a solution to the war in Ukraine. Who could best save Europe from war? The militarist and war-making NATO or a small country who, along with others, decided to work in an innovative and imaginative way to defuse situations and build peace?

INNATE supports nonviolence and nonviolent civilian defence and social defence (the latter including defence of social and cultural being more than it is of territory, although that too). However we recognise that within a military approach to defence there is such a thing as “non-offensive defence”, i.e. a defence of territory which cannot be construed to be offensive and therefore does not give rise to arms races and international antagonism over military developments. It would appear that the Irish government, while still paying (increasingly unrealistic) homage to Irish neutrality, has never actually heard of this concept of non-offensive defence but instead wants to go the whole way to put all its eggs in the NATO style militarist basket. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. Unfortunately with NATO it is possible that in due course we will have to duck for cover – and in modern warfare, as in Gaza, there may be nowhere to hide.

War is not a game. http://innatenonviolence.org/posters/Children_and_Conflict4_Not%20game.pdf

How the West was one

…… hypocritical power abuser

In ‘the West’ we think we are the best, nay, more than that, we know we are the best in the world. This editorial aims to briefly explore that concept. It is not that we do not value ‘western freedoms and democracy’ but that these need qualification in description and have sometimes been dependent on the putting down, literally or metaphorically, of others.

Western empires are thought to be well in the past but their effect more than lingers on in plundered wealth. India was one of the wealthiest areas of the world when Britain took control, initially through private enterprise. When Britain left India it was at the bottom of the wealth pile. But the legacy of empire is still controversial and Britain and France, for example, are generally unwilling to consider that legacy. The aftermath of colonialism is still very obvious in Northern Ireland where the 17th century plantation is the primary root of division; while the Good Friday Agreement has helped make some progress in dealing with that division, it has also, in its consociational elements, copperfastened it.

While Ireland in general (not the unionist part) lauds its anti-imperialist and anti-colonial history, its simultaneous involvement in British imperialism is not necessarily marked. The 19th century British army – that body which actualised empire through violence and repression – was one third Irish. Most Irishmen who joined may have done so for survival and a job rather than a commitment to queen and empire but that was who and what they served.

Today the wealth of the Republic is largely due to tax paid by US multinationals who came partly, or in some cases primarily, because of the low business taxes. A considerable amount of this was and is diversion of tax which should certainly have been paid in other, often much poorer, countries, since such companies are adept at moving profits to where is most advantageous to them in terms of paying tax. This is Ireland creaming off wealth from elsewhere.

And the Irish government, in a country which was once anti-imperialist in terms of international policy, is rapidly trying to join former imperialist powers, and others, in the creation of a pan-European empire which is projected, and euphemised, as a peace project but is now in reality about power and control. We have only to look at what has been happening in relation to EU border control to get a glimpse of the future; and yet far more refugees and migrants are hosted in the (poor) countries neighbouring conflict zones than ever get anywhere near (rich) Europe. Europe often lambastes the USA for its imperial adventures but the EU is rapidly heading towards being another global superpower.

Ireland, which because of colonialism exported vast numbers of citizens, is now under pressure from right wing ideologues proclaiming the island is ‘full’. The government has continued with a grossly unfair system of direct provision for asylum seekers which is contrary to any reasonable definition of human rights but is also an insult to the memory of the Irish people who had to emigrate for economic reasons or to survive in the past.

The ecological crisis is largely the product of the rich, industrialised, West. Certainly relatively newly industrialised countries such as China are now major contributors of greenhouse gases but overall those who have created the problem are those who have the most resources to at least partly ‘buy their way out of it’, and least likely to suffer now or in the future from global heating. While movement on the issue is taking place it is largely at a glacial pace and nothing like the resources which are available are being thrown at it – and Irish green policies are woeful.

The West’ is proud of its democratic values but what are these worth? Both the UK and USA have systems which at the top are unrepresentative of the population. The UK’s ‘first past the post’ system is medieval at best, highly unrepresentative, and has largely favoured right wing politics – and policies which would never have had a chance of being implemented had there been a fairer system in place. The US system, while it does possess ‘checks and balances’, is at the top the preserve of those who can raise massive amounts of money – a system favouring right wing and business interests – relative to others. And even that system is at risk in the USA as the right wing seek to overthrow accepted norms. And in Europe various citizen rights are being curtailed, often due to populist right wing pressure. Whistleblowers on state crimes may not be executed but they can be persecuted beyond reason, as with Julian Assange.

Nor are the powerful countries of the West peaceful. Recent decades have seen wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (undertaken on dubious grounds even within establishment thinking) which have led to further misery and destabilisation, in the case of Libya contributing to violence and destabilisation in a whole region, and the West has also supported war in Yemen, for example. The slaughter in Gaza currently has been strongly supported by the USA, militarily and financially, and also backed by Germany and to a lesser extent Britain. It was the imperialist Balfour Declaration of 1917 by Britain which eventually led, through different processes and wars, to the seizure of Palestinian lands by Israel. And if the USA and Britain had not overthrown the democratic government in Iran in 1953, to prevent the nationalisation of western oil interests, how different the history of that country and the region might have been. Western arms companies contribute in a major way to violence worldwide. NATO nuclear policies, including those of Britain and France, are a danger to the whole world. And wars outside of areas of perceived western interest, e.g. Sudan, get ignored.

An article in this issue by Peter Emerson looks at some issues in relation to Russia, Ukraine, eastern Europe and the Caucasus. We maintain strongly that NATO’s move to the borders of Russia – a country twice invaded from western Europe during the 20th century – was a major contributor to the current war in Ukraine.

There are various simplicities included in the above. And none of the above justifies the negative and violent policies of other countries such as Russia or China where human rights range from much worse to non-existent. But far from the West being awake to the realities of its policies, past and present, and their effects, it seems it is asleep at the wheel when it comes to self awareness. This makes for a mountain to climb for the future. It is however the task of social and political change movements to pull the wool from people’s eyes and show the reality so more positive politics can progress.

Editorials: Northern Ireland – SAD – and a fight at the end of the tunnel

The expected return to Stormont following the DUP decision to come back into the fold is indeed welcome news. However there is so much to sort out in Northern Ireland that even with a fair wind at their back it will not be plain sailing for the NI Assembly and Executive. Analysts have said that dealing with the pollution problem in Lough Neagh, that is with a proper plan in place, could still take a couple of decades. Getting Northern Ireland and its public services into reasonable shape could be looking at a similar time frame, at least a decade – and that is with all going well.

Most of the details of the deal done have emerged but how it will work out in practice is another question too as there seem to be various possible incompatibilities. The extent to which it mirrors the deal Theresa May offered, keeping the UK in alignment with EU regulations, is not yet clear; it would be highly ironic to end up with that, supported by the DUP, years after the DUP helped plunge Northern Ireland and the whole UK into chaos in rejecting it. Some of the changes are window dressing and simple renaming but the fact of the matter is that there was very little room for manoeuvre given previous decisions made through the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit. However the exclusion of other parties from DUP negotiations with the British government is not a good model of democracy. Nevertheless the DUP can argue that it has got a good deal, though the extent to which it meets their much vaunted ”seven tests” is highly debatable, or indeed whether it has changed anything in the Windsor Framework.

And a huge number of problems arise. The biggest underlying problem is of course the start-stop nature of the Northern Ireland Assembly itself. If the two largest parties retain their veto power over whether the Assembly is ‘up’ or ‘down’ then the last two years are unlikely to be the last hiatus. Each ‘Fresh Start’ is not necessarily that, and another stumbling block could cause more ‘down time’. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/22924768430/in/photolist-AVMqY7 Persuading the DUP and Sinn Féin to drop their veto power and allow the Assembly to continue without one of them in the Executive is a major move and not an easy one to achieve. All the other old issues of division remain in place.

Having a Sinn Féin First Minister in Michelle O’Neill is a new departure, and although the Deputy First Minister is equally powerful, it is deeply symbolic of the demographic shift in Northern Ireland. It does also seem a good illustration of unionist commitment to cooperation and democracy at this point. However decision making in the Assembly has often been very poor and inclusive voting systems, such as those espoused by the de Borda Institute, www.deborda.org could make a big difference. Sinn Féin could also do with reining back triumphalist statements which could inflame matters; Mary Lou McDonald indicating that a united Ireland was within “touching distance” was unwise as it gives succour to loyalist opposition to a deal. Her statement was more qualified than this reference might indicate; she was speaking, she said, “in historic terms” (which could conceivably refer to time periods of centuries) and while she was talking about “a new Ireland” it is clear that this is a euphemism for ‘a united Ireland’ of some sort. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/republic-of-ireland/first-sinn-fein-first-minister-shows-irish-unity-is-within-touching-distance/a147204909.html

SAD can be an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depressive condition brought about by seasonal factors and associated by many with lack of light in winter, and the start of the year can be very dreary. SAD could also be an appropriate acronym for Sectarian Affective Disorder whereby the situation in Northern Ireland is continually held hostage by sectarian approaches to politics. By ‘sectarian’ in this context we are not meaning it in its full brutal and vindictive form but more in a sociological sense that people’s, and political parties’, approaches tend to be conditioned and imprisoned to a considerable extent by the main background of their supporters, cultural Catholic or cultural Protestant, political nationalist or political unionist. By this measurement, Northern Ireland is just as ‘SAD’ now as it was before the DUP agreed to go back into the Assembly.

We don’t want to rehash the history of Ireland, plantation, partition or Brexit here. But there are numerous problems which have proved to make thorough and lasting solutions impossible. While most unionists will now be backing Stormont, many unionists feel the nature of their British citizenship has been changed by the Northern Ireland Protocol and then the Windsor Framework. To some extent they are right. A slight economic barrier in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland has been erected which was not there during EU membership. The fact of easier access to the EU market from the North does not for them trump the fact that they felt ‘trapped’ by the EU regulations in still being in the ‘single market’ and thus ruled by ‘foreign laws’ (laws which are evolving but by which the whole of the UK was bound during its EU membership).

Being treated differently to the rest of the UK is considered anathema to many unionists – at least when it is not to their liking. But Ireland before partition and Northern Ireland since 1921 have usually had trade barriers or differentiations with Britain so that is actually nothing new. https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/henry-patterson-legalistic-attempts-to-restore-article-6-of-the-act-of-union-would-be-a-disaster-4495902

Most analysts feel that the DUP, having backed a hard Brexit, were only persuaded to oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol, and subsequently the Windsor Framework, by practical politics – losing support to the harder line TUV. This is correct. But principles and practicalities can go together and there are principles involved for most unionists. However the practical result of DUP opposition to the settlement in withdrawing from Stormont meant that the ship of state in the North has been virtually rudderless for two years with very considerable effects for workers, planning, poverty, communities and so on. This was not in the interest of anyone in the North.

Nationalists also feel aggrieved in that Brexit took place when an arithmetic majority in the North supported staying in the EU. For them this may not have adversely affected their view of the constitutional situation but it certainly was detrimental, in their view, to the status quo agreed in the Good Friday Agreement where common EU membership was assumed for Britain and Ireland. Their feeling is that Brexit has been used to emphasise ‘Britishness’ and get one up on them; the DUP is perceived as having held the whole of society hostage in a situation where they do not realise the compromises which nationalists face every day in a British state.

The British approach to all this was not very helpful with Chris Heaton-Harris seeming, or even being, somewhat ineffectual in the role of Secretary of State. Holding out the prospect of the much needed money but it being dependent on a return to Stormont by the DUP was regarded as insulting by those in need, and by the DUP, for different reasons. To withhold cash from those in need is reprehensible. And the DUP regarded it as moral blackmail. The money could and should have been made available irrespective of decisions by the DUP holding the North to ransom. Whether the hard ball played by Heaton-Harris made any difference to the DUP’s decision to return is a debatable question.

The extent to which there will be defections from the DUP over the return to Stormont remains to be seen. Jeffrey Donaldson himself was a defector from the Ulster Unionist Party after the Good Friday Agreement. However a further division in unionism is not in the interest of peace and stability in the North. The TUV, while ably represented by Jim Allister, has remained a one man band because it is not transfer friendly in the PR-STV system; any defectors there from the DUP would face an uncertain future electorally, and it is difficult to see the likes of Ian Paisley jeopardising his cosy position.

Things may settle down further under a Labour government in Britain if it builds closer relations with the EU. But that is some time away.

The situation in Northern Ireland remains SAD, and while spring is just around a couple of corners, and there is lots of light at the end of this particular tunnel, there are also likely to be lots of fights at the end of the tunnel. Devolved power in Northern Ireland is a very partial success, and even when it is meeting the Assembly and Executive have not been very effective decision makers.

To change the metaphor away from tunnels, Northern Ireland may be exiting one particular cul de sac. However there is no clear direction set and the vehicle it is travelling in is liable to break down, and it is creaky at the best of times. There isn’t even a map available or an agreed destination. This is certainly not the end of history and the ride ahead will continue to be bumpy.

War: Rooting out ‘Rooting out the men of violence’

The concept of ‘rooting out the men of violence’ is an appealing one to those of a militarist mindset. It projects a simple solution to problems by ‘going in’ and killing or arresting those who are military opponents. There is one major problem; it doesn’t work. Of course it may achieve something like success in the short term, in ‘pacifying’ a group or an area, but in the longer term it is disastrous because it creates martyrs, hatred, and thereby increased resistance as time goes by.

There were those in Northern Ireland who advocated ‘rooting out the men of violence’, and internment in 1971 was one botched early attempt at this which backfired spectacularly. In the recent Troubles it also took the British state perhaps a decade and a half to realise that killing people in circumstances where they didn’t need to (within the logic of military fighting) did create martyrs and was counterproductive to building peace.

The ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland was a relatively small guerrilla war with a few thousand people dying over a period of thirty years. It was often bloody, ugly and dirty, and has had lasting effects, but it was also limited by a variety of factors including public opinion (not least by those supporting paramilitary groups) and international pressure. The pain and hatred involved is still incalculable.

The war in Gaza is of a different order entirely with a vicious assault by Hamas on both Israeli military and civilians in southern Israel on 7th October 2023 with around 1,200 deaths and a couple of hundred hostages taken. This was followed by an all out assault by the Israeli state on Gaza resulting in around 25,000 deaths to date, many of them children. The Israeli government committed itself to total victory over Hamas and its complete destruction. Gaza has been turned into a wasteland of destruction and death. The couple of million people in Gaza are now mainly homeless and hospital-less with nowhere safe to shelter and that shelter may be a makeshift tent, and malnutrition and disease waiting outside it.

The magnitude of the war in Gaza is totally different to Northern Ireland. Comparisons can seem crass. But there is certainly one commonality; the concept of rooting out the men of violence is a gross mistake and failure. This leads to the increased production of enemies, and, aside from genocidal destruction, the only way to get rid of enemies is to turn them into friends. Even after, specially after, the assault by Hamas on 7th October that is the only lasting solution to the issues of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating a viable Palestinian state which can build the future for the Palestinian people that they deserve. It is that, and only that, which will create real peace and security for Israel and the people of Israel. It is the denial of that right of statehood for the Palestinian people which has created the current catastrophe.

The extent to which the peace process in Northern Ireland is replicable elsewhere is open to debate, and it is possible that particular accounts, important as they may be, see e.g. https://www.transcend.org/tms/2024/01/how-israel-failed-to-learn-from-the-northern-ireland-peace-process/ may effectively overstate the importance of one integral factor because it does not cover others. Nevertheless it is possible to draw some conclusions from the Northern Ireland experience about the importance of an equal playing field, inclusion, and a process over a considerable period of time with support from governments internationally which builds on common interests to create a momentum for peace which can build up towards the climax of a peace agreement. Though, as we know in Northern Ireland, that a peace agreement is not an end but only a beginning. Ironically, the USA which was a major supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland is a major player in backing and supporting Israel and its war efforts, financially, diplomatically and militarily, and it also bears responsibility for the deaths in Gaza.

There are common interests for the people of Israel and Palestine but they are almost totally obscured or even obliterated in the craziness and obscenity of war, and more generally by Israel’s colonial project on Palestinian land.

Editorials: War and the rules of war, In Dublin’s fair(ly violent) city

War and the rules of war in an era of perpetual armed strife

There is no such thing as a civilised war. But having ‘laws’ that govern the conduct of warfare is useful in at least helping to avoid some of the worst atrocities, even if these laws are breached almost as much as they are observed, and we have seen terrible examples from both Hamas and Israel, not to mention what is happening elsewhere in the world such as Sudan or Ukraine. The development of such laws, like the banning of landmines and cluster munitions, is again a progressive move even if some of the ‘great powers’ of the military variety refuse to be bound by them. Warring parties may not adhere to the standards but these laws may set a means for the conduct of the war concerned to be judged, and, hopefully perpetrators face some reckoning with justice subsequently. This includes ongoing issues about the British army’s SAS executing unarmed civilians in Afghanistan around 2011.

Attempts to limit warfare are nothing new with many examples coming from antiquity around the world. Our own Adomnán (or Adamnán) was a brilliant example of this with the Synod of Birr which he called in 697 CE and which in the ‘Law of the Innocents’ sought to offer protection to women, children and non-combatants. It is told that when he was in a position to do something about the effects of warfare, which he was as Abbot of Iona, he responded to a promise made to his mother, Ronnat, to do what he could when as a young person accompanying his mother they stumbled across the pitiful aftermath of a battle.

Unfortunately today warfare has continued currency as a means of behaviour found acceptable to many, at least for those who are ‘on our side’. Mediation and conciliation has a long road to travel to be the only accepted methods for dealing with conflict – along of course with nonviolent action.

None of this, of course, mean that those of us who reject war as a methodology need to be complicit in such war-making, though depending on where we live our taxes may be contributing financially to such warfare. Avoiding this complicity is extremely difficult but is also an aim worth striving for. We can still see the value of laws or rules which curtail atrocities in war even if we reject the concept of war as a legitimate methodology of struggle. Further extending those rules, and getting existing ones respected and implemented, is an important area of peace work.

As to what the laws or rules of war state, plenty of information can be found online including about their historical evolution. One short cartoon video from the International Committee of the Red Cross offers a simple overview, available at https://www.icrc.org/en/document/what-are-rules-of-war-Geneva-Conventions However we would dispute their unproven assumption at the start that humankind has always been violent as a way to settle disagreements; maybe they haven’t visited the Céide Fields, regarding which the jury would be very much out on such an assertion.

The main aspects of the laws of war includes international treaty law as well as established customs. It is evolving as the outlawing of landmines and cluster weapons in recent decades show. But there are still many uncertainties, as for example with current bombing of Gaza by Israel, and while most people might come to the same conclusion in relation to a particular incident, others on a partisan basis may dispute an action or actions being contrary to the laws of warfare. So greater clarity is needed.

Those of a nonviolent persuasion, who reject the use of warfare as a tool of policy, have much work to do. We do have research in our favour such as the work of Chenoweth and Stephan on violent and nonviolent campaigning within states where the nonviolent approach comes out much stronger in terms of success. However while some international conflicts, particularly ones between close neighbours, can have similar characteristics to intra-state conflict, others do not. Making even detailed judgements in this area is not easy. And the mechanisation and autonomisation (drones and military robots etc) of war removes any human element ‘at point of contact’.

We also have aspects of humanity in our favour which the military seek to breed (bleed?) out in their soldiers. Rutger Bregman in his book ‘Humankind’ points out many of the ways in which humanity intervenes even for soldiers on opposing sides looking to avoid killing the other.

But we do need to develop new tactics including possibly mass civilian intervention or intervention by symbolic leaders to ‘stand between’ warring parties as well more dynamic approaches to mediation and making mediation available and acceptable. Of course there are risks involved. But as Martin Luther King said “The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.” We have avoided nuclear war by the skin of our teeth in the past, we may not be so lucky in the future, with another nightmare scenario being numerous wars in different locations making whole regions intolerable to live in (if global warming does not do that first). The Irish constitution supports the pacific resolution of international conflicts – though you would not know this from the behaviour of recent governments.

The failure to overcome violence and avoid war is partly a failure of imagination. War and violence are regarded as a ‘realistic’ option in many circumstances by most states, very much including the ‘western democracies’ of which Ireland is a part. However the likely outcome is that war will lead to a pyrrhic victory with extreme human costs and ongoing problems, not to mention economic and environmental costs. And still states expect to do the same thing and get different results the next time.

In Dublin’s fair(ly violent) city…..

The recent night of violent rioting in Dublin has been well analysed in all the media so that it is difficult not to be making points which have not already been made elsewhere. For this reason we will keep our comments fairly short.

The rioting was organised by far right individuals or groups who sought to create trouble around the fact that a very emotive stabbing of young children and an adult had been perpetrated by an immigrant, albeit one living in Ireland for a couple of decades and a naturalised Irish citizen. While the motivation of the attacker is unknown it is fair to assume that an attack of this nature is likely to be due to mental health issues. As well as a few injured children, one very seriously, an Irish born woman was badly injured trying to defend the children; men of Brazilian and French origin were involved in disabling further attacks by the man, and an Irish woman was involved in preventing retaliatory attacks on the assailant. The disgust held for the incident was shown by online funding for the Brazilian man who helped to disarm the assailant reaching hundreds of thousands of Euros.

Having to date failed at the ballot box, far right anti-immigrant campaigners sought – and succeeded by their speedy assembly from around greater Dublin through using social media – to make their point through violence. No one could have foreseen the situation getting out of hand so speedily with perhaps five hundred people involved in rioting, property destruction and looting. Only some of these would have been far right activists, others were obviously opportunists of various kinds.

The case has been made https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/2023/11/28/irish-fascism-is-not-a-reaction-to-immigration-or-poverty-its-not-even-a-new-phenomenon/ that fascists in Ireland do not need immigration to create violence since communism was used as such a focus in the 1930s in Ireland. However it is still clear that the far right methodology is to create a scapegoat which can be blamed for the ills of society. If you wanted to find a current scapegoat for the housing crisis in Dublin, a better one would be the multinational companies which have created so many jobs and thus influx of people, or better still successive governments who have done such a poor job in ensuring the requisite housing and accommodation was built. An open door policy to Ukrainian refugees, leading to upwards of a hundred thousand people coming since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, has been a generous response but has made accommodation scarce around much of the country.

There are many answers and solutions to this upsurge in a threat from the far right. One is further solidarity with newcomers, something of which there are many good examples, and some very bad examples (the continuation of the direct provision system for asylum seekers is atrocious for many reasons including that it isolates newcomers from the rest of society). Another is dealing effectively with issues of housing and health so that current deficiencies cannot be blamed on immigrants, aside from the fact that this is necessary for justice and equality for all. Showing the positive contribution that immigrants have made to Irish life – and they have in many ways – is again an important aspect. Civil society has an extremely important role to play in all of this. Immediately challenging false information by far right groups in social media is another necessity so distortions and falsehoods cannot get traction.

It is unlikely, though certainly not impossible, that the far right will make a significant electoral breakthrough in any part of Ireland which means they may continue to focus on exploiting any situation they can use to foment division through creating on street mayhem. It would be unwise to have a knee-jerk reaction to the recent rioting in Dublin and, though obviously the Gardaí need to be prepared, escalation in the policing response can lead to escalation in rioters’ response in any future altercations. Authoritarian reactions could just encourage further attempts to destabilise things and lead to chain reactions.

Editorials: Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, Consultative Forum on International Security

Hamas-Israel war

Violence begets violence begets violence……

The easiest way to respond to the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict is, like so many situations of conflict in the world, the dualistic way; one side good, the other side bad (horrible, brutal, vicious, vindictive and so on). This is the easiest response because it does not necessitate us asking the hard questions which we need to ask about the situation, whatever it is. The dualistic model is also not the nonviolent way.

But it is essential to understand the different forms of violence which can be present in a situation, and potentially the asymmetric nature of a conflict. In Israel/Palestine when Hamas attacks Israel and kills someone, Israel retaliates – and the normal death ratio in such a violent exchange would be 10 Palestinians killed for 1 Israeli; at least this ratio is to be expected if the current conflict continues. There are many different forms of physical violence and there are many forms of structural violence. Most people in the world were rightly horrified by the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians in southern Israel on 7th October; children, adults and young adult party goers were all a target in mass killing.

But is the world also horrified by the denial of a Palestinian state by Israel with apartheid-style laws in the West Bank and Gaza as arguably the largest prison camp in the world and without control of borders, water, or fuel and no opportunity to develop to meet the needs of its people? The attack on Israel was born out of hopelessness as much as anything else (that is not to say that Hamas did not have a strategy, hyperviolent though it was). Is the world horrified by Israel’s destruction of Gaza and massive death toll on Palestinian civilians and children? The refusal by the USA and UK to call for a ceasefire is a despicable act supporting Israel’s vengeance. Israel claims it is acting within the laws of war but there is very little evidence of this – and the ‘laws of war’ are in any case broken more than they are obeyed.

Israel and Israeli citizens deserve to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. But how is this possible if you have taken the land and property of your neighbours and control many aspects of their lives? It is clearly impossible. Breaking out of the cycle of violence and oppression is really difficult; there was a time with the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995 that it looked like it might be possible. But Israel has been determined to establish (illegal in international law) ‘facts on the ground’ of Israeli settlement in the West Bank and that and other intransigence has led to today’s situation.

Some Israeli settlers in the West Bank, backed by the army, are gradually trying to push Palestinians and Bedouin back and in many cases out. This is not only a gross injustice but it is also a major stumbling block to a long term settlement. There are nearly half a million Israelis in the area of the West Bank fully controlled by Israel, all of this illegal in international law. Palestinians need all the land that is designated theirs to have a viable state. Some religious Jews insist that because their ancestors controlled land a couple of thousand years ago that it is ‘theirs’; if we were to use the same measurement then Ireland could claim a significant part of western Scotland, which is a nonsense. Palestinians have been there a very long time too, some of their origins go back to time immemorial in the area, but searching online for ‘land ownership map Palestine Israel’ shows just some of the injustice at their loss of territory since the end of the Second World War.

Possibly because of Ireland’s history of being colonised and controlled, Ireland is seen as the EU country most supportive of the Palestinians but pro-Palestinian action has been limited. On the other hand, ‘the West’, to a considerable degree because of guilt about the Nazi genocide of Jews – and lack of support for them from others – bends over backwards to support Israel (just look at statements by Biden, Sunak or von der Leyen). Of course the West should have a guilty conscience over the treatment of Jews – and not just because of the Holocaust/Shoah, as well as being active in preventing antisemitism today. But that should not prevent people looking at what is or would be justice in Israel-Palestine, and taking into account the Nakba the Palestinians suffered.

There is an old Wizard of Id cartoon where the the prisoner, ’the spook’, says how long he has to be in prison before being released. His jailer reveals that this is exactly the same time as he retires; prisoner and jailer are bound together in a mutual time trap. It is a bit like that for Israel and Palestine. And Israel is Gaza’s jailer, and the inflicter of an apartheid system on the Palestinians of the West Bank. As the placard held by a Jewish person said, “Jews will not be free until Palestine is free”.

There are different ways of dealing with ‘enemies’. You can try and kill them all, genocide (of which the Nazi extermination of Jews is one terrible example), or you can try to disempower them and control them, but this will make them more angry, and more your enemy. The positive alternative is to turn them into friends. Israel and Palestine is a small space but if it is not shared equitably then there can be no peace. Israel has not seriously tried, in a sustained way, to turn Palestinians into friends, It can be done but violence from both sides makes rapprochement extremely difficult. And uncritical support (financial and military) from the USA and others in ‘the West’ makes Israel feel it can continue to pursue the path of control of Palestinians (and currently the destruction of Gaza) which it has been engaged in. It should also be noted that Israel’s sophisticated military and intelligence system did not prevent the Hamas attack; it was a failed defence.

Many different people and organisations have spoken out on the conflict. The statement of the War Resisters’ International (WRI) can be found at https://wri-irg.org/en/story/2023/war-crime-against-humanity-stop-violence-immediately-israel-palestine and it includes the following: “War is sometimes fought with bombs and bullets. Sometimes it is fought by restricting access to the resources that allow people to meet their basic needs, and for humanity to flourish. As antimilitarists, we can and will always reject and condemn both the immediate, deliberate and organised violence that grabs headlines and shocks the world, and simultaneously recognise that the violence that has occurred in Israel-Palestine since Saturday 7th October is rooted in a decades long, asymmetrical, grinding conflict.”

Israel may well, if it kills enough Palestinians and destroys most of Gaza, ‘kill’ Hamas. But it will have stirred up sufficient further hatred to create Hamas Mark 2, and created a vacuum for the people of Gaza. The desire to eradicate Hamas is thus totally false thinking on the part of Israel. The pattern of violence and cycles of violence will almost certainly continue. Hamas soldiers or fighters may be getting killed; so are an inordinate number of children and ordinary Palestinians.

Peace in Israel and Palestine cannot come without an adequate two state or secular one state solution. While either option remains pie in the sky then peace will be similarly placed. Stating this is not anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish; it is to speak the truth and advocate a situation where all the Israeli and Palestinian people can live in peace, which they very much deserve to do. They, both sides, have suffered too much.

Northern Ireland:

The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away……

The words of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song seem to be apposite regarding the possibility of the restoration of power-sharing government at Stormont. While both the Northern Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, and the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, have been making encouraging sounds about their talks (which no one else is party to), there is the very real possibility that things will go sliding away – again.

There are numerous problems involved. One issue is simply that the talks only involve the DUP in talking to the British government and others are excluded; this exclusiveness could lead to a deal which is unacceptable, wholly or partly, to others. But secondly, there is extremely little room for manoeuvre given that a) the current British government is not going to enter substantial further negotiations with the EU about either Northern Ireland or its overall trading relationship and b) The Good Friday Agreement, and the impartiality which it prescribes, prohibits many possible actions which the DUP might wish for to copperfasten ‘the Union’.

Donaldson did emphasise the importance of a devolved government at Stormont in his party’s annual conference and subsequently. While he might be willing to move, given the opportunity, there is the question of whether all his party colleagues would do so also, and whether DUP voters would follow suit. This is where the problem came in for the DUP before; potential voter defection to hardline unionist TUV meant the DUP did a quick about face to oppose the NI Protocol.

The promise of money (not all of which necessarily appeared) has been an important sweetener in getting Stormont back and running (or at least crawling) in the past. The equivalent of the ‘Welsh deal’ whereby Wales gets a substantial sum based on need, in addition to the ‘Barnett formula’ funding which metes out funding on a per capita basis within the constituent parts of the UK, could be part of what is offered or it might have to await Stormont negotiation after the restoration of government at Stormont – which would have Michelle O’Neill as First Minister. The funding, or prospect of funding, could be used by the DUP to try to show how much Northern Ireland is valued as part of the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland now there is hardly anyone who is not affected in some way by the absence of a government. To take just one example from recent times, who is going to sort out the pollution of Lough Neagh? It might not happen fast with a Stormont government but without one then it is rather unlikely, despite the proven need. Education, health, community services and any forward planning on anything, including on economic advancement, are badly affected.

Unionism of the DUP variety is caught on the horns of a dilemma; to continue the boycott of Stormont and allow things to crumble further – and thus be an advertisement for a united Ireland, or to return, this time with the DUP having the post of Deputy First Minister, without a clear victory and risk electoral armageddon. Most unionists want the NI Protocol/Windsor Agreement sorted to their satisfaction before a return to Stormont.

Whichever way the DUP turns it is on slippery ground and it is possible that a return to power sharing will continue to slip slide away. One tiny light at the end of the tunnel is that a Labour government, likely to appear in a year’s time in Britain, could do a deal with the EU which would make checks on goods coming to Northern Ireland redundant. The problem with this chink of light is that it would indicate a very long tunnel, perhaps a couple of years to get through. Let us hope that solid, open ground is reached before then.

Department of Foreign Affairs report

The expected on neutrality and ‘triple lock’

There are no surprises in Louise Richardson’s report as chair of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy which took place in June; the report came out in mid-October. It is cleverly written, knowing that (valid) criticism of the Forum meant the report could not push too far but still allowing Micheál Martin to claim that it justified ditching the ‘triple lock’ on deployment of Irish troops overseas. However, as the Swords to Ploughshares Ireland (StoP) report on the Forum (see news section) shows, the debate on the triple lock justified no such thing, despite her assertion in the report that “the preponderance of views, especially among the experts and practitioners, is that it is time for a reconsideration of the Triple Lock as it is no longer fit for purpose.”

There are a number of tendentious or incorrect assumptions or statements in the report. One is that public submissions made – yet to be published and not really part of the Forum process (as opposed to any further discussion) – may be biased as made by people committed in this area – of course they may but so might the chosen speakers be biased. She states “the submissions were not a random or representative sample of the population, rather the views of citizens engaged in these issues; therefore, it would be unwise to extrapolate from these views to the population-at-large.” However she makes no such assumptions about those presenting at the Forum (the ‘experts’) even though they were chosen by the Minister including a number of academics who have their posts paid for by the EU, and others had NATO links. This is basically someone on one side saying others, not on the same side, are ‘biased’. She may have read the submissions but there is no detail whatsoever in her report as to worthwhile ideas suggested (she does cover that most of these favoured the retention of neutrality).

In her introduction she says “The proceedings of the four days of meetings and 835 submissions are briefly summarized, synthesized, and analyzed.” She does no such thing and in 15 pages it would be impossible in any case. She does very briefly summarise the contributions made from the chosen speakers in the different panels but in this section there is no mention of contributions from the floor. Given the fact contributors were chosen by the Minister, this is a serious omission. She does refer subsequently, and inadequately, to some contributions by the public, in talking further on the particular issues dealt with – but to say this covers those comments fairly would be untrue. Given the bias in selection of speakers (look at the list online) it is untrue to say it was an “admirably open and transparent debate where unfettered debate was encouraged” – and in some cases issues raised from the floor were not even addressed by the panel.

She makes all sorts of assumptions and statements based on inadequate discussion and exploration in the Forum; only a few of these are explored here. One is that Ireland is falling behind “its peers” in military expenditure, with NATO setting 2% of GDP as a target, and that this needs to be addressed. But if Ireland is taking a different approach as a neutral country, as it should, then perhaps much more money, time and effort needs to be put into conflict resolution and mediation, not the military. And who says that the NATO advocated 2% is a reasonable benchmark?

Her grasp of recent Irish history is also lacking when she states that ”In recent years Irish governments have drawn a distinction between military and political neutrality and between military nonalignment and political nonalignment. This appears to be a uniquely Irish approach, but it is a fair description of the policies consistently followed since the outbreak of the last world war.” While the first part of this may be true, the last statement certainly does not apply to Frank Aiken and Fianna Fáil’s policies of fearless non-alignment in the ‘fifties and into the ‘sixties.

The basis of the Forum was that Irish security policies need reviewed particularly in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That has certainly altered things. But Irish neutrality has weathered many storms, including the cataclysmic events and invasions of the Second World War. There are new threats, including cybersecurity and related undersea cabling, but is the appropriate response necessarily a military one? And it is probably simplistic to state baldly that “our geographic location no longer provides the protection it once did” without extensive further exploration.

A concluding statement that the Forum was “not designed to make policy prescriptions” is not quite true in that a significant part of it being set up was to provide the Minister with a rationale for ditching the ‘triple lock’ – and anything else that could go. If you look at the sequence of events and the evolution from the Minister thinking about a possible citizens’ assembly to a hand-picked so-called Forum (‘so-called’ because it was not open), his thinking is clear. Micheál Martin may be satisfied that Louise Richardson’s report takes things as far as she can in the direction he wanted – popular protest and opinion set limits – but in a wider context it is all very unsatisfactory and inadequate.

Editorials: Ukraine long war, Northern Ireland ‘Legacy’

The long war

It is dead (sic) easy to get into war but extremely difficult to get out of it.

The war in Ukraine is a classic ‘long war’ where no side can gain sufficient advantage to get into the situation where it can ‘win’. In that, and in its trench warfare, it is reminiscent of the First World War except with 21st century weapons and technology. So both sides continue to pour soldiers, civilians, and money, down the drain. And the more money and blood expended in the cause, the more difficult it is to sacrifice that ‘sacrifice’ to move to peace; Shakespeare put it eloquently into the mouth of Macbeth – “I am in blood / Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” – ‘tedious’ here meaning difficult.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said on 17th September (speaking to the EU Parliament) that “Most wars last longer than expected when they first begin. Therefore we must prepare ourselves for a long war in Ukraine.” He went on to say that ““There is no doubt that Ukraine will eventually be in Nato”* – a crazy thing to say when it was Ukrainian prospective membership of NATO which was a major cause of the Russian invasion. He also conflates or confuses future Ukrainian security with Ukrainian membership of NATO when the two are very much not the same thing; there can be guarantees of Ukrainian territorial integrity which are nothing whatsoever to do with NATO. *INNATE continues to use the upper case acronym ‘NATO’ rather than ‘Nato’ as we consider the latter an attempt to make it seem like a friendly neighbourhood organisation rather than a major war alliance with nuclear weapons.

Continuing the comparison with the First World War there is another, extremely dangerous, possible parallel with the First World War. The Second World War was a direct result of the First through the penalisation and victimisation of Germany. The disorder of the post-First World War years in Germany, which were brought about partly by economic and other penalties on Germany, led to the rise of fascism – and the rest, tragically, is history.

There is the danger that the West, especially the USA but others as well, want Russia to be humiliated through this war, not just to have a settlement that they and Ukraine can live with. For the West it is a proxy war. We have already seen what happened when NATO, against Russian warnings, continued to push its boundaries eastward – something which they undertook not to do at the time of the collapse of Soviet communism and control in Eastern Europe.

We have stated here previously, numerous times, that the USA and the West expected Russia to accept something which was totally unacceptable to the USA. In 1962 the world came close to the brink of nuclear war when Russia/the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba. This was ‘the enemy at the gate’ and the USA threatened nuclear annihilation if the situation was not remedied to its satisfaction. Russia compromised. And yet the USA and the West expected – expect – Russia to accept NATO weaponry, of all sorts, on its borders in Ukraine if it joined/joins NATO and/or the EU. The USA is a world superpower militarily and Russia now only a regional military power – admittedly flexing its muscles in Africa and the Middle East – but the situations are identical. The West misjudged the situation and expected Putin to roll over.

While what was said had its own nuances, Jens Stoltenberg in his September address to the EU Parliament https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_218172.htm?selectedLocale=en went on confirm many of the details of Putin opposing NATO expansionism. Putin in autumn 2021 “sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine……So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite.” While Putin was looking for more than the above in terms of the withdrawal from NATO by countries in central and eastern Europe, it has to be recognised that their membership was contrary to promises previously given to Russia.

Not to have entered talks and negotiations with Russia was a monumental error and part of NATO’s belligerence and feeling of superiority; perhaps a modus vivendi could have been reached as opposed to the current modus morendi (way of dying). In terms of military thinking, Russia had a legitimate interest which was brushed aside by NATO. Russia’s demands might have seemed unreasonable by the standards of realpolitik but that is what discussion and mediative processes are about; the different sides put out their stalls and views and, then, collectively look at whether movement is possible. There could indeed have been ways to reassure Russia on its security but NATO did not bother to look. This is a substantial cause of the war in Ukraine – obviously not the only one with Putin deciding he could pull a fast one militarily but he got bogged down by Ukrainian military resistance.

Should Russia be humiliated in defeat, with consequences for the Russian state and society, it is quite possible that the same scenario could emerge as in Germany after the First World War – the emergence of leadership which makes Vladimir Putin look like a screaming liberal. Brutal and unnecessary as Russia’s war on Ukraine has been, the art of trying to put a conflict to bed and being able to move on is through giving both sides an ‘out’, not in penalising one side, the losers. In other words, Putin has to be allowed to save face, whether that is liked or not. We are not saying Russia and Russians should not face war crimes trials; we are saying Russia and Russians need to be allowed to move on to hopefully a more peaceful future.

There are many ways a settlement could come about while retaining justice for Ukraine. Crimea was mainly ethnically Russian and a possession of Ukraine’s based on a whim of Stalin, a move not too significant at a time when all were in the Soviet Union. Ukraine accepting the loss of Crimea would be a psychological blow but could be a price well worth paying. Accepting Crimea as Russian might seem to give in to ‘might is right’ but compromise may be necessary to avoid endless bloodshed. So far as the eastern provinces of Ukraine claimed by Russia, we have suggested Russia withdrawing but allowing all there to claim Russian citizenship. Attending to Russian interests in terms of security guarantees is part of meeting Russian interests rather than being put off by its positions and this was an important part of the Russian invasion to begin with, aside from arch-nationalist concepts of a ‘Greater Russia’.

A long war is in nobody’s interest except the arms companies who, as usual, are happy to make a killing (sic) from it. Attempting to get Russia into harmonious relationships with the rest of Europe has to be a long term aim, a possibility which was badly dealt with after the fall of the Soviet communist regime when the West did nothing. This does not mean excusing Russian crimes but nor should it mean excusing other countries’ crimes; Brown University’s study attributes 4.5 million deaths to the USA’s warmaking since 2022 https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2023/IndirectDeaths – and where are the penalties and sanctions on the USA? And there are carrots as well as sticks which can be used, even if better relations with Russia may have to await another leader than Putin.

Ireland, meanwhile has jumped on the bandwagon of military support for Ukraine through training for Ukrainian soldiers as well as ‘non-lethal’ support. Not only is this incompatible with neutrality but denies Ireland the opportunity, which it should be taking, to explore possibilities for bringing the war to a close, a war to which there is currently no end in sight. If you don’t look then you don’t see. If you don’t explore possibilities to end the war then it is permitting more and more death and misery. Those seeking peaceful solutions and resolutions should never be put off by the position adopted by the different sides but strive to find ways to meet sufficient of the belligerents’ interests that an end to the war becomes possible. Ireland is doing nothing in this regard.

– See also ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ in this issue which looks at different peace proposals and possibilities to end the war in Ukraine,

Northern Ireland:

A miserable legacy

Challenges to the British government’s Legacy Act, formally the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, as it now is since it passed into law, are coming from from a variety of sources, national and international – including possibly the Irish government. So, just perhaps, it may not get too far. It offers a conditional amnesty to those accused of killings during the Troubles and will stop any new Troubles-era court cases and inquests being held.

However the whole sad saga presents an appalling picture of how the current British government treats Northern Ireland. To act against the will of every single political party in Northern Ireland takes some doing not only because of the way that represents the vast majority in the North but because such unity, such unanimity across the board, is so unusual. Even if the British government really did believe its Act is the way forward (which is dubious) it should have hesitated to act against such universal opposition; its actions smack of superiority and, dare we say it, colonialism.

The current system and possibilities are not ideal but all the Northern Ireland political parties and victims’ groups are certain it is preferable to the new Legacy Act. With the passage of time the chances are getting steadily slimmer of justice in the courts, or even for truth through the coroners’ courts, but this was considered preferable. Meanwhile, of course, the British government reneged on the deal which it had done in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement which did provide an agreed way forward and institutions to match. The government failed to implement the deal and then, in 2020, announced it would develop its own proposals – resulting in the Legacy Act of today.

Cui bono? Apart from a few commentators, only British military veterans’ groups are in favour and that gives a clue. But a major factor is surely not only protecting former British military personnel, it is even more protecting the state. We already have a certain amount of information about the actions of the state in running informers within paramilitary organisations but there are major questions about what agents of the state knew about forthcoming paramilitary actions where they could have prevented deaths but did not do so to protect their sources or agents, or for other reasons. And then there is the impunity given to informers who in some cases were involved in appalling actions. This is, of course, aside from where deaths and human rights abuses were perpetrated by soldiers and other agents of the state.

Human rights groups have been scathing about the Legacy Act, drawing comparisons with what was done in Chile introducing impunity for those involved with the Pinochet regime. The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) states, for example, that it “fails to honour the UK’s obligation under the ECHR to carry out proper investigations into deaths and serious injuries that occurred during the NI conflict“ – and indeed that the UK government is in serial breach of its obligations to do so. They also state that it would “shut down existing legacy mechanisms at a time when such mechanisms are increasingly delivering for families.”

The Troubles were a terrible time for many people living in Northern Ireland. Moving on from the Troubles, even 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement, has also been very difficult. For the British government to do a ‘solo run’ on the legacy of the past when there was a very reasonable collective agreement on the issue nearly nine years ago is quite bizarre and would suggest that they are acting primarily in their own interests to protect the British state. That is particularly sad for victims across the board – civilian, paramilitary, police, military, whoever. Justice delayed, or in this case negated, is justice denied but truth has a way of emerging in the end. And the judgement on those who closed off possibilities for justice will not be a warm one.

Editorials: Irish neutrality, Northern divisions

Irish neutrality

The pretences go from thin to non-existent

The lies and deceit continue. The Irish government insisted that aid to Ukraine was only ‘non-lethal’ though any army needs ‘non-lethal’ equipment to function (just as any army needs transport to conduct its wars and staff its military bases – so the use of Shannon Airport for the US military can be considered military assistance to the USA). Training for the Ukrainians by the Irish army in mine clearance is also military assistance but it was passed off as ‘defensive’ which it might be except when an army is on the offensive.

But now it has been revealed that the training given to the Ukrainian army by the Irish army entails both weapons skills (e.g. rifle training including advanced marksmanship) and military tactics. Laughingly, a Department of Defence spokesperson (quoted in the Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2023/08/18/irish-troops-to-provide-weapons-training-to-ukraine-despite-governments-non-lethal-assistance-pledge/) said the training given presented no conflict with neutrality. Further excusing the inexcusable, there was a denial that there had been any attempt to mislead the public and that the list of training areas given earlier in the year was “intended to be indicative rather than exhaustive”.

Once more the government has sought to push back on neutrality and hoodwink the public. https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2023/08/23/protesters-demand-ending-to-military-training-for-ukraine/

We are sad that a supposedly neutral country such as Ireland has had such a lack of imagination as to what is possible and has been unquestioning of the EU and NATO responses. Instead of joining up with NATO one way or another and the path it takes, Ireland should be forging a path as a peacemaker and mediator. That is what is needed, not another militarist response. Even the fact that the USA is supplying cluster weapons to Ukraine, and Ireland was instrumental in bringing about the banning of such weapons, has not made any difference to the refusal to monitor what is coming through Shannon Airport on US planes, despite protestations on the issue by the likes of Eamon Ryan. Questions have also arisen over the summer about the role the small number of Irish troops in Afghanistan played in the war there.

It has been a busy number of months on the issue of neutrality. The so-called Consultative ‘Forum’ on International Security took place in late June and Louise Richardson’s report will presumably appear in the not too distant future. Despite justifying nothing of the kind, the intention behind the report was to give a proven reason for moving away from the ‘triple lock’ on the deployment of Irish troops overseas; while we await Ms Richardson’s report it is clear she was chosen as a safe pair of hands for the government, and nothing in her conduct of the Forum indicated otherwise. There was also the revelation of drones used by Russia in attacking Ukraine turning up with a ‘Made in Ireland’ component (a carburettor) showing the complexity of such matters and the perils of dual use materials.

As analysis of the sessions of the ‘Forum’ show, it was a dog’s dinner with little in the way of detailed arguments and analysis, even from the often biassed selection of speakers. To justify a policy change on the basis of this would be a travesty but just watch Micheál Martin, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, as he tries to turn it into a fait accompli. The only fate that should accompany this rather poor excuse of a consultation is to consider it a lop-sided and failed political move which has been found wanting.

Northern Ireland:

Same old, same old sectarian division

To blame the people of Northern Ireland for the continuing political mess and lack of government at Stormont might be self-satisfying but ultimately futile. The legacy of colonialism has dealt a hand which is difficult to deal with and ongoing British incompetence and vested interests (British interests that do not serve the people of the North) has been deeply problematic as well – think Brexit and the outworkings of that, think legacy changes and impunity introduced to protect the British state and its interests.

Of course various people and groups in the current era in the North, on all sides, have a certain culpability for failing to move things on. We do not need to repeat what has been said on this here often times before. The hope that unionists might be able to move on this autumn has evaporated though not without trace.

Don’t mourn, organise” remains the advice to be heeded, that is, building the alternative and showing the way forward. This is of course very difficult on a society which relies on old shibboleths of one kind of another and with a power structure that, even with a proportional representation voting system, allows intransigents to retreat into their sectarian bunkers. We can only do what we can do but it needs to be focussed on what will effectively move things forward.

While the leader of the DUP might wish to at least return to powersharing in Stormont, polls show nearly two thirds of unionists wish to sit out until the NI Protocol and Windsor Agreement are sorted to their liking and ‘seamless’ trade is restored between Britain and Northern Ireland. There is next to zero chance of this happening. There may be further wriggle room for the EU making existing regulations lighter and less cumbersome but the British government, having been hoist on its own petard with Brexit, has hoisted Northern Ireland even further and there is no chance of renegotiation.

Is this all unfair on unionists? Quite probably. But then Brexit was unfair on nationalists and an arithmetic majority in the North who wished to stay in the EU. Unionist grievance is understandable. But where does a fair equilibrium lie in the North in a state which remains British but with a majority which is now Catholic if not ‘nationalist’ in a traditional sense? Answers on a postcard please or a 100,000 word treatise…. Northern Ireland is a small and unimportant backwater so far as the British government is concerned.

We have often said before that sensible unionists would be bending over backwards to give Catholics and nationalists what they want, within the boundaries of Northern Ireland. Given demographic change that is the only way they have any chance of maintaining the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the longer term (there are other pressures at work in the UK too, notably in Scotland even if nationalism there has suffered some blows in recent times). But most unionists dwell on the supposed inequities which they suffer while ignoring the inequities visited upon others. That is perhaps in the nature of the pre-post-colonial system in the North and resultant sectarianism. However if they could build on that advice to any extent – to treat others as they would like to be treated – whatever the future holds, it would augur well for cross-community cooperation.

Whether there is the prospect of a return to an Assembly at Stormont remains a moot question. When it is finally clear beyond clear that the British government will not alter, or seek to alter, the Windsor Agreement version of the Northern Ireland Protocol, unionists have a choice. They can sit still and see an indefinite return to direct rule or they can make the jump back in to devolution, this time with the added pain of holding the Deputy First Minister post rather than that of First Minister. But with the usual British financial package (or at least promises) accompanying such a return they can talk that up. The British government can also issue lots of words on the importance of the Union but actually doing anything further to give unionists reassurances on their position within the UK could be contrary to the Good Friday Agreement.

Of course nationalists need to be doing things too, and there have been some developments on this front but not yet from a somewhat wary and weary Irish government. Guarantees of fair treatment and respect for northern Protestants and unionists are difficult to make in the abstract but they need to be carefully and fully outlined for any eventual unity, as well as a process which would come if there was a ‘united Ireland’ majority vote in the North. And the possibilities of what a united Ireland might mean should be coming not just from nationalist and republican quarters but from official Irish government endeavours in this area. You can see why they have not done this to date, fearing to raise tensions and destabilise the North further but it has perhaps got to the stage where not doing so is destabilising. Everyone needs to see what is on the table and, for example, the continuation of the Stormont Assembly in a united Ireland, raised by some nationalists, should be further explored.

This is some of what needs to happen in the macro political arena. But change needs to come about in the voting system for Stormont, and in decision making within it which has been almost consistently poor. Moving to voting and decision making systems promoted by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org would be a massive move forwards. Firstly in voting for their elected representatives, people would be incentivised to vote across the board in order of their preference but political parties would be incentivised to reach out to voters outside their traditional catchment group. And in decision making within the Assembly there would be a greater chance of arriving at an adequate consensus decision and a less divisive atmosphere.

Change in systems at Stormont would of course be more manageable if the Assembly was actually working. But if the impasse continues then British and Irish governments should grab that particular bull by the horns.

In wider spheres integrated education, integrated housing and cross-community work need big fillips. These all need resources and the unfortunate reality is that in the context of a declining British economy and (in the current situation of no Assembly) diffident British secretaries of state this is unlikely to happen. However there could be a role here for increased Irish government funding.

There have been big changes in Northern Ireland over the last half century but the level of understanding across communities – Catholic, Protestant, and newcomers – remains poor. Many different approaches are necessary in working on the existing chasms, not just in facilitated and informal direct discussion but also in working and campaigning on projects for the common and collective good.

The prospect of a return to the larger scale violence as in the last Troubles is not impossible but thankfully not likely in the foreseeable future. But in the unforeseeable future, if all sides continue to believe that their military struggle in the Troubles was just, then such violence is far from impossible. This is where knowledge of nonviolent struggle and change comes in, along with a non-violent analysis of the Troubles and how things developed and were eventually sort-of resolved.

Cultural issue are important but there are dangers that ‘culture’ can be exclusionary so this whole area is a difficult one. The 12th July Battle of the Boyne celebration is, after all, the celebration of the victory one side over the other in the North, and the other’s subjugation, and usually commemorated in a semi-military way. There is plenty that can be celebrated about being British or Irish in a way which does not exclude others but its needs imagination and creativity.

Arriving at a non-sectarian society in the North is a massive task. It is still the work of generations. But there are clear tasks which can be undertaken and the journey is already under way.

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