Category Archives: Editorials

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COP26: Altruism and self-interest can and should unite

Whether the COP26 conference in Glasgow proves humanity has got a bit of cop on, or continues to cop out, remains to be seen. And it is certainly not over when it’s over; implementation, and buy in by others, is key. And of course there is a sense of deja vu, we have been here numerous times before, but this time there is little or no wriggle room left to avoid planetary disaster – of should we say more correctly, disaster for humanity and current ecosystems on this planet.

Green and ecological issues first started to raise their heads in the 1960s and 1970s, at which time green advocates were looked at askance by the establishment and most people for crying ‘wolf’. The green prophets of that time were regarded as cranks; the ‘wolf’ was seen to be a very long way off. Of course we have now learned that the wolf was already at our door. The wolf is now in our hallway. The lesson is of course that we need to pay more attention to prophets than to profits.

One exception to studied indifference in the Irish situation was the rejection of nuclear power, largely thanks to a phenomenal amount of work by the anti-nuclear power movement in the 1970s (which to some extent transmogrified into the anti-nuclear weapons movement and CND). Unfortunately this was not followed up by a movement for green energy. There are those who advocate nuclear power today as a filler for times when the sun does not shine or the wind blow. This can be appealing to some people but we need to be more creative and green than that; if nuclear power is the answer then someone is asking the wrong question. The issues of nuclear waste and unforeseen circumstances (remember Fukushima) have not gone away.

The world has had a wake up call by many different signs this year, not least the terrible extent of forest fires and record breaking global temperatures. The greatest danger to Ireland is of course the cessation of the Atlantic currents usually called the Gulf Stream. Without that our climate would be substantially colder – Newfoundland on the western edge of Europe. We already have seen increased wind, and increased rain in a substantial part of the country.

But others face being much harder hit. Whole countries and parts of countries will disappear – low lying areas, including a significant part of our cities – would be under water or at continuous risk of flooding. Of course ‘we’, in the rich west, can move, but at what cost? However when your smallholding in coastal Bangladesh gets salinated and floods, you have no choice but to join the impoverished throngs in the cities. And the number of climate refugees, from desertification as well as flooding, could make current refugee issues seem a gentle trickle.

This is where altruism and self-interest should unite. The fastest possible transition from a carbon based economy is needed throughout the world. We are all at risk. We know that humanity cannot achieve what it needs without the complete involvement and buy in of large and polluting countries like the USA, China and India. Our common interest as humans dictates that we act together, collectively, supporting poorer countries (who generally have not caused the problem, or very little of it). Covid-19 should have proved that to us if we still needed teaching. But this still entails governments acting against vested fossil fuel industry interests, a task which is more difficult in some countries than others; while some fossil fuel companies may be keen to get ahead of the posse and transition to green energy so they can continue into the future, others are clearly resisting tooth and nail.

We also have to be aware that climate change is only one part of going green, even if a vital part. Biodiversity, on which our ecosystem depends, could still be irreparably damaged even if climate change is reined in. Our resource use is way over the top of what the planet can sustain. Everything is, however, linked and that includes building peace and justice so that our personal energies can go into positive, sustainable futures rather than survival.

Ireland, Republic and Northern Ireland, has been slow to go green (ironic, as we know, given the national colour). While there are signs that governments are at last getting serious, we have to be continually vigilant to avoid them backsliding and making excuses. For example, allowing the increase of the cattle herd in Ireland is bizarre; maybe there will be a techno-fix or even low-tech fix (such as the feeding of seaweed) for cattle-produced methane but until there is then numbers should be reduced substantially, that is only logical. We cannot expect others to take the pain. But then we have then to support cattle farmers to transition to other types of production, or provide the research to decrease methane levels. Maybe, if there are going to be cattle producing diary products and beef, Ireland with its lush grass should be a centre for cattle production but that should be part of international agreement within the context of an overarching green policy for the world.

And there should be no pain without some concomitant gain or compensation. This obviously applies in the poor world where the contribution to global climate crisis is probably minimal but the effects are massive, and the cost of change exorbitant. The same applies to poorer people in rich countries; they should not be penalised; if green transition is done right then they should gain in the long term through energy efficient homes and reduced expenditure on energy.

But we all have to be up for change and a certain amount of disruption to how things have been done heretofore. The fact that change is necessary is almost universally accepted now. Boris Johnson may be a late convert to being an ecosystem saviour but perhaps he realised as well that his credibility (or lack of it) is on the line as prime ministerial host of COP26. It doesn’t matter who our allies are on this matter; what matters is getting climate change halted.

There are causes for optimism in the seriousness the relevant issues are being treated., but uncertainty too. The alternative, in not doing enough to keep the global increase in temperature well below 2°C, would not be a case of the glass being half full or half empty but, for most people, of there being no water at all, or, when it does come, being part of damaging floods.

COP26 may not be the last chance salon but to use a perhaps slightly anomalous fuel analogy, we are approaching the last service station before the desert. We have a choice before further travel: green energy or fossil fuels. If we still choose the latter then we may not make it through the desert. If we go big time for the former then there is some hope the desert may be coaxed into blooming again and our journey can continue without the risk of destruction.

A history lesson

We fairly recently editorialised on peace movement history (NN 290 ) but, given the webinars on Irish peace movement history organised by INNATE this month [see News section], we are visiting this area again.

In looking back we have to be honest with ourselves. This means acknowledging failures as well as successes – we probably tend to do neither. But part of it is also showing the amount of work and effort which went into various projects, the very considerable efforts made even when things did not go smoothly, and the courage it took to stick your neck out. To think of history as simply the headlines, such as the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998, is a bit like the ‘kings and battles’ model of history in the broader sphere, now much derided.

What brought about the Good Friday Agreement? What were the conditions which made it possible? What led to those conditions? How did things build up to that agreement? Clearly the Good Friday Agreement was a great achievement but it also had, and has, flaws, insofar as it copperfastened aspects of division in its consociational elements. The willingness of a very significant proportion of society in Northern Ireland to, for once, support compromise did not come from nowhere; it was hard won and struggled for over decades by different elements of civil society. Obviously some politicians were ready and willing but for others various bits of the jigsaw had to all fall into place, and they needed to feel they would not be damned by their supporters for compromising, and yet others remained outside the tent (even if they later ventured in and occasionally out).

On the international peace front there have, over the years, been significant inputs from people in Ireland to various aspects of disarmament at both state and civil society levels. The anti-nuclear weapons movement was big in the 1980s and had significant presence back in the early 1960s. There was considerable civil society pressure for, and support to the state, in the movements for banning landmines and cluster munitions. A significant number of people have taken the consequences of possibly being found to have broken the law at Shannon Airport to oppose subservience to the USA and its military there. Neutrality remains a popular policy in the Republic even if you would not know this from the way the politicians of most political parties behave, and chip away gradually at the bedrock of that policy.

Building up a picture of what has been done, on Northern Ireland and on international peace issues, over the lifetimes of those still alive, is an enormous task. It is also an important one, not just so ‘the truth’ of people’s struggle is documented, but for the inspiration it can give. Of course we can – and should – be inspired by young people today, particularly climate activists, but we are missing out if we do not recognise what has been done by oldies and not-quite-oldies.

In the Northern context, not to record civil society action to address the Troubles and division is to cede history to paramilitaries and the state, different though their narratives may be. However one commonality in both is the efficacy and necessity of lethal force. We can and should challenge that. And part of that is showing the exploration of, and advocacy for, nonviolent possibilities in the early and darkest days of the Troubles. Just one small example is the conference (and resultant book) coming from Corrymeela and Glencree in 1981 exploring models of political cooperation across borders.

In the Northern Ireland context there are many different sectors of civil society including women’s groups, community groups, trade unions, churches, peace and reconciliation groups, those focused on community relations, and others. Each of these sectors has a tale to tell in relation to the work done to address the Troubles and explore ways forward both for their sector and society in general. The trade unions, for example, had many different initiatives and the fact that their story has not been told is not their fault (given a detailed Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU funding application which was failed). Of course the fact that churches are, in their nature in a sectarian society, symbols and sometimes bastions of division has also to be acknowledged; but so too should the sometimes personally costly work by some church women and men who pushed out the boat and sought to sail forward.

INNATE’s webinars in November are simply scratching the surface of something which requires detailed study and work. It will consist of people sharing on prominent experiences or events rather than detailed organisational history. A resources list will also be drawn up which can help facilitate further study. Future webinars will likely explore further, including the Quaker contribution to peace, and the story and work of AVP/Alternatives to Violence Project in Ireland.

The extent to which William Faulkner’s quote is true that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” has to be determined; it varies. Not everywhere and everything has the same attachment to partial views of the past as some have in and in relation to Northern Ireland. We can of course journey onwards without attention to the past, and every new situation and time is unique. But being able to identify the basis of success, or failure, and identify trends and ‘which way the wind is blowing’ is important for strategising and building our movements today.

The quote about standing on the shoulders of giants (a phrase which dates back centuries) has fallen into some disuse after being commonly quoted a few years back. But we don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants; perhaps a more appropriate metaphor is that we stand on the ground which has been cultivated and tended by many, many ordinary and extraordinary people in past years – you can call them all ‘giants’ if you want to but that may seem hyperbole. We are a part of collective movements for progress and change which stretch back not just to our grandmothers and grandfathers but their grandfathers and grandmothers, and way on back. No, we are not invincible but ‘we’ will continue that struggle and, in turn, our grandchildren’s grandchildren may acknowledge the work we did and tried to do.


Protocol protocols

Measures which the EU may propose to relax the Northern Ireland Protocol, somewhat like rabbits out of a hat, may be enough to keep some more people on board with the possibility of living with the Protocol. It would be at least positive and a contrast with the UK government which has magically avoided pulling any rabbits out of any hats in dealing with the issues arising, and has not even been rushing to fulfil its task in giving real time information to the EU on trade flows, but again looks like considering unilateral action. Almost anything it has proposed goes way beyond what the EU might agree to in its desire to protect the EU single market.

The UK providing adequate real time information is surely one of the keys to unlocking the Protocol conundrum. The EU realises there are problems and, while sticking to its single market doctrine, does seem willing to fudge some of the issues and make special dispensations in others (e.g. medicines coming to Northern Ireland from Britain) although it has been slow to move, partly because the UK’s intentions have never been clear. If it can be categorically shown that British imports to Northern Ireland are not going to pose a threat to the EU’s single market then the EU is much more likely, and empowered, to be lenient, and so it should be. It doesn’t seem the UK government gets this message.

Of course how unionists of various shades interpret all of this is another matter. Whether the DUP can save face, and votes, in relation to all this remains to be seen. We are not the first commentators to point out that just at the point when the EU was signalling they might be open to a generous helping of fudge, the DUP began issuing ultimatums about pulling down the pillars of Stormont if they didn’t get their way on the Protocol. However the language used by Jeffrey Donaldson has left just enough wriggle room that, should there be significant progress on some of the logjams then they might be able to claim enough ‘victory’ to climb out of the bunker in which they are ensconced (and which they built themselves).

There are real issues for unionists and it is understandable that they feel dumped on by the UK government and the EU. There is certainly a strong argument that the Northern Ireland Protocol changed political as well as economic realities in Northern Ireland without the consent being given by the people, and certainly not by party political unionists. On the other hand a majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU, and the demographics of a unionist majority no longer exist (this does not mean people would vote for a united Ireland in the morning – that is not the case); it can also be argued that Brexit per se altered political realities without people giving their consent, indeed they implicitly rejected it in the EU membership referendum.

However all this indicates just how fragile the political system is in Northern Ireland, and not just on one side. Whatever the rights or wrongs of it, the furore over President Michael D Higgins’ declining an invitation to an Armagh inter-church service marking the centenary of partition indicates how difficult decision making and its repercussions can be. While his reasoning can be understood, perhaps swallowing his principled reaction and attending might have been the wiser course – though there is rich irony in unionists castigating him for not attending when they are advocating a boycott of North-South bodies due to the Northern Ireland Protocol. The four main unionist political parties may be united against the Protocol but it is less clear how vehement ‘non-party political’ unionists are on the matter.

The British government is clearly unsympathetic to Northern Ireland and its concerns as a whole, and not just unionists or nationalists in it. This is evident in its continuation of promoting an appalling legacy policy with a Troubles amnesty which is universally opposed in Northern Ireland (and in the Republic), with an amazing unanimity on all sides. It also flies in the face of commitments made by the British government in the Stormont House Agreement of 2014. It is impossible to trust a government like that to do anything which is ‘right’ for the wellbeing of all the people of Northern Ireland as opposed to what is opportune in their ongoing struggle for a hard Brexit and dealing with the terms which they agreed to for Northern Ireland in order to get a deal with the EU. It is clear these are terms which they hoped to wriggle out of later. Their dishonesty knows few bounds and has had severe repercussions for Northern Ireland.

The DUP is certainly trying to talk strong but to pull down Stormont at this stage would not be their wisest move since each time there is a return from an assembly hiatus unionists tend to be weaker than before. That is mainly due to ongoing demographic change. And the stasis is bad enough with Stormont functioning; however as we know, violence and violent extremists flourish in periods of uncertainty.

The task facing civil society in all of this remains massive. Northern Ireland remains stuck between the divil of the past and the deep blue sea of the future, partially paralysed as it falls between not just the stools of unionism and nationalism but very different perceptions within both and complex situations simplified to banal simplicities..

Taxing matters

As those familiar with political and economic affairs in the Republic will be aware, the issue of corporate tax rates has been trundling on for some time, with the Government dragging its heels on willingness to increase this by a couple of percentage points to the proposed minimum of 15%. Changing from 12.5% to a minimum of 15% should not be a big deal but the Irish government has been digging in on the issue – and not winning too many friends in the process. It could have made the change without all the fuss.

While it is true that prosperity in the Republic has partly been built on low tax rates – a situation which multinationals have milked until the cows come home, even if some loopholes have been closed – there are other aspects in the mix. This includes a young, educated workforce, and being an English-speaking country in the EU (the ‘English speaking’ bit in reference primarily to the USA and investment from there).

The OECD proposals, while also trying to ensure tax is paid in the country where the income is generated, are not foolproof or radical. They are however progress in terms of world justice, especially for poorer countries who lose out big time in multinationals shifting profits to where they pay little or no tax. As the Financial Justice Ireland website states, “Estimates have shown that developing countries lose more resources to transnational corporations dodging taxes than they receive as development aid, including countries supported through Irish Aid.”

The Republic is now a wealthy country, not anything like as wealthy as its GNP and all those multinational profits would indicate, but wealthy nonetheless (perhaps ‘middle EU’ in terms of citizens’ purchasing power – it is a high wage and high cost economy). Its continuation of opposition to changes in the international tax system has been a stab in the back for poor countries and a stand for injustice. This far outweighs anything which Irish Aid, the Irish government’s aid agency, could possibly do for anyone anywhere. The same imbalance is also true in relation to Ireland’s dragging its heels on mitigating climate heating.

The Irish situation is not unique and many other countries have similar or special tax deals – e.g. why did U2 move their tax affairs to the Netherlands from Ireland? There is therefore a real need for a level playing field though multinationals will again look for loopholes to exploit.

Current proposed changes will not have the situation sorted but are a big step in the right direction, and a certain amount still rests with decisions to be made in the US Congress. Further work will be needed on an international level to ensure fairness and transparency. The Irish government should be in the forefront of moves to bring about fairness in international tax systems rather than in the rearguard, struggling to avoid change. It is a simple question of justice and the Irish government has been standing ‘on the wrong side of history’ and for injustice. For that we should hang our heads in shame – and pressure for change. Leo Varadkar’s insistence that Ireland would change if it is in ‘our’ interest to do so is a pathetic insult to the world, and a terrible example of mé féinism,

Editorials: Afghan debacle, Underdogs and overdogs in Northern Ireland

Afghanistan debacle for ‘the West’

There are no easy answers in relation to a complex situation like Afghanistan, and recent events, but certain aspects are clear.

Western powers (the USA, NATO, the UK etc) were quite wrong to invade Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on the USA. Yes, Bin Laden was in Afghanistan but he was quick to try to go into hiding, and the Taliban regime did offer to deliver him up if there was clear evidence for what he had done. There was no basis in international law for the invasion or for instigating regime change, no matter how repressive the Taliban were. And there is the simple pragmatic fact is that it is easy for great powers to invade a country but very much more difficult for them to get out with any shreds of dignity and without further atrocities being perpetrated by all sides (as happened), or indeed to achieve lasting results which might provide at least some justification for their actions. Around a quarter of a million people died in violence in the two decades of Western occupation.

History should have been a guide for the likes of the USA and UK but it was foolishly diregarded. This is at least the third time the UK has come to military grief in Afghanistan; previous British invasions were in 1838 and 1878, and there was another British-Afghan war in 1919. The USSR had to retreat with its tail between its legs in 1989 after direct military intervention a decade earlier. But resistance to USSR control was aided by the USA, arming and training the mujahidin who they would subsequently come to fight. Military intervention often sets loose forces which cannot be controlled.

There have been some gains in twenty years of Western occupation regarding modernisation of the country and increased education and rights for women. Opposition to women’s rights in Afghanistan stems from both a reactionary reading of Islam and local tribal culture and customs. A certain amount of the modernisation will remain or be difficult to stamp out; how much of women’s rights (e.g. to work and get a full education) will last is doubtful.

The jury is yet out on whether the relative tolerance and forgiveness promised by the Taliban as they were coming to power is a smokescreen and if Taliban rule will be nearly as repressive as before. It is difficult to know at this stage whether retribution and repressive actions against women that have taken place actually portray the true face of Taliban rule or whether they may to some extent be the result of local Taliban members not getting the message. Certainly there is much fear and the overall effect will be felt by women and many ordinary citizens as severely repressive.

But it does also have to be said that the Afghan democratic system which ‘the West’ attempted to construct, in alliance obviously with some Afghanis, collapsed very rapidly like a house of cards because it had not won Afghan hearts and minds. The amount spent on equipping and training the few hundred thousand military was, from any point of view, a total waste of money; they succumbed to the much smaller and ill-equipped Taliban force. And most of the couple of trillion dollars money spent by the USA went to the US military-industrial complex in terms of weapons sales and contractors. Some western control was achieved in alliance with local, and brutal, warlords. The Afghan system was corrupt and inefficient, and that is part of why it collapsed so suddenly, and obviously in the situation of Taliban threats and manoeuvring with US withdrawal coming there was no desire by Afghan national military personnel to risk their lives or die for a cause that had little allegiance.

Some in ‘the West’ are concerned about an ‘isolationist’ USA. But the fact of the matter is that when the USA has seen itself as the ‘world’s policeman’ it has been the world’s big bully. You only have to look at the overthrowal of all sorts of regimes, democratic and undemocratic, by the USA, to work that out and that the policeman image is one that almost always hides a much less benign face, that of right wing ideology, big business, and in particular the military-industrial system which dominates in many countries.

It remains to be seen how isolationist the USA becomes in military terms. It retains upwards of a thousand (!) military bases around the world – which does not include other arrangements with countries such as US military use of Shannon Airport which is a US base in all but name. The USA may now be less likely to intervene directly with ‘boots on the ground’ but its continuing use of military drones to kill perceived enemies – and frequently civilians – is not likely to be curtailed, and indeed was extended during the presidency of Barack Obama. Drones and other air attacks can now be considered a permanent feature of the USA’s ‘permanent war’ status..

There are different kinds of power to that which grows out of the barrel of a gun, and as Afghanistan has clearly demonstrated, gun power is not even a sure bet in terms of success when a much more poorly armed force, but with dedication and belief on its side, can win.

Gun boat diplomacy has had its day but many countries in the world, not just ‘Western’ powers but Russia and to some extent China also, have yet to move beyond it – though China has been exploring and exploiting its economic power. Military might can certainly change situations but it cannot easily win long terms victories or change hearts and minds.

So how can those who are concerned about situations internationally intervene if they are committed to a just world? There are a variety of approaches, all of which require humility rather than hubris, and may not have the supposed (but false) glamour of military intervention. Dialogue is always underrated. Funding for economic progress, particularly for those who are most repressed and in need, is an important part of a response. Research and technical aid of an appropriate nature, both regarding agriculture and industry, or assitance to local people in doing this, is another response. Supporting green development is a step forward not just for the local society but for the world.

Building on positive aspects of local culture is also part of an answer rather than teleporting new western systems in to traditional cultures (much as we might think they are a good idea). Cultures can evolve but generally are hard to change rapidly. Basing change in indigenous culture and thinking can be a way forward. Take the traditional jirga (elders’ council) system of decision making and conflict reolution in Afghan and Pashtun culture; this offers many possibilities for restorative justice. Most cultures have similar structures which can be used to work on thorny issues of dsagreement. Building on such mechanisms, and making them more inclusive (jirgas would not traditionally have included women) is one valuable approach to dealing with conflict. Other involvement in promoting mechanisms of nonviolent conflict management or resolution is also of vital importance, particularly in early stages when issues may be more resolvable.

The military approach sometimes looks like an easy and safe option. It is not. What is needed is a very different approach to the world, sharing knowedge and expertise, offering a helping hand, exploring how to assist in a way which builds permanent positive change, particularly for most oppressed sections such as women and minorities in a situation like Afghanistan, and simply listening to what people are looking for. In relation to a militant macho ideology in power in certain countries this is far from easy, and in societies where international engagement is labelled treasonous then it is particularly difficult. But there is no other way. NATO militarism has, for example, encouraged Russian xenophobia.

The world is a complex place. Afghanistan is, like any country, not homogenous. Building on the best, in whatever way possible, is the way to proceed so that local cultures can evolve and be more equitable and inclusive. This applies at home just as much as it does anywhere else and what has been spoken of here in relation to Afghanistan could also apply substanrtially to the residual conflict in Northern Ireland, despite very significant cultural differences.

Northern Ireland:

Underdogs and overdogs

The term ‘overdog’ is not anything as much used as ‘underdog’ but one can be understood as the opposite of the other. In the first fifty years of the Northern Ireland state or statelet it was clear that Protestants and unionists were the overdogs and Catholics and nationalists the underdogs. Some aspects of this continued through the period of the Troubles and there being a clear numerical majority for unionism. That majority has now evaporated due to demographic change.

As we frequently state, the end of a majority for political unionism does not necessarily mean a united Ireland but it does mean a change of ethos and atmosphere in the North. However political unionism has not yet adapted to this reality. Indeed, the reckless backing of a hard Brexit by the DUP half a dozen years ago – bahaving as if they owned the whole show – was, from a unionist point of view, a tragic overplaying of its hand; it ended up with the last thing unionism wanted, a buereaucratic economic border in the Irish Sea due to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The other major aspect of unionism currently is the fall from popularity of the DUP, because of the debacle of their handling of Brexit; a recent Belfast Telegraph/Lucid Talk poll put the Ulster Unionist Party on 16%, the TUV of Jim Allister on 14%, and the DUP on 13%. Even if these figures are not wholly accurate, and they are only a snapshot, it is no wonder DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson is calling for ‘unionist unity’.

While some inter-unionist cooperation may emerge prior to the May 2022 Assembly elections, this fragmentation has pluses and minuses. Exiting monolithic sectarian political blocs – on either side – has to be part of progress. But if political unionism as a whole feels weak and divided this is good for no one and may create space for the hard men of the loyalist paramilitaries to come more to the fore, and loyalist parmilitarism is still very much around.

One of the few things which has united people on the island of Ireland recently, including all political parties North and Republic, has been in opposition to British government plans to introduce a ‘Troubles amnesty’ without other and adequate mechanisms to ‘deal with the past’. The British government has made its move on an English/British jingoist basis to protect its former soldiers and the state from accountability and this move is also in accord with its militarist mindset; it is not compatible with international law. However this rare unanimity across the board in Ireland does not herald any breathrough for peace and light on a broader front. For the British government to proceed with its plans would be contemptible and a vicious slap in the face for all victims; to proceed against universal rejection in both jurisdictions in Ireland would be an incredible act of contemptuous disregard for everyone on the westernmost island in Europe..

In many situations people love an underdog. If political unionism is on the cusp of possibly becoming such an underdog then it needs an appreciation of how to wear minority status, and how to adapt. This is difficult given its insistence in the past on ‘majority rule’ and many loyalists currently see the state and police being ‘agin them’ without any decisive evidence beyond Boris Johnson’s clear betrayal of them with the Northern Ireland Protocol (betrayal because of what he had previously promised). However what else could have come to pass with a ‘hard Brexit’ is difficult to see.

There continue to be many dangers in Northern Ireland, and many obstacles remain in building a peaceful society. Moving beyond a situation where any community sees itself as an underdog, but valuing everyone, is an important and difficult goal, whatever the constitutional situation. Those who believe in peace and reconciliation will have to continue to be imaginative and creative for a very considerable period of time. No one deserves to be left behind but what any of us want may not be exactly what we can possibly get so compromise has to be an important word in the political lexicon for everyone. Despite its image, it is compomise which requires bravery and not intransigence.

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Editorials 291

Northern Ireland:

Confident unionism needed

The recent crisis or crises in unionism, and the DUP in particular, should not be the opportunity for schadenfreude since taking pleasure in others’ misfortune is the last thing which Northern Ireland needs. This is for several reasons. Militant and military extremisms flourish in political uncertainity in Northern Ireland. And mediation and negotiation theory – and experience – tells us that for agreements to be made and stick, the different sides need to be relatively confident and secure. Whatever the future of and for Northern Ireland, there has to be a forward-looking unionism to stand up for its people in a reasonable way and help fashion the future.

Unionist dominance in Northern Ireland is at an end. Of course that does not necessarily mean the end of instransigence on any side (unionist, nationalist, British, Irish). Perhaps the last fling for unionist dominance came through the throw of the electoral dice in the UK as a whole which gave the DUP inordinate influence over Theresa May’s British government policy, then backed Boris Johnson, and significantly helped fashion a ‘hard’ Brexit.

A hard Brexit was against the wishes of an arithmetic majority in Northern Ireland which did not want to leave the EU at all. Polls show a majority in the North today want the UK to align its standards with the EU as a means of dealing with Britain-Northern Ireland trade checks. The DUP justified its Brexit policy by referring to the small overall UK decision in favour of Brexit but that did not by any means necessarily entail or justify a hard Brexit either. And it is probably disengenuous of unionists to choose as their primary ‘democratic unit’ either the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or simply Northern Ireland according to which suits them best.

While favouring the UK union, as well as thinking about themselves unionists it is in their interest to also think about the whole people of Northern Ireland. When the statiistics are released in due course for the recent census, it will be clear that cultural Protestants no longer outnumber cultural Catholics in the North, and may even be a minority. As stated here frequently before, this does not in any way automatically translate into a united Ireland just around the corner but nor does it necessarily mean that a united Ireland is not just around a few corners.

The problem unionist leaders have had, for fifty years and more, is that moving from a position of dominance to one of equality can look like submission, failure, and the dominance of the other. This feeling of being dominated is the understanding of many unionists and loyalists in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed by the UK government with the EU. This may look like Northern Ireland being a place apart in its membership of the United Kingdom but the whole point is that it is a place apart, across a sea from Britain and part of a country which was colonised. Given the disastrous DUP backing for a hard Brexit, and the original, and democratically flawed UK decision to leave the EU in the first place, there was going to be a border either on ‘the Border’ or in the Irish Sea. So a seeming victory for one side, whichever, and defeat for the other was guaranteed.

No longer able to dominate, the choice for unionism is further change and compromise or a negative intransigence which may take Northern Ireland more rapidly into a bitterly fought united Ireland, and certainly no further forward. To maximise the possibility of Northern Ireland continuing as part of the UK, unionists need to bend over backwards to meet nationalist demands within the Northern Ireland context. Acht na Gaeilge? Tomorrow. North-South cooperation? 100%. Specific and comprehensive human rights legisation for Northern Ireland? Next week. The last would also be a wise move for unionists in protecting themselves in the future.

Obviously delivering on this would be a complex task for unionist leaders. It may go over many people’s heads but actually explaining what is necessary in terms of negotiation and decision making, and why, may help many Northern Protestants and unionists to understand why something which might look ‘weak’ (‘giving in’ to the other side) is actually strong and in their interests. It is understandable why unionists feel betrayed – because they have been by Boris Johnson – and they certainly should be listened to carefully. But they are no longer in a position to make one-sided demands, and this also needs pointed out by their leaders; they still have, and should have, a certain amount of power, but it is ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ others.

While they certainly can try, it is highly unlikely unionists and loyalists can force a removal of the NI Protocol – and no one has suggested any realistic alternatives; putting a boundary at Dublin and Rosslare ports is unrealistic since the Republic was firmly of the decision to stay with the EU – and why should the Republic suffer more than it already has because of a UK decision which has already impacted negatively on it?. And a boundary at the North-’South’ border is going to exchange one set of undesirable repercussions for another, albeit with a different set of people suffering the consequences.

And demographic change is not in unionists’ favour. You have to go well into middle age cohorts to find a Protestant majority in the North, and at primary school level Catholic schoolchildren far outweigh Protestant ones. What direction the Republic takes in terms of social policies including healthcare may be a critical factor in who in Northern Ireland wants to remain in the UK and who wants some form of united Ireland. What kind of polity a united Ireland might be is also a major factor.

If all sides play their cards for the common good as well as their own sectional interest, Northern Ireland could traverse difficult waters with a modicum of self respect on all sides. It will certainly not be easy and it is a big ask but not an insuperable one. And what is even in someone’s sectional interest can be counter-intuitive; witness the comment above about unionists being willing to accede to nationalist demands within Northern Ireland. It has to also be stated that if republicans push too far too fast with a united Ireland agenda they may end up with what they wish for and an extremely disunited and violent people, a Pyrrhic victory.

Unionists may not want to engage in discussion about what form a united Ireland would take, if it came about, and that is understandable. On the other hand it is, in Peter Robinson’s words, an insurance policy. It also makes sense, as we have stated here before, that if there was a move to a united Ireland that it would be a process and not an event. If it is clear that it is going to happen in due course, whatever, then it is clearly in the interests of unionists to get what they consider the best deal possible and most would engage.

But it is also necessary to point out that the current situation is dangerous. If unionists and loyalists dig themselves into a hole over the Northern Ireland Protocol (that it has to be replaced, end of story, rather than mitigated) they may help precipitate the very outcome they don’t want – further moves to a united Ireland – as well as in the mean time an even more divided, and violent, Northern Ireland. It is as yet unclear if the new DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, has enough resolve and political dexterity and room to manoeuvre not to jump into the hole that has already been dug.

The British government and the EU have the major roles to play in dealing with the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Full and fulsome British cooperation and EU flexibility can, and hopefully will, help defuse a rather volatile situation, and the economic advantages for Northern Irish exporters may come to outweigh the disadvantages for Northern Irish importers (and obviously some economic enterprises may fit both categories). If there is full real time disclosure of trade across the sea from Britain to Northern Ireland that should show the EU any risk, in what is a relatively small market in European terms, North and Republic, of single market regulations being flouted. And any such risk could then be quickly assessed. However more lies and flag waving from Boris Johnson’s government will only exacerbate the situation.

We also need a clear understanding that unionism, like nationalism or any other ideology, is not monolithic, and never has been despite greater uniformity in the past. Scratch the surface and all sorts of different pictures emerge, a theme well captured by Susan McKay in relation to Northern Protestants in general. The majority of Northern Protestants vote across several different parties including increasingly the middle ground Alliance Party. It also means that all sorts of things are possible. Just as the pattern of immigration to Ireland over the last few decades has been positive in many ways, economically and culturally, we can learn to celebrate diversity – something well done in the Belfast Mela intercultural festival. We can learn to appreciate difference as part of the richness of life, including across the major divide in Northern Ireland, both ways. Now that is a goal worth achieving in and in relation to Northern Ireland. Unionism has a role to play in that, and will do so, whatever political outcomes emerge in coming decades.

Armed to the teeth?

The emergence of a network on the arms trade in Ireland, encompassing people in various locations on both sides of the border, is a very welcome development in opposing the further development of the military-industrial complex in Ireland, and militarism in general. See news item about StoP, Swords to Ploughshares, in this issue.

While the pictures either side of the border are quite different, with Northern Ireland being part of a NATO-member state, the Republic is increasingly drawn into alignment with NATO, not least through developing EU militarism and support for it which is closely linked to NATO.

Under PESCO, the Republic is obliged to dramatically increase the amount it spends on the military. The Irish political elite, in most of the major parties, clearly see this as a Good Thing and it is the slippery slope to doing the equivalent of serving King and Kaiser. The media often play the same game; an article in The Irish Times of 19/6/21 declared “ ‘Gaping gap’ in Ireland’s airspace defence” without defining how significant real risks existed that needed a military response. Developing European militarism is not to be welcomed since hearts can follow money, and policies follow possibilities, and stronger military capability leads to perceptions that this can be utilised. If there are resource wars later in the 21st century, expect the ‘European army’ to be in the thick of it.

The best form of defence Ireland has is non-offence, i.e. neutrality. The best role Ireland can play in relation to conflict is that advocated in the constitution, i.e. arbitration and its corollary, mediation (which was not so developed when the Irish Constitution was written or it might have been explicitly included). Part of Article 29 of Bunreacht na hÉireann reads: “Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality. Ireland affirms its adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.”

It is dealing with conflict through early warning systems, support for developing conflict mediation services, and, of course more broadly, international justice and fair economic systems which are needed, and in very considerable need of resources. Money spent on arms is a dead (sic) loss. Ireland needs to put money into the pacific resolution of conflict, not into armed force.

An underlying problem is drift. Ireland is very well linked into international economic systems and ‘naturally’ firms with arms link may come to Ireland, or indigenous dual use and arms related manufacture develop. In relation to Irish neutrality, there have been considerable steps away from neutarlity since Ireland joined the EEC, now EU, in 1972. In both arms production and policy, each step backwards towards militarism is only a step but collectively it amounts to a change in policy.

We should not give up hope. The story of Raytheon being kicked out of Derry [see links in the news item on StoP in this issue] is both inspiring and instructive. The population of the Republic is very much in favour of neutrality. ‘Arms are for linking’ and military arms and the arms trade is a costly trip up a violent one way street. That anyone in Ireland, especially the North after what it went through in the Troubles, should even or ever consider any involvement with the arms trade beggars belief. These are all points which we can utilise in working for a peaceful world and an end to arms madness.

Editorial, NN 290

Peace history: piecing it together

The concept of ‘peace journalism’ is now quite well established; this has an orientation towards avoiding stereotypes, sharing different perspectives, being critical of all sides as appropriate, analysing power relationships, working not to make situations worse, and exploring positive possibilities. But what is ‘peace history’? This editorial will try to explore some aspects of what ‘peace history’ should be in the Irish context although most of this is directly transferable to other situations.

Peace history’, while similar in some ways to ‘peace journalism’, has its own story and as a concept can perhaps be seen to have emerged in the period between the two 20th century World Wars. It has included analysis of citizen campaigning, women’s movements, and other aspects of life beyond the old and outdated concept and cliches of history as the story of wars and rulers. To a considerable extent it can be said that the norms of historical research have changed to include much more the stories of citizens, civilians and civil society movements.

In simple terms, perhaps the coverage of peace history could be divided into three parts. The first is simply the story of people working for peace for whom this is the primary commitment – avowedly peace groups and activists. The second would be those who work for peace as part of a broader commitment in politics and civic life (think John Hume in Northern Ireland, for example). These first two groups ‘run into each other’ and overlap. The third part, and this is somewhat different, would be analysis from a peace perspective of what others are doing, and this would be, naturally, rather more critical. It is not that peace history should be uncritical of those who explicitly declared themselves working for peace (John Hume supported Raytheon coming to Derry) but that they are more likely to be in accord with peaceful ideals than those who called for, or fomented, war and violence or were simply unconcerned.

Peace history is not explicitly ‘dealing with the past’ – although some aspects of it can be so. Dealing with the past is about processing, in multiple ways, the violence, death and injustice which has been perpetrated. ‘Dealing with the past’ can be a collective process but it is concerned with what has been done to individuals as well as groups. It can include formal or informal truth recovery as well as judicial processes to decide on guilt and innocence and also reparations and other means of helping people move on.

Peace history is about understanding who did what to try to avoid violence and move towards peace and reconciliation, the positive contributions that were made by diverse people to make a peaceful settlement possible. On the negative side it is also about understanding what factors exacerbated situations, leading to further violence and bloodshed, or further injustice.

INNATE has an online, downloadable, poster worded “The past is not water under the bridge. It is water filling a reservoir’. (see under ’Dealing with the past’ at ). This is primarily about dealing with the past. The past is very much present in violent or conflicted situations, and an understanding of the past is crucial to being able to move forward. But that quote can also be understood in a positive way; we may or may not stand on the shoulders of giants but we walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before us.

Much of the work on the ‘Decade of Centenaries’ in Ireland (2012+), a decade now drawing to a close, could be said to fit the ‘peace history’ model. Attempts to understand and fairly portray all sides, and inclusive coverage of all victims no matter who they were in terms of class, gender or religion, and what side they supported, is a very close fit.

But there are, even more pertinently, conflicted narratives about the relatively recent Troubles in Northern Ireland.

INNATE has a – not very successful – ‘Civil society and the Troubles’ project to record the initiatives which peace groups and civil society in all its guises undertook to deal with Troubles issues. Emily Stanton’s summary of Belfast peacebuilding history in the Troubles in the shape of a tour is an important example of showing what was being done by a wide variety of civil society actors, not just those who had an explicit peace label.

Some of the contents of INNATE’s Flickr photo site is also part of this story. All of this provides a counter to pro-paramilitary and pro-state narratives on the North. Violence did not need to happen. It did happen. Why did it happen? What would need to have taken place for violence not to have developed? How can we never arrive to be in the same position again?

More generally on the island of Ireland we are approaching – within a few years – the bicentenary of the foundation of the Hibernian Peace Society in 1824, arguably the first focused body on international peace in Ireland. It is well covered in Richard Harrison’s (out of print) 1986 book “Irish Anti-War Movements 1824-1974” Intriguingly, the FOR/Fellowship of Reconciliation had an active presence in Dublin in the period 1915-21, working on anti-militarism and conscientious objection support, also as detailed in Richard Harrison’s book. The FOR took off again in 1949 in the North and was involved in innovative cross-border conferences along with the Irish Pacifist Movement in the 1950s. Mediation is now an established methodology of conflict resolution, in most aspects of life in Ireland, which will continue indefinitely, and even grow; however at the turn of the 1980s it was virtually invisible and it has emerged and become mainstream in just a few decades – a remarkable achievement which should give us hope.

The size, durability and modus operandi of of different groups and organisations has varied enormously. During the Troubles, some groups in the North were extinct before they got their constitution together. The Irish Pacifist Movement ran for over thirty years, the Fellowship of Reconciliation almost fifty. The Peace People began big and became smaller. Corrymeela continues to work as an organisation devoted to reconciliation and a meeting place after five and a half decades. While numerous groups have had paid staff, most have depended, at least in part, on volunteers and many have been solely dependant on the latter. However the withdrawal of funding from some Northern groups following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led or contributed to their demise.

One of the features of socio-political movements is the phenomenon of peaks and troughs; sometimes such movements are sailing along with strong winds of public opinion, and engagement, behind them while at other times the going can be tough. The nuclear disarmament movement (CND), for example, fits this pattern, with at least a couple of peaks since it began at the end of the 1950s. However one of the features of Richard Harrison’s 1986 book is the implicit advice “don’t worry if one group dies, another will come along soon”. Of course if we can keep going when that going is tough, then there may be greater preparedness for when the cause becomes more popular again. There are no easy answers and discernment is required as to where we should put our efforts.

There are also many honourable examples in mainstream Irish history of action for peace. Northerner Sean Lester was the last general secretary of the League of Nations. Eamon de Valera was President of the League of Nations. Ireland was prominent in the movement for nuclear non-proliferation and opposition to military blocs. More recently Ireland played an honourable role in banning landmines and cluster munitions. However it is clear, from an understanding of which way the wind is blowing for anyone who has an eye for history and an ear to the ground, that the EU is hell bent on developing into a military empire itself.

This direction has been, and is, consistently denied by the political elite in the Republic (and the EU), despite or perhaps because of the popularity of the Republic’s neutrality; slowly, slowly, steps are taken to undermine that neutrality until complete participation in EU militarism is on the cards and possibly even membership of NATO. This direction is clear and the Irish public have their hearts in neutrality but their heads in the sand.

As mentioned in the news section previously, INNATE intends to have an online seminar on Irish peace history in the autumn, probably November. This will focus on peace groups and activists, both regarding international peace issues and work in and on Northern Ireland issues. Some supporting material will be produced to put the seminar into context and the INNATE photo and documentary site continues to add items from peace movement history. The seminar process will attempt to pull together some existing material and to point to areas where further research and study might be valuable – however the seminar itself is likely to be mainly the sharing of personal experiences of involvement.

You can argue for a long time about who first stated something to the effect that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. This is a truism although not necessarily in a simplistic sense. The fact is that a certain amount of history is cyclical. Nonviolence, however, is about stepping in to cycles and orientations to violence and dealing with them, or preventing them developing in the first place.

And similar situations may require different nonviolent responses at different times. Just as military generals have a tendency, to their cost, to fight the last war (look at the ridiculous and very violent British and French attachment to nuclear weapons which is more about self image than practical reality, even within militarist thinking), so we can feel something that worked last time will indeed work again. It might and it might not, and other factors may have changed. We need all the imagination and creativity we can gather if we are to build a more peaceful world.

It was Tony Blair’s strong backing for the Iraq War of 2003 which, disastrously, brought about UK involvement. In the lead up to war, one meeting was arranged at No.10 Downing Street with Middle Eastern historians. They warned that (their analysis of history showed) it was easy to go in (to war and the invasion of Iraq) but very difficult to get out. One historian reported, however, that the only question which Tony Blair wanted answered in this meeting was whether Saddam Hussein was uniquely evil. If Blair had been listening to what was being said, rather than looking for points of self-justification, then the outcome might have been different. Iraq and the whole region is still in a violent mess because of USA and British war-making; Saddam Hussein at that stage was still a brutal dictator, if somewhat constrained, but US-British action made a bad situation far worse.

To learn from history we have to ask the right questions and listen to answers, even when they are ones we may not agree or be comfortable with. But we can also take inspiration from our foremothers and forefathers who have struggled for peace, many in situations very much more difficult and dangerous than our own. In building the future we use foundations from the past. Some of those foundations are the hardcore rubble of past violence, some are positive and enduring structures we have inherited.

Of course peace movement history has not always been plain sailing or easy going. We have to critique our own work and, with humility and empathy, that of other peace activists, preferably through dialogue, but offering solidarity where we can. This is where, going forward, we need a broad understanding of peace to include participative decision making and mediative techniques so that when things go awry we have mechanisms to deal with it in accord with our principles. Here too we can learn from peace movement history. We may not be saints or indeed scholars but, building on the work of our peace activist predecessors, we can try to reach further towards a peaceful and just future which takes care of all people in all parts of our globe, not just being a part of a selfish and highly armed fortress in a sea of violence and inequality which is where it looks like we are currently headed.

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Editorial, NN 289

Political identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorials, NN 288

So what is democracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The elephant in the room reappears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorials, NN 287

Northern Ireland:

Nul points’ for zero sum games – but who makes the rules?

There is a tendency to see everything in Northern Ireland in ‘zero sum’ terms; a win for them’uns is a loss for us’uns, and vice versa. In relation to Brexit there would seem to be a clear zero sum game in progress; an Irish Sea Border being seen as a defeat for unionism, an Irish border ‘border’ being a defeat for nationalism. But things are, and should be, somewhat more complicated than that.

Talking generally (before going on to look at the current situation) the complications are to do with both parity and justice. Clear victory for one side and clear defeat for the other can be very dangerous because it creates resentment and ill feeling which can then spill over into various other aspects of life. Then there is also the question – what is just? In the sectarian and heated political environment of Northern Ireland these are not easy questions to answer but it is still possible to at least try to listen to ‘the other’ and see what can be done. However sometimes what can be done to ‘even the score’ may be limited, though using ‘neutral criteria’ such as established human rights norms may help in some cases.

While it has been stated before here that some policies of the EU, in relation to neoliberal economic policies and increasing militarisation, are very unwelcome, the UK decision to pursue Brexit was part of a flawed decision making process. Yes, a majority in the UK voted for leaving the EU but a larger majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay. People in the UK knew not what they were actually voting for and that meant that any democratic mandate for it has been very shaky.

Be that as it may, the DUP/Democratic Unionist Party jumped in enthusiastically to the Brexit camp, thinking that it would make Northern Ireland more ‘British’. They seriously overplayed their hand. They could have backed Theresa May’s deal to ally the whole UK to EU standards which would have meant no ‘Irish Sea Border’. Instead they went for broke. However the reality of the power relationship between the larger EU and smaller UK, and the nature of the EU single market, meant disaster for them. While all the time denying their role in such a cock up for unionism, they initially played down the significance of the Northern Ireland Protocol until unionist opinion exerted itself and they felt they had to be more strident. Unionist and loyalist rhetoric has been ramping up.

Pretty much all of unionism is now singing from the same song sheet in demanding that the Protocol be replaced. Even senior figures got in on the act. Peter Robinson said it might come to a choice between Stormont (the Assembly) and the Protocol because of the difficulty in opposing it while being involved in the power-sharing Executive. However unionist commentator Alex Kane pointed out that each time there is a break or hiatus in government in Northern Ireland, unionism comes back weaker. David Trimble argued forcefully that the Protocol breached the Good Friday Agreement because it changed the constitutional position of Northern Ireland without the agreement of the (unionist) majority. Arlene Foster spoke about the need to heed the will of the majority, seemingly ‘heed’ as in ‘accede to’.

But to each argument there is a counter-argument. Some pointed out that ‘unionism’ is no longer ‘the majority’ in Northern Ireland (even if there is not a majority for a united Ireland). Unionists were happy, in relation to the majority in Northern Ireland voting to stay with the EU, to point to the (small) majority in the whole of the UK who voted for it; but when it came to the government of the UK making an arrangement that they did not like, they spoke about ‘the majority’ in Northern Ireland. Others said that if David Trimble considered the NI Protocol to breach the Good Friday Agreement, surely Brexit did this first (this matter is open to endless debate but Brexit has certainly affected human rights issues in Northern Ireland).

The EU has indicated it may be open to flexibility in the implementation of the Protocol but both it and the British government have indicated the Protocol is here to stay. The EU says the British need to live up to their side of the bargain (e.g. real time information sharing on trade flows) before considering liberalisation of rules. From its point of view the EU may need to protect its single market but there is nothing which stipulates there has to be the particular level of bureaucracy which interferes with a variety of aspects of previous trading patterns, and availability of products as it has in Northern Ireland, even though Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market and Britain does not. There could be a very considerable simplification of what is required through trusted trader status, analysis of trading patterns and information (as the EU have asked for) and so on.

The unionist demand for the complete replacement of the Protocol is unlikely to get much traction except in extremis. Britain – England – wants to move on. And this is where the danger comes. There is no easy alternative, and a trade border on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be even more difficult to police and would replace one set of people feeling a grievance with another (nationalists and republicans). But the longer problems are highlighted, and the slower it is to get issues sorted, the more strident voices in unionism and loyalism will get ramped up and the closer loyalist paramilitarism may get to violence. The risks to the EU single market could be protected in a much less obtrusive way.

So action is needed fast. Whether ‘the maximum’ can assuage unionism remains to be seen. Business on the other hand wants certainty and some firms in Northern Ireland importing certain goods have had major problems, others involved in exporting welcome the opportunity for freer trade with the EU than now enjoyed by Britain. The EU and British government, or indeed the Irish government, simply stating that the Protocol is here to stay is not very helpful; telling people “you have made your bed, now lie on it” is hardly conducive to de-escalation. Unionists are feeling aggrieved and need listened to carefully; however what could, or should, be done in response is another matter. It is not a matter of stringing anyone along but exploring what options exist; those may be limited but need attention and action straight away.

Unionism is not the force it once was in Northern Ireland. But those who consider themselves British need listened to carefully, just as those who consider themselves Northern Irish or Irish. When it is disturbed, ‘parity of esteem’ can turn into ‘parity of steam’ and the lid risks getting blown off. Such an explosion is not in the interest of anyone or of progress in what passes for a ‘peace process’ in Northern Ireland.

Good riddance, Direct Provision (whenever it eventually disappears….)

When the Direct Provision system was introduced in the Republic a couple of decades ago to provide shelter to refugees and asylum seekers, it was a ‘temporary’ arrangement that became semi-parmanent. It was also a very large and distinct blot on Ireland’s record on human rights and treating people fairly. With direct provision centres often located in out of the way locations, and crowded conditions with no choice as to whom you associated with (or even shared a room with), and no choice of food or opportunity to cook for yourself (to name just a few issues), it heaped insult on injury for people who had already been through so much. It has been kicking people while they were down. Mental health and self esteem suffered. The opportunity for integration suffered. Eventually people gained the right to work after six months in the country but the whole system was unfit for purpose.

Agencies or groups working in the field such as MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland ) and Doras (in Limerick, ) have welcomed the announced government plans in its White Paper, with some reservations, but it is clear they are not ‘holding their breath’. Plans are largely in line with the proposals in the Catherine Day report of the October 2020. Doras say“We are concerned to see that there is no clear plan to deal with the large backlog in International Protection cases…….. we would like to see the closure of centres beginning this year, instead of 2022, as stated in the White Paper. Conditions in many direct provision centres are currently below acceptable standards, and the daily experiences of international protection applicants are far from acceptable.”

MASI say “The White Paper is ambitious in some areas and lacks imagination in others……. MASI is appalled by the decision not to provide supports for asylum seekers to live independently in the community if they do not avail of 4 months of Direct Provision (whatever name the government calls it) after lodging their asylum claim…..While the White Paper has some positive changes including the end of shared living spaces for families and supports for children, it does have problematic areas that make it difficult to hold the State accountable without putting the provision of accommodation and other supports for asylum seekers on a statutory footing…..”

If “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” there is a long way to go yet. The crazy thing about Direct Provision (with accommodation provided by commercial enterprises) – beyond its considerable human rights abuses – is that it is, as the Day report indicated, more expensive in financial terms than the proposed alternatives. Speedy change is needed and putting services on a statutory basis so that any breaches can be adequately and swiftly addressed.


Let’s celebrate

International Women’s Day……

………and honour the Spirit of the feminine in our shared history today.

By Miriam Ryan

A spirited Cork woman known as Mother Jones, dedicated her life in the U.S. 1860s, to upholding justice and fearlessly supported labour rights, and mining communities and children’s right to be just kids, with her dignified socialist ideas, and trade union activism. Having suffered much tragedy in her personal life, she stood against the abuse perpetrated by a powerful patriarchy, on those people who actually helped create their obscene profits. Intimidation, mocking and jail terms never dimmed her clear seeing and understanding of where terror and injustice was rooted. She is remembered in song by the talented Lisa O Neill, using Mother Jones’s refrain as the chorus of the song, “Pray for the dead. And fight like hell for the living”.

Let’s celebrate Margaret MacCurtain/Sr. Benvenuta, Lecturer and Historian who saw fit to rewrite women back into history. ‘Herstory’, a series of talks held in the National Gallery in the 1990s by Sinead McCoole who recently  wrote the whole story of the Gifford Sisters’ life and their sacrifices and love of freedom. And Grace Gifford who married her lover Joseph Mary Plunkett at midnight, in Kilmainham jail in 1916, and who later that day ‘forgave’ the very young courageous British soldier, who sobbed at her door, ashamed that he had been part of the firing squad, who had shot her husband. And Dorothy Macardle, writer playwright, activist and historian, whose book ‘The Irish Republic’ (1973), is regarded as one of the most influential accounts of the Irish War of Independence.

We honour the present Raging Grannies, and the ‘Guantanamo Granny’ Margaretta D’Arcy for their love of people and human rights and their abhorrence of the cruelty of injustice.

In pre Celtic times, a body of just and sophisticated Laws were enacted by the people for the people. This rich code of laws created the most enlightened , humane legal structure in all of Europe. They were based on restitution and compensation, with no call whatsoever for the death penalty. These laws dealt with every aspect of daily life, for example land disputes, theft, violence, marriage, divorce and no forced marriage was tolerated. And the care of animals and trees, and birds and bees, was taken very seriously. Sadly they were lost in time through invasion and Christianity. Our language was forbidden and placenames, in which so much traditional knowledge was stored, were almost lost. Love of learning and poetry and music is still central to our character, as a culture. It is said that those in power write the history but those who suffer write the songs and poetry and music. The artist Sinéad Smith was part of the “Name the children project” remembering all the children who died in war.

Claire Sands that ‘fearless, feisty, fiddler’ wailing out her songs from a deeply spiritual, raw, ancestral depth to honour Mother Nature and the human spirit.

Tolu Mackey and her Lyrics “Togetherness” digging deep into her soul for such richness.

Ruth Anne, Karen Casey, Angel with her Gospel singing, and of course Denise Chaila with “Anseo”, all wonderful poets and musicians who reveal to us who we are.

And the writer Dervla Murphy who cycled around India, Africa, Russia, and Europe opening up a wider world to an insulated 1970s Ireland, with the diaries of her courageous solo travels. The wonderful writer Edna O’Brien’s novels and Sinéad Bourke’s “Tilting the Lens”, all educators.

And Ann Lovett who tragically lost her life alone as she gave birth, teaching us how essential us human beings are to each other, and how essential it is we face ourselves, and our past. We honour Joanna Hayes, and the recent official apology she and her family received for such cruel disregard of the truth, in the 1980s Kerry Baby case. And Nell McCafferty, writer and journalist and author of ‘In the Eyes of the Law’, who garnered support exposing this miscarriage of justice, and on the patriarchal justice system. Nell’s “Good night Sisters” refrain to us all, from her RTE series, in 1980s, spreading great hope of a more enlightened Éire.

And all those women in the Mother and Baby homes, who suffered so much, while a patriarchal system continued to inflict on society, a warped way of looking at the world. And the sheer honesty of Sinéad O’Connor’s wonderful voice, calling out abuse, perpetrated by institutional patriarchy. And Dolores O Riordan’s who rocked the music world with her song “Zombie”, awakening a consciousness of peace against war profiteers, and demanding all of this be done peacefully. As Kathy Kelly with her Irish roots, speaks about the past where ‘weapons were created for war, but war nowadays is created so as to sell weapons’, and obscene profit made out of the creation of human misery. And our former President Mary McAleese, for her fearless practical peaceful, insightful support for genuine human rights.

History should be about classes and events and stories and not about individuals, so Anna Parnell wrote in 1880s. Her book”‘Notes from the Ladies’ Cage” is a record of women’s participation in the Land League, and her pioneering campaigning for housing rights for the urban poor, yet she was perceived as a threat to both the Fenians, the Republicans, and the Church authorities.

We honour Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, the youngest MP ever, with her astute mind and deep sense of a just society, aware of the class war, perpetrated in Northern Ireland against the whole community. And Mairead Maguire, the Nobel Peace Laureate in 1976, who instigated a call for cross community support to end the Troubles, and Inez McCormack trade unionist and human rights activist. All peaceful revolutionaries from the depth of the heart of the human Spirit, under the guidance of our Goddess Brigid and our insightful, enlightened Brehon Laws, when we understood the meaning of the necessity for social justice, before empire tried to trample our Spirit. In Jo Kerrigan’s book on the Brehon Laws she wonders why today these enlightened laws are not implemented, which would create for us all ‘a World beyond War’. This is a celebration of the feminine, which is found deeply in all of us human beings.

International Women’s Day is on 8th March. The Northern Ireland programme (starting 3rd March) can be found at but for the Republic you may have to look out locally and search.

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Meeting/Conference reports:

by Rob Fairmichael


In reporting on the World Beyond War (WBW) meeting series in Ireland, and the Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) conference in Europe, I am deliberately focusing on particular points of interest that I found and not attempting a comprehensive summary. In any case the videos of the WBW series are available online, with other material, and the report on the UCP conference will in due course join the other ones on the Nonviolent Peaceforce website from the other continental conferences.

1. A World Beyond War?

Conversations on Alternatives

– Meeting series

The World Beyond War chapter (they use the US terminology) in Ireland organised this excellent series of well attended speaker meetings in January and February 2021, accessible to anyone online. All the sessions, and more, are available at

There was a chime between the first and last contributions in relation to the United Nations. Denis Halliday, as a former Assistant General-Secretary, obviously knows his way around the UN. He sees the General Assembly as representative, but spoke of how the powerful countries wanted to control it from the start – which they do through permanent membership, with veto, of the UN Security Council; they are the people who start the wars. The USA, France, China, Russia and the UK have veto power. However he contrasted the work of the forty of so specialised UN agencies. Ed Horgan spoke of how these powerful countries put themselves above international law and readily use their veto to block any sanctions or action against them, e.g. in the invasion of Afghanistan which was in breach of the UN Charter. Ed Horgan identified the US, Britain and France as the main offenders in this context. He suggested taking matters to the UN General Assembly as the only way around this issue, and that military peacekeeping should be removed from the UN Security council and given to the General Assembly (where there is no veto).

Denis Halliday comes from a Quaker family and his father was very involved with the Irish Pacifist Movement He saw racism and colonialism at work in Africa. In his work in and on Iraq in 1997-8 he saw how sanctions punish the poor, and how Madeline Albright thought half a million children dead as a result was ‘worth it’. He worked to increase the impact of the ‘oil for food’ programme. He spoke about the devastating effect of DU/Depleted Uranium in the ammunition used by the USA in Iraq. He identified white Christian Europeans (i.e. Europeans or people of European origin) as the most dangerous people. He resigned from his post as UN Assistant General-Secretary to work to expose what was being done to Iraq at the time of Kofi Annan.

In answer to a final question from Peadar King about whether he saw the current time as more or less volatile than in his young days, Denis Halliday readily identified today as more volatile, frightening and dangerous. And this is itself frightening.

Clare Daly grew up in a family that was both military (her father was in the Irish army) and religious. But her opinions developed; indeed there can’t be too many parliamentarians who have been arrested and charged in their own country for a nonviolent action ‘walk on’ at an airport to protest against government policies, as she has over Shannon airport. Being neutral is more than not starting wars, she stated simply but cogently.

Clare Daly spoke about growing EU militarisation and the move towards an EU ‘European’ army, and the seismic shift to direct funding of militarism. There was an attempt to justify this through the creation of a ‘common enemy’ which doesn’t exist. There is now a uniformed EU border force with a massively increased budget. And the military budget has increased dramatically, much more than is spent on something like combatting Covid. Ireland has a global standing beyond our size, she said, which could be used for peaceful resolution. Some parliamentarians are well disposed to neutrality and peace but are unwilling to stand up to their party. She spoke in favour of peace and open borders, as well as ensuring people had the proper assistance to live in their own countries, and tackling climate change.

Dave Donnellan, who was the next speaker, is also a graduate of the Shannon Airport College of Walk Ons (it took him four and a half years to graduate to freedom), and began, in relation to a question about military destruction of the environment, pointing out that the Pentagon is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet. He spoke about the thirty court appearances involved in his (and Colm Roddy’s) Shannon action and how this process itself was a punishment. He spoke about how trees take care of each other, ‘mother’ trees, and so should we…. In relation to a question about how we get environmentalists to take peace seriously, and peace activists to take environmentalism seriously, he spoke of relationships and our relation to the planet and cosmos as opposed to ‘whole spectrum dominance’ which is about dominance, control and subjugation. He had spoken movingly about his attachment to Pakistan from living there and the night time grandeur of the stars, infinite and beautiful, and feeling on the inside of that.

Suad Aldarra and Yaser Alashqar, respectively from Syria and Palestine, now live in Ireland. They spoke about human displacement as a consequence of war. The 70 million displaced people today may be the highest ever. When the war came to her home, Suad Aldarra had fled first to Egypt but with the coup and chaos there, and the banning of Syrian refugees, was forced to flee again; she spoke of being torn between different worlds, an identity crisis, and the difficulty in knowing who she is. However she is a data scientist, a storyteller and writing a book on the Syrian diaspora.

Yaser Alashqar spoke about the siege of Gaza, where he comes from. People cannot leave Gaza, they are trapped; Israel may justify attacks by referring to Hamas but they bomb civilian homes. And the vast majority of people in Gaza are refugees to begin with, i.e. coming from or their families coming from other parts of Israel and Palestine. Yaser Alashqar is now an adjunct professor of Peace Studies at TCD. While recognising a certain amount of popular support in Ireland for Palestine he said there is not so much at governmental level; there is arms trade with Israel and involvement with training, universities and research; “Ireland could do better”. Palestine was dropped from the FF-FG programme for Government. Ireland complains about refugee numbers but doesn’t support conflict resolution and human rights internationally. Both Suad and Yaser have had good experiences of welcome in Ireland as well as more negative or open ones.

Ed Horgan, with very significant experience of peacekeeping with the Irish army, spoke on whether militaries are the most appropriate peacekeepers. He spoke of how some UN peacekeeping missions were not allowed succeed by the five veto powers who, as mentioned above, placed themselves above international law. Success is claimed in East Timor, 1999-2000, he said, but it failed to stop genocide there for the 25 years previously; successful operations he pinpointed were Sierra Leone and the Sinai. He argued strongly that Ireland should only be involved with UN peacekeeping operations, not with the EU or anyone else. He spoke about a variety of other peacekeeping operations and lessons from them.

In relation to a question as to whether the military are suitable peacekeepers, he felt in the early stages (of conflict or emerging from conflict) it is useful to have people with military skills and military vehicles for protection. However he stated strongly that aggressive powers should not be involved in such operations. He went on to speak about the failure of the UN peacekeeping operation in Rwanda; permission to intervene was refused by Boutros Boutros Ghali. He also spoke about the crimes against humanity of the big powers.

2. Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP)

European conference organised by Nonviolent Peaceforce

UCP’, unarmed civilian protection, includes monitoring, accompaniment, being present and working with people at risk in many different ways and contexts. This European event was the final regional or continental conference in a worldwide process which has been proceeding for some years to establish good practice, and ‘what works’.

Organising a conference online while maximising participation requires a high degree of organisation and thankfully this was fully delivered. While a participant in such an event is likely to miss the opportunity to catch up with old and new friends in breaks over coffee or evening conviviality, and the chance to grab someone for further elucidation or points of networking, the ‘chat’ facility online can provide a way for slightly less formal interaction, either with the whole gathering or ‘privately’ to an individual. It is still not the same thing and the online pace can be frenetic. And I couldn’t make Irish coffee for people (with neat, vegan or non-alcoholic options)….

See photo and some other info at

The reports from conferences on ‘the other’ continents on this topic can be found at

The conference was organised in 6 sessions; introductions to each other and the topic, four ‘subject’ sessions and a closing session which provided report back and chance for further reflection. The ‘subject’ sessions were on ‘Working for the rights and security of refugees’, ‘Monitoring, observing and protecting against violence by police and other state agencies’, ‘Working with tensions in communities to prevent or reduce violence’, and ‘Unarmed civilian protection in contexts of war and violent conflict’. Discussion and themes overlapped considerably between the subject sessions so my comments are not necessarily defined by the session. This conference was about ‘UCP’ work in Europe, not about Europeans being involved in projects like Peace Brigades International (PBI) elsewhere (many moons ago PBI did have an assessment done by Lynne Shivers on a possible project in Northern Ireland)

The opening session included a quick intro to the concept of unarmed civilian protection by Christine Schweitzer. As she pointed out there are lots of different terminologies used (and different ones in different languages). In English, ‘protective accompaniment’ and ‘civilian peacekeeping’ would be part of it. However there are other models which weren’t covered in the weekend including the kind of long term mediation presence which Quakers are often involved in (e.g. Quaker House in Belfast) – though Quakers did get mentioned by Christine. As she pointed out it is alsoa practice of activists developing their own strategies of self-protection, collectively or individually.”

In one slide Christine Schweitzer identified the following types of work in this field:

Longer-term projects with protection as part of the mandate, with the Cyprus Resettlement project, Balkan Peace Team and the monitoring work in Northern Ireland as perhaps the main NGO projects, and with missions by the European Union and OSCE as governmental missions;

– Short-term inter-positioning projects during the wars in the Balkans, and shorter-term peace team activities, for example in Germany (Gorleben) and Turkey.

– Situational protection against violence, with protection of refugees in the early 1990s the prime example.

– Protection activities by projects that were about other objectives but who took a role in protection when the situation warranted it;

– Non-cooperation and public protest in case of fighting the Mafia.”

I missed the session ‘Working on the rights and security of refugees’ which is not an area I am involved in but would have been interested to learn more, not least because in the European and EU situation it is a vital area of concern. However a summary was provided in the final session (and ‘post it’ type notes provided for each session). Points included creating space for refugees, building trust and relationships; concrete realistic goals; precise observation; having experience of different cultures; looking for allies (‘feeding angels not monsters’), including local small businesses; and looking outside the box. The tension between documenting what is taking place and respecting people’s dignity and privacy was one of the areas of concern; blurring people’s faces in photos and video was one possibility mentioned. Obviously the context is of tightly closed borders and increasing criminalisation of solidarity and humanitarian work.

There were different experiences in different environments, for example in relating to police or building relationships with them – where possible this was certainly considered important. One comment on a country from the former Yugoslavia was it depended on the individual police commander what was possible. The use of mobile phone cameras to document police and other behaviour also varied greatly, with seemingly important use in Belarus and Palestine but in France there is an attempt by the authorities to criminalise such practice. And the extent to which this might be considered antagonistic behaviour also varied, and in addition there was a warning about GDPR issues in the EU, as well as issues to do with encryption. So awareness of issues and possibilities is vital but it may be impossible to generalise what someone should do in a given situation.

The final session showed some demand to hear more about people’s practice, and this may happen, because apart from the session on ‘Unarmed civilian protection in contexts of war and violence’ – which had four short talks – sessions were ‘sharing and discussing’ so we got some context but not a huge amount about most. This model went straight to discussion of issues rather than going through description of practice first.

The speakers at the session on ‘Unarmed civilian protection in contexts of war and violence’ were Ann Patterson and someone called Rob Fairmichael, both on Northern Ireland; Goran Bozicevic on the Western Balkans, and Giulia Zurlini on Kosovo. Ann Patterson showed a short video on the formation of the Peace People (produced for their 40th anniversary) and spoke about some of the early Troubles peace activities, including standing between soldiers and civilians. I covered monitoring by INNATE, CAJ/Committee on the Administration of Justice, and MNI/Mediation Northern Ireland, in relation to the latter particularly a three-year project in an urban interface area of Belfast. The INNATE ‘Monitoring/Observing’ checklist which featured as a backdrop in one of my slides received some attention

Goran Bozicevic spoke of work in Pakrac, the Balkan Peace Team, and the importance of practical solidarity work during the turbulent period of war and conflict. Giulia Zurlini spoke of standing with both communities in Kosovo, staying when there were threats, speaking their languages, listening to the stories of those suffering but rehumanising ‘the enemy’, as well as providing practical help to people.

The importance of socialising with local people, in various ways including drinking or smoking, came up. And also the fact that it can be easier to work with women and young people than men – and I think it was Goran who said, when questioned about working with young people, that he was working with the peacemakers of twenty years’ time. Knowing limitations was also something covered, in relation to two erstwhile antagonistic ethnic groups living side by side in a German city; they cooperate well together and can deal with commonalities and issues arising – but discussing the issues between their homelands is a step too far.

As stated, this is not a comprehensive coverage of the conference, just some issues that come to mind. The link to the other continental material is worth following up (given near the start of this piece)….and the European report will join those, most likely autumn 2021, before a final pulling together of experience from this very worthwhile global project.

Editorials NN 286

A bit of a coup

The events of 6th January in Washington DC, and the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, have been well analysed. However there is some learning about power and powerlessness arising from this which has been absent from mainstream media coverage.

The assault on the Capitol building by very assorted Trump followers came after Trump had insistently lied about the results of the US presidential election, and Trump and Giuliana had egged on protesters on the day. The word ‘fight’ was used frequently and Trump’s language was incendiary, while Giuliana spoke of ‘trial by combat’.. One lingering question following the election victory of Biden was when and if Trump would give the likes of the ‘Proud Boys’ the nod to wreak some havoc. On 6th January they felt they got that nod. Protesters were not told what to do but neither were they told what not to do. Some of the harder elements invading the Capitol building would certainly have kidnapped or killed if they had the opportunity (and one policeman was killed directly by an attack) while others were more tourists than terrorists.

The descriptions and analogies have included (attempted) coup, insurrection, and (to his credit Arnie Schwarzenegger talking about, though perhaps not very accurately) Kristallnacht. Another comment was that it was more like the ‘Beer hall putsch’ of 1923 when the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler attempted a coup in Munich which it was hoped could be built on to take power in Berlin; it was a complete failure. So what was the invasion of the Capitol? It was often violent chaos with some of the invaders having very definite goals and others just wandering around; to call it a ‘full blown’ coup or even insurrection elevates it to a level of organisation it does not deserve, even if part of US democracy was at some risk. While some of those involved would have used the assault on the Capitol to bring about a coup (the overthrow of the presidential election result to allow Trump to continue in power) there was no central organisation to this invasion of the seat of legislatitive government and this is one crucial point in it not being a ‘full blown’ coup..

On the other hand, the last time the Capitol had been invaded violently (apart from four Puerto Ricans firing at congressmen in 1954) had been by the British in 1814 during a war, so it was certainly serious but there was no real chance those storming in were actually going to get Trump reinstated as President, even if they killed and kidnapped. That said there was a very real attempt to get the election result overthown by Trump and Republican Party allies through devious or misplaced court cases and attempted political pressure. But even many Trump nominees and Republican Party politicians refused to declare that black was white.

The reality is that while Donald Trump would have been quite happy if intimidation, violence and lies had led to his continuation as US president, he was neither organised nor aggressive enough – and maybe too lazy – to organise this himself. The analogy might be with the Rev Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland; for most ofhis life he spewed hatred and vitriol which ‘led people on’ but when they acted, as in violent sectarian and paramilitary actions, he disavowed any responsibility. Initially it seems Trump was happy with people invading the Capitol building and even when told it could have consequences for him he was slow and half-hearted in calling for calm or condemning violence.

It should be clearly stated that there can be nonviolent changes of regime, or indeed nonviolent defence of democracy. The revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 against communist rule were primarily non-violent, populist uprisings. The transfer of allegiance by republican MPs in Ireland in 1919, from the Westminster parliament to the first Dáil in Dublin was a classic nonviolent tactic. There are hundreds of other such historical examples and in Gene Sharp’s typology in “The Politics of Nonviolent Action”, around 30 out of 198 examples are specifically to do with political noncooperation (with a particular government regime). Interestingly, US activist George Lakey was one of those busy training people before the election in how to nonviolently resist a coup.

Donald Trump was one of the worst presidents the USA has ever had, though there was one point of truth in his final White House statement – that he hadn’t started any new wars. However internally he was the most divisive president in modern times – and that is saying something – and there were big increases in gun ownership during his time.

However his followers, as well as violent neo-fascists, include many of the ‘left behind’ in US American life. Again there is an analogy with Northern Ireland; in the latter case Protestants and unionists who have had to cede something like equality to Catholics and nationalists have felt discriminated against and deprived because they had been used to a superior position, and that culture was, has been, slow to change. In the USA ethnic groups including blacks and Latinos have been unwilling to submit to inequality but tend to have worse life chances. The USA is a big place with many different experiences and the decline of blue collar employment has been part of the picture, causing resentment at the powers that be; the irony here is that Donald Trump was part of the economic elite if not the political elite until he became President; to project himself as ‘a man of the people’ was an amazing propaganda coup.

The reality is also that Donald Trump and Trumpism offered many people a vision, inchoate as it was, to be part of something bigger than themselves and promising a better future. Of course this was a chimera and anyone but the richest voting for Trump was a turkey voting for Christmas, given the tax breaks and derugulation he brought in, which also threatened to severely exacerbate the dire climate heating which is taking place.

There is no way the problems of the USA have gone away with the election of Biden. Divisions, inequality, Trumpists, militia and right wing conspiracy theorists are still just as present. The US system of democracy is antiquated and inadequate and while at a micro level there can be vibrant and progressive people and movements, at other levels its political system is woefully in thrall to big money and corporate lobbyists.

While Biden’s regime represents a very significant step up from the last incumbent, we have to see what it means, though on the global climate emergency it is certainly on the positive side. And no, Mr Biden, we do not want the USA to resume leadership of the ‘free world’; we will pass on that one. ‘Normal service’ can mean more misplaced military interventions internationally. The USA may see itself as the world’s policeman; the reality is that it approximates to the greatest bully in the world, and certainly the best armed one.

Brexit goes North

Be careful what you wish for’ is an adage which should be heeded but not paramount. It should not be an argument against working for change but it should be a strong argument for careful analysis and planning, and taking others’ views into account. The possibility of unintended consequences is not something which was really analysed by the DUP before they bought in completely to both Brexit and later Boris Johnson’s false promises, resultantly changing political realities in Northern Ireland less in unionism’s favour. The DUP thought that Brexit would make Northern Ireland more ‘British’; the reverse has been the case (though at this point it cannot be said it has made the North more ‘Irish’).

In the 19th century, economic interests in the North, with industrialisation and dependency on a British market, contributed to the growth and development of staunch unionist feeling. The realities of the current economic and trading situation is very different, and Northern ireland is far from being an economic powerhouse, but it is possible that now, in the 21st century, economic interests will pull the North more towards unification with the Republic. But this is neither a certain nor a speedy process, and issues of health and social security may determine the result.

The outworking of the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and EU has been causing a certain amount of pain and anger, in the political sphere particularly among loyalists, and there have been threats to port inspection staff at Larne. There may be no tariffs but some trade, including GB-NI trade, is disrupted by a knotted bundle of red tape. Some unionists and loyalists have been calling for Article 16, an emergency measure to derogate from the Protocol, to be invoked – and then foolishly it looked like it was the EU Commission which was going to invoke this article, over the vaccines dispute with AstraZeneca, before they pulled back following expressions of horror from all sides in Ireland. A new opinion poll shows the DUP suffering a haemorrhage of support to Jim Allister’s TUV; this does not bode well for cooperation in the North (though conversely Alliance is shown to continue to do well).

While some issues to do with the Northern Ireland Protocol will be resolved by mutual agreement with the EU, there are many that will not, and in any case considerable bureaucracy is likely to remain.

Be careful what you wish for’ also applies to those working for a united Ireland, and those, such as Sinn Féin, who want a border poll or one to take place within a few years. Fortunately or unfortunately (through what is written in the Good Friday Agreement) a united Ireland can be brought about by a “50% + 1” vote in favour in a referendum in Northern Ireland. While on the one hand it would seems unfair that if “50% + 1” in favour of remaining in the UK means the North does just that, “50% + 1” should not mean a united Ireland. But how does this happen? How soon does this happen? And what guarantees of fair treatment would unionists and Protestants receive? A ‘yes/no’, binary referendum can be very divisive, even destructive, as the de Borda Institute frequently points out.

If nationalists feel the fair wind at the moment is in their direction, they would do well do take it easy and not rush anything. Loyalist commitment to any form of democracy in relation to a united Ireland is far from certain, despite their majoritarian views in the past, and a ‘united Ireland’ which has not gone through a fair process of engagement with everyone is going to be a failure for a long time. Things have to be worked out. While many unionists and loyalists may refuse to engage in such a process, and therefore make it difficult, a referendum delivering an arithmetic majority in favour of a united ireland should not mean a united Ireland the next day. But it might mean that unionists and loyalists who had previously been reluctant to engage with any process would see the writing on the wall and decide that it was in their interests to do so.

In other words, if a referendum does give a majority for unification, it should not be seen as the end of a process but the start or continuation of another. Nothing is written in stone and much more needs to be spelt out by those who favour a united Ireland so that people can make an informed judgement.

Jude Collins in the ‘Andersonstown News’ of 30/1/21 states that ‘the south’ needs a health service that matches or surpasses the NHS in the north before any border poll. He emphasises that unfication means an entirely new state – “we need to be open to radical, maybe uncomfortable change: a new national anthem, a new flag, Stormont as a regional Assembly, a guaranteed number of unionist places in the Dáil.” This is starting to think creatively. Unionists need to think creatively too about the future, either for NI-in-UK or how a united Ireland could give them the protection they would seek in such a circumstance.

The best hope Northern Ireland has is that people break away from the strait-jacketed and polarised views of past divisions and look at opportunities for the future anew. This is not impossible but it is a big ask and needs a huge amount of work and goodwill to take place.