Category Archives: Editorials

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Editorials: Consultative Forum on International Security, Northern Ireland – a different inefficiency

Consultative Forum on International Security

Peace and neutrality activists don’t let the government away with it….

In their concluding remarks on the fourth and final day of the Consultative Forum on International Security, Micheál Martin, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Louise Richardson, Forum chair, were in congratulatory mode (to the country and themselves) for the liveliness of debate and even the involvement of people in the process through protest. To an uninformed observer these might seem urbane remarks however since the protests were due to the discriminatory way in which the whole enterprise was set up, this was rather hollow and putting a gloss on something which was less than satisfactory and of their own making. The previous establishment and government line was that protesters were trying to shut down debate; given the organisers’ own role in trying to control the agenda for debate, the opposite was the case.

Louise Richardson also said she knew of no other country where such a forum had taken place, implying how wonderful Irish democracy was. This was true about the uniqueness of the event. What she did not say however was that it was taking place because of political expediency on the part of the Minister. He wanted to remove – presumably still aims to remove – the triple lock (government, Dáil, UN) on the deployment of Irish troops overseas this autumn. The war in Ukraine gave an excuse to try to move things in the direction he wanted but he needed some ‘democratic’ credentials or ‘weaponised’ basis to do so – and thus set up what purported to be a ‘Forum’ (‘a public event for open discussion of ideas’) but was actually a long conference with speakers hand picked by the Minister and his staff to give the answers or direction he wanted. The whole process was not instigated out of the goodness of the Minister’s heart, and his desire for democracy, but for very particular political ends.

The Irish government has been trying to use the war in Ukraine, and Russian invasion, as a reason to change the ‘triple lock’. There is only one case where the triple lock may have prevented a peacekeeping deployment and that did not involve Russia. Of course the government and pro-government speakers did not mention the warmongering of the USA and the West, nor the breach of neutrality by giving Shannon for US military use, no questions asked. The background also included the lie that the Forum was not about neutrality as opposed to ‘security’ as if the two were unconnected, another part of the ‘get rid of neutrality by stealth’ strategy.

Micheál Martin has previously stated how much he learned and benefited from conciliation programme run by Quaker House Belfast (for info on the latter see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50654202881/in/album-72157717185737611/ ). This was in getting to meet, and know Northern unionists – and he does have a reputation among unionists as being someone who understands them. However it is really sad that he has not been able to extrapolate from this experience of dealing with conflict on the island of Ireland, demonstrating the importance of long term conciliation and mediation efforts, to thinking internationally. Instead he is going with militarisation and so-called military ‘solutions’. He was going to take what he could get from this ‘forum process’ and the hope must be that this will be severely constrained by the challenges both to the process and the content which took place.

Louise Richardson also didn’t say it was deliberately not a citizens’ assembly – a format which now has established form in Ireland in dealing with difficult and contentious issues – because it would have given the ‘wrong’ answers so far as the Minister was concerned.

Peace and neutrality groups were working hard to point out the illegitimacy of the exercise, and hold alternative forums where the speakers and issues they wanted included were not excluded. But an intervention by Michael D Higgins, pushing at the boundaries of what it is acceptable for an Irish president to say, questioned the drift towards NATO and also raised questions about the credentials of the chair (he later withdrew some of these remarks). That greatly helped make the issue a hot potato. However he would never have felt constrained to make those remarks had the enterprise not been an underhand one to begin with. His comments thus served the interests of democracy.

One illustrative ironic twist took place during a Forum session on cyber threats and disinformation. A couple of contributors from the floor both pointed to the Forum itself as an exercise in disinformation due to the built in bias in the programme and speakers. Perhaps this fits the old adage of ‘the medium is the message’. You can easily find the list of speakers on the Department website and some analysis of speakers’ backgrounds is in The Phoenix issue for 30h June.

That is not to say that some participants in the Forum did not make a useful and even positive contribution on the issues involved. Some panels were less imbalanced than others and some had reasonably comprehensive discussion of the issues. But the topics dealt with, and the speakers chosen, as well as the chair who will write the report, were all hand picked by the Minister and staff acting on his direction. At no point was it stated by the Minister or the Department that inclusion in the speakers list was by Department of Foreign Affairs invitation only (which was the case). An INNATE offer to contribute unique content, on nonviolent civilian defence and on extending neutrality as part of security, was brushed aside. (See https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53003786126/in/dateposted/ with INNATE being prevented from putting these leaflets out for those attending at Dublin Castle). So a ‘Forum’ it was not.

Proponents of peace and neutrality faced a dilemma, to protest (possibly through a boycott) and/or be involved. In general people protested and were involved; a boycott, especially given the bias in the media, was likely to lead to invisibility. But making a point, or raising a question – which might not be answered or answered poorly – from the floor is not in any sense being properly included, it is being tolerated and patronised – especially when Micheál Martin congratulated everyone, including protesters, for their commitment on the issue. He might genuinely feel that way but certainly this was not the feeling for those on the other side of the NATO fence (Ireland is still a fellow traveller with NATO through its euphemistically named ‘Partnership for Peace’). And being involved in any way, even protesting inside the Forum, could be seen as legitimising it in that the organisers could then say “Look how tolerant we are, we even allow protest” (no they didn’t, anything they allowed was under sufferance, and numerous people were ejected from the chamber).

So the question of the legitimacy of the whole enterprise entered some of the media (e.g. The Irish Independent of 23/6/23 but not The Irish Times whose paper edition the same day, after the first session in Cork, held not one photo of protests and only a brief mention of protests themselves). And as usual the mass media did not cover the fact there were different protests and people or groups involved (see e.g. the text of https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/52993125392/in/dateposted/ and compare that with mass media reports ).

While we must await the final report, written by Louise Richardson, there is no indication to date that she might not be the ‘safe pair of hands’ she would seem to be, the reason she was appointed by the Minister. The report should never, in any case, have been the responsibility of one person. While the question of the legitimacy of the whole enterprise has been raised successfully, it is still possible that the Minister will try to use the report as a means to get what he wants and the triple lock removed. This should be a real test of the integrity of deputies in the Dáil.

The Irish state should be looking at how neutrality could be extended as a real and vibrant force for peace in the world. That is the approach taken in INNATE’s written submission to the Forum, see https://tinyurl.com/3rurehhv The world already has far too many countries armed to the teeth and acting in a belligerent and self-interested manner. Ireland has the opportunity to be different but the establishment choice is to join even closer the big boys with their guns. The metaphorical guns in the above affair were held by the Minister; the peace and neutrality sector, through mobilising and its nonviolent action, succeeded in at least disarming some of those weapons of mass distraction.

The struggle is not over.

See also the news section for links to further information, the article by Dominic Carroll in this issue, and INNATE’s photo album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72177720309217408

Northern Ireland

Back to a different inefficiency

It is clear that Geoffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, wants to get back into Stormont and is drawing up his shopping lists. Here there is the danger that the British government, in giving the DUP and unionists the assurances they want about the place of Northern Ireland in the UK will actually breach the Good Friday Agreement. Meanwhile other prominent members of the party, such as Ian Paisley, are very much more reluctant, and that dynamic has to work itself out within the DUP itself.

In a cynical political move the British Secretary of State in the North, Chris Heaton-Harris, continues to make people suffer through swingeing cuts and the resultant instability in education, health, social service and community sectors as he weaponises the cuts to put pressure on the DUP to return to Stormont – of course that would be with a package which removes some of those cuts. People’s lives are thus a political football.

Assuming that Stormont does return in the autumn – and if it doesn’t there could be a lengthy period of direct rule by Britain – there are a myriad of issues on the table to be dealt with by Michelle (O’Neill), Geoffrey (Donaldson), the Executive and the whole Assembly. While we might hope for a good ‘run’ at and on the pressing issues of concern, if past history is anything to go by then ‘things’ will gradually run into the ground and another crisis emerge to stymie progress.

It is difficult to enumerate all the issues of concern in one editorial. There are systemic issues of governance and decision making. There are issues which are difficult to resolve (e.g. education) because of the nature of the sectarian division which then overlaps with divisions on a left/right, progressive/conservative axis. There is the sectarian division itself which creates difficulties in the provision of facilities and sometimes requires ‘double provision’ (one facility for mainly Protestants, and one for mainly Catholics). And there are big problems simply with the amount of money available from the British Exchequer, given that the home rule Assembly system is not responsible for taxation (but see below).

While it has been generally recognised that the system of decision making needs reformed, simply removing the necessity for the two largest parties on either side to be involved in the Executive will not eradicate the problems. If the largest party on one side can ‘pass’ (i.e. decline to be involved in the Executive) but others on the same side pick up the ball (and be in the Executive), that would largely eradicate the start-stop nature of the Assembly. But it would not deal with the difficulty which the parties have in arriving at good decision making.

This is where the decision making methodologies proposed and propounded by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org should come into play. In effect these have built in consideration for minority viewpoints and are the fairest way of trying to arrive at a workable consensus or decision that all can live with. They do require political parties to act in a different manner, however, and this is only likely to come about through pressure from the public. It might at least give an impetus to effective decision making in areas where there was been sustained failure in the past.

While Stormont, if the Assembly is up and running, cannot replicate taxation raised by the UK government, there is nothing to stop it raising taxes that are different, such as a land use tax (e.g. a tax on land and property which is not being used productively aside from that which is clearly set aside for ecological purposes). And due to the lack of economies of scale in an area of 1.9 million people, and issues of poverty and ill health, some stemming from the Troubles, the ‘Barnett formula’ of funding for UK regions needs further tweaked to give Northern Ireland a fairer share of the UK cake – Wales has already succeeded in doing that.

Whatever the constitutional future for Northern Ireland, there are urgent issues which need sorted now. The reform of Stormont could be a vital tool in turning around an area where the majority of young people want to leave, a fact illustrative of the many problems which beset individuals and society and of the existing malaise. The Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Agreement give Northern Ireland some economic advantages which it is next to impossible to harness without a home rule government in place.

Editorials: Consultative Forum on International Security, Change and no change in the North

Consultative Forum on International Security

One move short of a complete stitch up

The meetings of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy take place in Cork, Galway and Dublin later in June (see news section). As we have noted before, it is a ‘Consultative Forum’ (perhaps with the emphasis on the ‘Con’) rather than a citizens’ assembly (which had been mooted) because the government realised it would not get the result it wanted from the latter – i.e. it would deliver a strong pro-neutrality stance. Since citizens’ assemblies have been used by the government to look at different issues of importance this move is deeply cynical and anti-democratic.

While some of the heavy lifting of recent years against neutrality has been done by Simon Coveney of Fine Gael, it is highly ironic that the current attempt at decimation should be carried out by Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil. The latter party has traditionally been the one that was most for Irish independence and against imperialism and big power politics. But it is doubly ironic since Martin has spoken of how much he benefited from conciliation/communication work by Quaker House Belfast in getting to know and understand Northern unionists; it is clear he has not extrapolated from that to the need for such communication and understanding in the international sphere and this is truly sad, even tragic.

Incredibly, and this was a recent statement, before the deliberations of the Consultative Forum, Martin said there was an ‘emerging consensus’ for removing the ‘triple lock’ on deployment of Irish troops abroad; this let the cat out of the bag – insofar as it has been in any bag – on his intentions following the Forum Report. Yes, the United Nations needs reform, and particularly removing the veto power of permanent Security Council members, but simply removing the triple lock will allow the Irish government to send troops on NATO and EU military missions.

The government has decided the format and decided the content and speakers. While a few pro-neutrality speakers are likely to be included to avoid the impression of a complete whitewash it is clear that this is what it will be. In addition the chair, Louise Richardson, of Irish origin but now a citizen of the USA and, it would seem, supporter of that country’s policies, has been chosen as a safe pair of hands to deliver the result that the government wants. And after the report is delivered the government will move to remove the ‘triple lock’ on the deployment of Irish troops overseas. And following that, there is the question of what is left of Irish neutrality, it is already a fellow traveller with NATO (including NATO exercises and meetings happening in Ireland) and enthusiastic supporter of the EU arms industry and of an EU army.

It is unfortunate that the Irish public, still expressing support for Irish neutrality, is generally unaware of the perilous or threadbare state that has been reached. This is due not only to government machinations (taking small steps, one at a time, while denying neutrality was at risk) but also, very significantly, to the media which has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for NATO and for Irish involvement in EU militarisation; generally it has avoided carrying pro-neutrality arguments and views. There are a very few exceptions to this rule such as The Phoenix which has continually cast a critical eye on Irish foreign policy.

However one bright point seems to be that Irish people can think for themselves. PANA’s poll on a ceasefire in Ukraine (see news section) shows the people of the Republic are very strongly supportive of a ceasefire to allow negotiations to happen, and are certainly not bursting to support ongoing warfare as some political leaders might think. This may indicate that (as all recent opinion polls have shown) neutrality is alive and well in the hearts of the people of Ireland even if not in most of their political leaders and the establishment.

The extremely stupid equation seems to be accepted by most media that to be a ‘good European’ you need to be a supporter of EU policies such as militarisation. And once the EU does finally evolve to superpower status you can be sure that it will throw its weight around like all the superpowers before it; that is written in the militarist DNA. As happens with the USA, military interventions may be dressed up in flowery language about protecting peace or extending democracy, defending the rights of women, protecting borders and so on, but it will be good old great power imperialism underneath it all.

StoP/Swords to Ploughshares Ireland wrote an open letter to Louise Richardson, the chair of the Consultative Forum, challenging her to be impartial but the whole setup is so skewed that even in the event that she did the result would still be biased against the views of most citizens of the Republic. The concluding paragraph of this letter reads; “We consider that the current model of a ‘consultative forum’, dispersed and repeated over several days, with no wider public consultation, is inadequate for effective democratic consideration of such large and complex issues. We are seriously concerned that the voice of those who support Irish neutrality as a positive force for peace and who oppose our increased integration into EU and NATO military structures will be effectively excluded from the Forum. It is up to yourself and the conduct of the Consultative Forum—especially in its eventual Report—to achieve more than an outcome predetermined by the Government. We hope that you will rise to the occasion.”

If you can participate in the Forums and the protests and alternative events, please do. If you can respond to the online questionnaire, please do (one response to the question of what the greatest danger is to Irish security is to answer “NATO and EU militarisation”). If you can submit your views further, please do. Go to www.gov.ie/consultativeforum

We are one step away from a total stitch up. That final step or stitch is likely to come with Louise Richardson’s report. And, while this is a rather large and perhaps grandiose sounding statement, that might be considered the day that Ireland finally lost its soul and any hint of global solidarity.

Northern Ireland

Change but no change in the North

The reality of the situation in Northern Ireland has not changed one jot after the recent elections there. As expected following the last NI Assembly elections, Sinn Féin became the largest party in local government. However the DUP maintained its vote and share of seats, with Jim Allister’s TUV only marginally eating into its vote. The North is not any less divided than it was on constitutional issues or the Northern Ireland Protocol and ‘Windsor’ Agreement.

Of course it is expected that the DUP will seek to find a face-saving way to come back in to the Assembly and Executive, though this time with Jeffrey Donaldson holding the (equally powerful but symbolically less prestigious) post of Deputy First Minister to Michelle O’Neill’s position as First Minister. As usual in such circumstances money will be part of making it happen – and it might even materialise unlike some instances in the past; the DUP will claim success on this front. It would seem the woeful economic situation in the North with quite drastic cuts on top of an already appalling situation is being used by Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State, as a tool of leverage. But it is people in need of health and social services who suffer.

The danger is that the British government will give the DUP ‘assurances’ about the position of Northern Ireland in relation to its membership of the United Kingdom which it is not its to give. The Good Friday Agreement is quite clear about the responsibilities of both governments and when a referendum on unification should take place based on a judgement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which is a rather subjective arrangement.

Influential unionist figure Jamie Bryson has recently argued in the News Letter https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/letters/jamie-bryson-the-constitutional-future-of-northern-ireland-should-be-a-matter-for-all-of-the-uk-not-just-ni-4161966 that any decision on constitutional change should either be taken on an all-UK basis or having majorities in Northern Ireland, the Republic, and Britain. Stating that “A state has a right to protect its territorial integrity”, as he does in this piece, might sound fine but pays no attention to the realities of Irish history and the colonisation of Ireland by Britain. The problem about such possibilities is that they fly in the face of the Good Friday Agreement (and other, prior, statements or arrangements such as the Downing Street Declaration). The DUP is desperate to save face with some UK government declaration about the position of Northern Ireland in the UK; the problem is that such declarations may also be contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, and make the situation worse and more intractable in the long run.

Arriving at the Good Friday Agreement was a tortuous process and “50% +1” determining a ‘United Kingdom’ or a ‘United Ireland’ is a very crude mechanism, far from ideal, but it is what is there. However what we have argued for before is that not only should there be a clear picture of what a united Ireland might entail – and that is for the government and people of the Republic to offer – but there would be a clear ‘road map’ of a process that would take place following a “50% +1” vote in favour of a united Ireland, and that this should include extensive consultation with unionists, nationalists and ‘neithers’ in the North.

That process following such a vote would be key to having a peaceful transition. It should certainly not be rushed but how long it would take, and what stages there would be, should be carefully outlined. The possibility of a continuation of Stormont as a regional assembly has had some recognition of its possibility south of the border and it might be an important part of assuring Northern unionists and loyalists that the were not going to be consumed into, devoured by, the current Irish state (the bogey man of ‘Rome rule’ has long gone). And the people of the Republic have a lot of thinking to do as to how to make a new state work and be acceptable to Northerners of all kinds, nationalist as well as unionist.

We are, however, nowhere near the situation of a border poll, or, indeed, if it was called a majority voting for Irish unity. There may now be a majority of Catholics (cultural Catholics that is) in the North but they too need to be persuaded that an all-island state is the best for everyone, including themselves. The old jest about loyalty to the half crown (when last used in 1971 this was a coin with purchasing value of more than a pound today) rather than the Crown is a pointer that economic considerations cannot be dismissed on either side.

And a relatively recent poll by the Belfast Telegraph told that a considerable majority of the current ‘neithers’ (identifying as neither unionist nor nationalists) would at the moment opt for the status quo. This could of course change, and, if the Republic outlined a process which was fair in terms of transition, and the likelihood of fast economic advancement, it could change quite rapidly.

The task for unionists, from their point of view, should not be looking for declarations from the British government and so on but be to make Northern Ireland such an attractive place for cultural Catholics that they too did not want to ‘forsake the blue skies of freedom for the grey mists of an Irish Republic’. Some wiser unionists realise this, but not necessarily how to go about it, and unionism as a whole is far from being aware of it. It remains to be seen whether unionism can actually make a real effort to make cultural Catholics and nationalists feel right at home; it requires a significant change of mindset.

Meanwhile there will be the issue of making Stormont work since its dysfunctionality is an inherent feature of how it does or does not do business and how it tries to decide on things. We have previously supported decision making methodologies promoted by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org which are as inclusive as possible and advance the possibility of decisions actually being taken as opposed to impasses on various important issues including education. Whether and when the Assembly will make changes after it is back and running – as it may well be later in the year – remains to be seen.

The uncertainty regarding the economic future of things as they stand in the light of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the ‘facing both ways’ (UK and EU) nature of the economy, will take some time to be worked out. If Northern Ireland does prosper, and productivity per head is currently way below the Republic, it will be fascinating to see how this affects constitutional preferences. On the one hand fewer people in a prosperous North might wish to risk rocking the boat by joining with the Republic. However on the other hand if the North is no longer a major beneficiary of the British Exchequer, joining with the Republic becomes more possible economically even in the short term before any possible north-south development kicks in after a united Ireland.

In the longer term the UK is likely to seek a closer deal with the EU and that might mean, by the time any possibility of people voting for a united Ireland came around, that the North joining with the Republic would not risk the current advantage of ‘facing both ways’. However things are all to play for. The advantage of the ‘neithers’ having the casting vote is that it is up to both sides, unionist and nationalist, to be on their best behaviour and try to appeal to those outside of their ‘natural’ ethnic voting tribe. It is unlikely that all, or much, will be sweetness and light but that at least does give some hope that decision making may be made at least partly on logical and rational thought rather than simple tribal allegiance.

Editorials: Assault on neutrality, Northern Ireland 25 years after GFA

Irish neutrality

The assault on neutrality continues

The ‘Consultative Forum’ set up by the Irish Government on ‘International Security Policy’ to take place in June is quite clearly designed as a further assault on Irish neutrality through, inter alia, getting rid of the triple lock on the deployment of Irish troops abroad. The war in Ukraine is being used by the Government to argue about the changed security situation – without stating how Ireland is affected – and to justify a radically different policy. Step by step, slowly, slowly, while still paying lip service to what it calls ‘military’ neutrality, the Government and establishment are dismantling it while saying ‘Nothing to see here’. The Government is expected to move to eradicate the triple lock in the autumn.

The ‘triple lock’ is where any large scale deployment of Irish armed forces abroad needs the approval of the Government, the Dáil, and the United Nations Security Council or General Assembly. Without this policy the Irish government will be free to send Irish troops anywhere including NATO missions and (forthcoming) EU army deployments. For background see PANA’s website https://www.pana.ie/posts/neutrality-nato-and-the-attack-on-irelands-triple-lock

Had the Government intended a constructive engagement with issues to do with Irish neutrality policy it would have chosen the citizens’ assembly model which it has used in recent years to move forward on contentious and problematic areas. However it notably has not done so in this case because, knowing that neutrality is popular among citizens – as attested by various opinion polls – it judged, rightly, that this methodology would not give it the answer it wants.

Instead it has chosen a ‘Consultative Forum’ with a chair, Dame Louise Richardson, who is of Irish origin but also a US citizen and a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) who it expects to deliver the result it wants. Louise Richardson is an expert on anti-terrorism and has, for example, written uncritically about USA foreign policy. Amazingly she has written “the United States had very good reasons to object to the governments of Chile, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Their ideological orientation was inimical to its own, so it supported local groups that used whatever means were available to them to try to bring them down.” (“What Terrorists Want”, Random House, 2006, p. 52). In fact in these cases the terrorism she purportedly opposes was actively instigated and supported by the USA for it own selfish interests at great cost to the people of the countries concerned. These comments here look very much like support for terrorism of the state variety. An impartial chair she is not.

While some in the peace and neutrality sector support a boycott of the Forum, it is likely that the more general response will be both participation in the Forum – so far as is possible – and protest at its bias while trying to ensure through other means that there is an alternative view put forward. It remains to be seen whether the Forum is biassed in who it allows to contribute in the sessions (anyone will be able to make written submissions which can simply be totally ignored if they don’t like them) or whether it will simply shade its conclusions enough to allow the government to take the action it wants in dismissing the triple lock and paving the way for the final eradication of neutrality.

What is of course missing from the whole picture is an analysis of the possibilities of a positive policy of Irish neutrality on the world stage. We wrote before (NN 305, December 2022) that “There are many ways that Ireland can play a positive role in peacemaking in the future, all of which are either dependent on, or would have a contribution made by, Irish neutrality. Building up a skilled team of mediators for different levels of conflict is one such role, engaging before there are even ‘rumours of war’ or armed conflict. Engaging with different parties or governments before conflicts have got ‘hot’ is another related area of work. Pushing and working for the further development of international law in relation to war is a further area – and working to get existing laws implemented and respected. Nonviolent peacekeeping can be explored as well as Ireland’s well-established – and respected – role in military peacekeeping. This is only scratching at the surface of what is possible……..”

We are not saying there are no threats to Irish security but believe that the biggest threat of all is from militarism and war in Europe which risks escalating to nuclear war. Who is going to invade Ireland? Russia cannot even subdue its smaller neighbour Ukraine. Of course we should show solidarity with peoples suffering violence but there are non-military means of doing this. Ireland can be part of an escalation by getting into bed all the time with NATO (see e.g. https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2023/03/19/ireland-stepping-up-international-cooperation-to-counter-hybrid-threats/ or it can be a part of de-escalation and building peace.

Ireland is accused by many of ‘freeloading’ on British and NATO defence but the reality is that no military defence against large powers is possible for Ireland, not in any meaningful sense, and the country is far better to be a force for peace. The world is also preparing for and fighting the wrong wars; the struggle should be on providing human security through ending global warming and establishing global economic justice – that would be real achievements for peace.

There are certainly indications that Sinn Féin and the smaller left parties take Irish neutrality more seriously than Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Of old, Fine Gael was weaker on neutrality than Fianna Fáil, and Frank Aiken of the latter was a Minister for External Affairs in the 1950s and 1960s totally dedicated to non-alignment and a positive role for Ireland in building peaceful solutions; it is thus ironic that this sham for democracy is taking place under the leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, as Minister for Foreign Affairs. The extent to which a Sinn Féin led government would or will ‘build back’ on neutrality remains to be seen but that is perhaps the best hope in the political sphere on the issue at this stage. Though of course if the people of Ireland mobilise or become conscientised on the issue then Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael might have to row back on their plans to retain support – but to date their ‘softly, softly’ demolition of neutrality has been going their way.

Northern Ireland

After the Good Friday Agreement jamboree

The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the conference celebrating it at Queen’s University Belfast was an opportunity for a feel good reunion of some of the principal players in that event. The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was an important staging post in calling an end to the Troubles period which began in 1998. Theoretically it set up a power-sharing home rule system for Northern Ireland which could take it forward economically and politically and build a future for all – but the Assembly and Executive have not been operating for upwards of 40% of the time since then and even when functioning its decision making has been poor.

What went wrong? There are a variety of factors. The main background factor is that staunch division persists in the North. This is not just on constitutional issues, the obvious dividing line, but also on social and economic issues, e.g. the DUP bizarrely continuing to support “11 Plus” division of children into grammar and secondary schools when those who fare worst in this system are Protestant working class boys. Protestant politics tends to be centre and centre-right, with some veering to the hard right, while Catholic politics tends to be centre and left of centre. It should also be stated that we use the term ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ as shorthand for cultural groupings and not as a religious denominator per se; it is eths quite possible to be a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist in Northern Ireland.

While the old divisions may matter less to many young people it is hard to say that most young people are not also prisoners of these divisions. Proclaiming that old shibboleths do not matter is fine but does that actually translate into significant movement towards building cross-community and non-sectarian alternatives, and voting in a non-sectarian manner? There is certainly an element of young people saying ‘a plague on both your houses’ but the relative success of the Alliance Party recently should not be taken to mean that sweetness and light has broken out even if the balance of power between ‘orange’ and ‘green’ is now held, in some instances, by the ‘centre’. And many young people simply want to get out of the North and build a life elsewhere.

The economic realities of the North are also a contributing factor to ongoing division even if there is now generally a level playing field for Catholics and Protestants in terms of employment. Compared to the Republic, the North is a low skill, low wage economy; the most important background factor enabling the Republic to get where it is today has been investment in education by the state, individuals and families. The North needs much more investment in education, indeed the equivalent of another university (to stop a brain drain of students to Britain from whence most do not return), but also perhaps most importantly to up-skill people and in particular those with the lowest educational achievement level.

But, as the DUP has been pointing out recently, the Barnett Formula by which money is divied out within the four jurisdictions in the UK is based on ‘per head’ payments, not on need. If spending in England goes up ‘a pound per head’ on some new initiative then Northern Ireland also gets a pound per head. But if Northern Ireland is poorer than the British norm, as it is, this does not give it any more money to address the needs and the inequality. And economies of scale in Britain or England do not exist in the North with 1.9 million people. But sectarianism also costs money, not just in policing and the like but also duplication of facilities where a resource is not actually accessible to people across a divide locally. And poor decision making and planning at the top has an economic and social cost.

The budget introduced recently by NI Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris is woefully inadequate to address any of the problems in the North. With a general standstill or small cut in the absolute amount of money departments are receiving this actually represents a cut by the amount of inflation, a very significant decrease. Health may have received an increased allocation of 0.5% but with inflation this is not even a drop in the bucket of need to improve the appalling situation and waiting lists of the National Health Service in the North.

Whether economic development through the ‘facing both ways’ nature of the Northern Ireland Protocol and ‘Windsor’ Agreement comes about and makes a significant difference in the years to come remains to be seen. While there are some indications it may help it is too early to make a firm judgement, and political uncertainty acts as a deterrent to economic development. Northern Ireland may have a relatively high level of employment but it also has a high level of people outside the field of gainful employment – people who are ill or otherwise outside the labour market.

But, returning to the political system instituted by the Good Friday Agreement there are obvious reforms needed a generation on from that. While understandable, the particular consociational elements designed to provide fair play for ‘both’ sides have proved problematic in a variety of ways. While it may flatter the Alliance Party to refer to them as a ‘third force’ in politics, as things stand they can be involved in the Executive but not potentially be First Minister or Deputy First Minister; they may be a long way from this eventuality but allowing ‘neithers’ (those proclaiming themselves neither unionist nor nationalists) fair involvement is one challenge.

Other challenges include preventing one party from collapsing the system (as the DUP do currently and as Sinn Féin has done previously) and not allowing ‘petitions of concern’ to be abused. The good news here is that a majority of the population in the North back changes to allow the Assembly and Executive to function uninterrupted; in a LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph, 63% of people said the rules should be changed to remove the veto from a single nationalist or unionist party, and 30% opposed such a move. In a separate poll for the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs committee, over two thirds of people in Northern Ireland recognised significant changes are needed to power-sharing, and also felt that the 1998 agreement has failed to provide stable governance.

However aside from vetoes there is still the problem of decision making within the Assembly and Executive when it is functioning. Decisions that need made on education and the health service, for example, have not been made. This is where the inclusive voting methods advocated by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org should come in, in particular the Modified Borda Count http://www.deborda.org/modified-borda-count/ This does not magically create a consensus where there is none but it can help to arrive at the best available compromise, and, through non-polarised voting, enable a process which will come to a fair decision and not become a sectarian or other tussle. Such a methodology is tailor-made for the likes of Stormont and the adoption of this would greatly facilitate competent decision making which in turn would assist progress on a wider plane in the North.

Whether the DUP decides to return to Stormont in the autumn, with the local elections and marching season out of the way, remains to be seen. Most unionists want to see the NI Protocol out the window before resuming power-sharing but replacing the Protocol and ‘Windsor’ Agreement has a very low chance of success. Whether DUP leaders can gather the courage to jump back in to Stormont remains to be seen. At the moment the prospects might be summed up that the North is damned if they don’t but still damned if they do, at least until a workable system of government comes into place – and even then it would only be a start to address the myriad of issues on the table.

Editorials: Forever war, A notion once again

Perpetual, forever war

The analysis seems to be that Vladimir Putin is settling in for a long haul on the war in Ukraine, a ‘forever war’, see e.g https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/28/putin-prepares-russia-for-forever-war-with-west-as-ukraine-invasion-stalls?CMP=share_btn_link However, given his control of the media and the lack of any rights for citizens, this is not too bad an outcome for him. Of course he would have preferred a blitzkrieg which would have had his soldiers proudly promenading through Kyiv after a week or two – as many expected to do – but that did not happen. Instead, making an unvirtue of necessity, he can use the rhetoric of ‘national survival’ as a means to justify repression and uber-nationalism. As long as oil revenues don’t disappear he can certainly try to ride the storm, and his efforts at oil market diversification are bearing fruit, or should we say dollars, even if western sanctions are biting.

But Putin is a late comer to the concept of ‘forever war’, something which the USA and its NATO allies have been practising for years. What was ‘the war on terror’ if not a justification for ‘forever war’? One difference is that ‘in the west’ the mass sacrifice of soldiers is unacceptable and the alternative used is bombing the hell out of places and using remote warfare that does not require your own side to be lambs to the slaughter. Of course drone and missile use is now an integral part of warfare everywhere but the massive death toll of Russian (including Wagner) soldiers would not be contemplated in the west because there would be uproar and the upturning of governmental tables. Russia may have lost more than twice the total number of US soldiers killed in the whole of the Vietnam war, plus many seriously wounded.

Why are there 800 or more US military bases around the world? The US may see itself as the world’s policeman but that is a self justification for throwing its weight about. What were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq about? If they were about ‘democracy’ and ‘human and women’s rights’ then a very different course of action would have been followed, both in not going to war and, if they did, policies afterwards. And so far as 9/11 is concerned if they were going to attack anyone it should have been their repressive and violent ally, Saudi Arabia. US interests come first, and last, in its foreign policy, wars and warmaking.

The EU is part of this militarisation too. Its commitment to developing the arms trade, and funding of same, is a crying shame or should we say crime against humanity. Its work on the gradual evolution of an EU army is the development of an army for a superpower. It is increasingly becoming the European wing of NATO. It may all be dressed up in fancy language, and the threat of Russia currently used to justify it (but it was happening well, well before any Russian treat to Ukraine) but if NATO had not expanded into eastern Europe (as promised to Russia at the time of the fall of communism) then there almost certainly would not have been any Russian threat – or if the anti-communist NATO had itself disbanded. That and a policy of fair dos for Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine, through implementation of the Minsk agreements, would almost certainly have prevented the current war. And once the war started ‘the west’, including blustering Boris, vetoed any serious talks with Russia.

The more armaments are developed and the higher the expenditure on the military, the more insecure the world will be, and the risks of nuclear war have certainly not gone away, they have just been waiting in the wings. The needs of the world, for economic justice worldwide and the elimination of the armageddon of global warming, are so great that we are struggling for the wrong things. Insecurity grows from the barrel of a gun. A secure world is where there is economic justice and climate security (insofar as we can possibly achieve that now); we need human security not military insecurity.

Instead we are offered the chimera of forever war. It is not dissimilar to a version of George Orwell’s 1984. And that is a terrible place to exist. Maybe enough of us do love the Big Brother of US, NATO, EU and Russian militarism (respectively) to enable the MADness (‘Mutually Assured Destruction’) to continue. But some of us will resist and point to a better future without the military monoliths, their threats to humanity and their current assault on economic and ecological progress through eating scarce financial and other resources and adding considerably to global warming.

Northern Ireland

“A notion once again”

Northern Ireland is still a very unsettled place, that should be obvious. Even the concept of what is democracy continues to be up for grabs; harder line unionists see the Northern Ireland Protocol as an assault on their Britishness while most of the rest (an arithmetic majority) want the return of devolved government to deal with the dire problems heaped up and getting worse. Educational and health outcome are rather better in the Republic than the North for example (see e.g. David McWilliams in The Irish Times 4/3/23).

Some Northern Ireland unionists still want to be the tail wagging the UK dog. That position passed once Boris Johnson won a stomping parliamentary majority using his bluster and lies and Tory dependence on the DUP bloc at Westminster was no more. It is clear from the relatively easy passage for Rishi Sunak of the so-called Windsor Framework that Northern Ireland issues and unionist angst and anger is about as important as the issue of how many angels can dance on a pin head – first of all it does not rate as an issue, and if it did then it is not considered important in the overall British context. This is difficult for unionists in a variety of ways because it is obvious that other British interests (e.g. getting Brexit done sufficiently to have reasonable relations with the EU) trump their concerns.

A poll in the Belfast Telegraph 10/3/23 showed 67% of people in the North back the Windsor Framework deal but only 16% of DUP voters – and 73% of DUP voters proclaim they are opposed to it. How Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP leadership will square that circle, with Jim Allister of the TUV breathing down their neck (just as the DUP breathed down the neck of the Ulster Unionist Party) remains to be seen. Now 54% of unionists as a whole are recorded as wanting the DUP to stay out of the Assembly and Executive until further changes are made or the deal is torn up. The DUP committee of senior party figures set up by Donaldson to consider what to do has reported but there is no smoke of any kind emanating yet on the matter. The DUP practised an ‘in, out and shake it all about’ approach after the Good Friday Agreement which served their interests well; they might try something similar again although there is arguably less wriggle room now.

Of course the return of the Assembly and Executive at Stormont would be the start of the next crisis, whatever that will be, because as night follows day the crises will continue. But the biggest crisis is simply the inability of the system to make decisions and plan in a reasonable manner; some of this may be inherent in the primary division in Northern Ireland but some is a result of the current consociational system in place. Obviously ending the ability of one party to block the system functioning would be progress but the use of more advanced and inclusive voting, such as the Modified Borda Count, could facilitate more effective, collective decisions.

A recent poll on the ‘middle ground’ of those who proclaim to be non-nationalists and non-unionists showed that in relation to the border a considerable majority would currently vote to stay part of the UK (53% would stay in the UK, only 19% opt for Irish unity, Belfast Telegraph 4/3/23). All this means that it is currently not so so much the possibility of ‘a nation once again’ in the near future as only a notion (of a nation) once again. If it is this ‘middle ground’ who will decide the constitutional status in the event of a referendum (given the relative balance between nationalists and unionists), unionists should take this to heart in the sense of relaxing a bit about the immediate future, while Sinn Féin pushing for a border poll is pointless posturing.

However this current balance within the ‘middle ground’ could change over the medium term particularly if the Republic had a coherent plan on unification and what it would mean which shows respect for all the people of the North, and an economic plan which showed how the current British exchequer subsidy to the North would be replaced. The Irish government’s refusal to even look at the topic might be for good reasons (avoiding stoking conflict in the North) but is unhelpful on a wider level since what would or could be in a united Ireland is subject to wildly fluctuating interpretations. At the moment people are comparing the reality they know with an indefinable non-entity.

It has also been very noticeable in recent weeks that loyalist paramilitarism and feuding haven’t gone away. While small republican paramilitary groups primarily pose a threat to the police and ‘security forces’ (though also to civilians as in what tragically happened to Lyra McKee), loyalist paramilitaries at the moment are mainly a threat to the communities where they exist and who they purport to serve, as well as themselves. In addition to dealing in drugs many deal in the dregs of Troubles sectarianism.

The intelligent unionist response would be to make Northern Ireland politics work and deliver for people, along with an acceptance that Northern Ireland is, was, and shall be different to the rest of the UK for a variety of reasons – not least that partition created a then unassailable majority and a humiliated minority (though there will be no unassailable majority, certainly in the near future, the majority-minority position is in the process of being reversed). Compromise and prosperity are the way for unionists to try to continue the link with Britain now that they are no longer a political majority. Whether the Act of Union has been compromised (and as has been previously pointed out in these pages, said Act was only passed through massive corruption) may be important to some unionists but to no one else.

It is of course possible that the DUP will re-enter Stormont after the May local government elections are safely out of the way, and see how they can still make their points on the Northern Ireland Protocol. While the Assembly restarting should be welcomed it will be a rather stale and not a fresh start (and the previous ‘Fresh Start’ restart was not a fresh start either!). Stormont is symbolically placed on a hill, a grandiose building as the parliament for a relatively small statelet; the hill which Northern Ireland has to climb to get out of all its current malaises is far, far higher.

Editorials: The art and skill of compromise / Northern Ireland – Calling it on the Protocol

Ukraine, the world, negotiation and compromise

The art and skill of compromise

What can we compromise, how do we compromise, and do we end up ‘compromised’? These are important questions for anyone (which equals everyone) ever involved in conflict. And conflict is part of life so knowing when to compromise is one of the most essential skills that we can learn. Negotiation is pointless without the possibility of compromise.

The first thing to say is that being able to compromise, without reneging on our core values, is part of being strong. Compromise is often portrayed simply as weakness (which is where the term ‘compromised’ comes from) whereas you have to be strong to make a principled compromise through recognising the other party’s arguments and position, and being willing to move on. Of course a ‘giving in’ compromise can come from weakness, that you simply cave in to another’s demands, but that is not what we are talking about here.

Intransigence is when one or more parties to a conflict refuse to consider negotiation and compromise, or have extreme or unrealistic demands and expectations. This can come from perceived strength but it can also come from weakness – before the Falklands/Calvinism war of 1982 neither Britain nor Argentine were willing to submit their claim to international arbitration because they were both so unsure of their claim to the islands.. You need to feel strong in yourself to engage in negotiation which can lead to compromise. And in such circumstances ‘weakness’ can turn into ‘false strength’ (in the case of the Falklands/Malvinas war).

To be able to negotiate and compromise properly you need a realistic assessment of the situation in general and the interests and positions of the other party or parties. You also need to be acting ‘in good faith’ and be persuaded that others are dong the same. That is why, in the EU-UK negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol, having the NI Protocol Bill in the UK Parliament is so ludicrous. It is a prime example of British exceptionalism because it is effectively saying “We’ll negotiate a deal with you but if we subsequently decide there is something we don’t like we will unilaterally change it”. That is absolute nonsense, and bad faith; an agreement involves at least two sides, not one side deciding by itself.. Some in the British Conservative Party think that something like the NI Protocol Bill makes them look strong when in fact it only serves to make them look really stupid. It is one way to lose friends and win enemies.

As with any mediation, a negotiated settlement should be in accord with human rights and justice. These may be open to very different interpretations but it should still be clear. And if there are competing human rights (as with many marching disputes in Northern Ireland) both sides rights need to be taken into account.

In Northern Ireland, for example, it is also necessary to distinguish between identity, and the freedom to express that identity (again subject to the human rights of others) and the position of the state. Few people in the world are lucky enough to belong to a state where they always agree with the positions and policies held by that state. The identity of someone as a nationalist or a unionist in the North should be respected but that does not mean that the state can or should mirror their own political viewpoint. Nationalists have had to live with that fact for years; it does not seem that unionists are yet willing to consider this despite ‘unionism’ no longer being in a majority position. However you should never have to compromise on your identity as opposed to the possibility of compromising on your position..This is also relevant to Ukraine, another divided society.

Being aware of the difference between interests and positions is also important, and not making red lines which will interfere with negotiations later on. Of course you will want to consider what your red lines are but publicising them and saying publicly “Less than this we will no accept” is unwise (as with a very public seven red lines which the DUP publicised in relation to the NI Protocol). Such red lines are unwise because if the other side makes you an offer which is in your interests but you have publicised lines you will not cross, it either makes you look weak if you cross those lines, or it means no successful negotiation is possible. This is a case where trying to look hard, by publicising your red lines, makes meaningful negotiation harder.

It is rare for any side to get all it wants in a negotiation but aiming for a win-win result is desirable. What is the minimum that my opponent needs to settle? Can it be given to them? And are there things which are in their longer term interests which could be part of a settlement and help to move things on? Are they willing to give me some of what I want and maybe need?

Negotiation skills can be taught but it is also an area where both experience and tactical common sense are needed. In the middle of negotiation, everything can seem in a mess and confusion can reign. Holding your nerve and trusting in the process to take you there are important. And, when it comes to the crunch, you need to decide whether you can stand over the prospective deal or whether the fall back, non-negotiated situation is better (and if there is not a negotiated settlement whether there is anything you can do to make the situation more acceptable for yourself).

In the last editorial we spelled out some leeway for possible negotiations with Russia to end the war and their onslaught on Ukraine – and questioned why Ireland should not be actively exploring such possibilities. Part of successful negotiation – and making it stick – is allowing everyone to save face. This may seem unpalatable but it is definitely essential. If Vladimir Putin is not overthrown in Russia, how are you going to get Russia to cut a deal? And even if the unlikely happened and he was overthrown, would his successor be any better? It may seem unjust to allow Putin to save face in any deal, but can there be a deal without this (barring Russian victory in Ukraine)? No.

There are many ways negotiation can take place – formally, informally, simply between the two or more parties, involving a mediator, shuttle diplomacy, or quite possibly a mixture of different models. Imagination and creativity are key. ‘Megaphone diplomacy’, where two sides shout at each other, is not negotiation but self-justification. Unfortunately in regard to the Russian war on Ukraine things are stuck at megaphone diplomacy and it takes courage and imagination to move beyond that.

It is not often that we quote Winston Churchill but in 1954 (in a saying often misquoted and a bit uncertain) he said “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war”. If an arch-militarist can say that it seems strange that the west is intent in showing its support to Ukraine through the supply of weapons, which kill and cause killing in response, and not at all in exploring how the war could be brought to an end by meeting some of Russia’s interests which are reasonable (e.g. no Ukrainian membership of NATO) and imaginative face saving.

Even more ironic than the above is the fact it would seem that Winston Churchill’s successor as British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was instrumental in scuttling early negotiations which looked like they could be fruitful. https://jacobin.com/2023/02/ukraine-russia-war-naftali-bennett-negotiations-peace According to former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, there was a good chance of a breakthrough in negotiations early on but this was blocked by ‘the west’ – and Johnson said the west wouldn’t recognise any peace deal Zelensky signed with Putin. If this is true then Boris Johnson has a lake of blood on his hands.

The west’ has thus acted irresponsibly in a variety of ways; preventing a possible agreement early on in the war, pushing NATO eastwards when in 1989 they had promised not to, refusing to consider a neutral Ukraine, and not pushing for the implementation of the Minsk accords. All these facts, and the west’s handling of the 2014 Maidan revolution in which a democratically-elected government was overthrown, even if it was violent and corrupt, were part of what led to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. There is no excuse for that invasion and resultant bloodbath and Putin bares the primary blame along with his right-wing ‘Greater Russia’ ideology. But it is clear the west had contributed significantly to what has happened,

We can fully understand why Ukraine chose to resist the unjustifiable Russian invasion militarily. That does not mean it was the wisest choice or that other countries should simply back that stance up with weapons which are adding fuel to the fire. The fire needs put out, not stoked. Compromise is possible without anyone being compromised but for that to happen there has to be a belief that things can be made different through negotiation. And negotiation has to be brought about but where there is a will there is likely a way. And carrots are more likely to be successful in this than sticks (i.e. incentives rather than threatened penalties).

We are sad that a supposedly neutral country such as Ireland has had such a lack of imagination as to what is possible and has been unquestioning of the EU and NATO military responses..The Irish constitution commits the state to the pacific settlement of international disputes; the Irish government has shown no inclination or effort in that direction, a shameful dereliction of its duty.

Northern Ireland:

Calling it on the Protocol:

Brake even point?

What is fair to all sides in the North in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol? This is a big question which raises many other big questions, not least as to whether this deal could not have been arrived at a year or two ago if the UK had engaged properly with the EU; the claim by unionists and the DUP that they have caused the changes made is somewhat spurious or at best less than half true.

On the other hand we have previously stated that unionists deserve to have their views on the Protocol properly considered and this has now happened. But despite their prominence in Northern Ireland and in relation to the issue, the DUP is a small fish in the UK pond. For them there has been a perceived loss of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, as well as issues to do with the economic effect, particularly in terms of imports from Britain to the North..However it would seem the EU has been fairly generous – and both the EU and UK possibly clever (e.g. with the ‘Stormont brake’) – in the changes made. The UK government has, in its opinion, more important matters to settle than doing precisely what NI unionists want.

How can we put this into context? With difficulty, given the complexity and history. Brexit, which was enthusiastically supported by the DUP and most unionists, has had, as with many such moves, unintended consequences, one of which was the NI Protocol; the adage to “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

It is true that Northern Ireland continuing in the EU single market does represent a slight diminution of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland in relation to the economic sphere – but it is also true that business, despite wanting certain issues ironed out (some of which will be dealt with under the new agreement), have generally welcomed the advantage for Northern Ireland in easier trade with the EU. It is also appropriate that there there should be Northern Irish input regarding the regulation of such matters; it is regulation, not taxation, without representation. Whether the ‘Stormont brake’ in being able to reject EU legislation could prove a hostage to fortune, it was an astute move since it can only be implemented with the Northern Ireland Assembly functioning – though the final say is with the UK government, not Stormont. How meaningful this is and whether this overcomes any democratic deficit on the issue is questionable – but then Northern Ireland is not a sovereign state, its top level government is in London.

There are wider issues however. An arithmetic majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. A majority in the North have wanted issues in relation to the NI Protocol ironed out but not the Protocol to be abandoned. Most people want Stormont back to decide on the critical issues facing the North (and issues to do with the health service are literally critical) – getting more effective decision making in the Assembly is another issue and another day’s work. Unionists are no longer in a majority in Northern Ireland – but then neither are nationalists and there are questions here about the rights of ‘equals’ or ‘minorities’.

What ‘sovereignty’ means in today’s world is also a moot point. At one stage when the cattle trade was threatened by disease in Britain, Rev Ian Paisley declared that the people in Northern Ireland were British but the cattle were Irish! That is flexibility in relation to economic interests – and if the North prospered through easier access to the EU that could make people less likely to vote for a united Ireland. Voters list health and the economy as their primary concerns with only 22% in a recent poll putting the NI Protocol top. Referring to the Act of Union (between Britain and Ireland) being broken two hundred and twenty years later is important to some unionists but is not going to impress others, particularly when said Act only came about through massive bribery and corruption, ’buying out’ the Irish parliamntarians of the time.

There are points which can be made on both sides but the sovereign government of the UK entered into a binding agreement with the EU and, eventually, has renegotiated details of the Northern Ireland Protocol which nevertheless remains in place.. The fact that Boris Johnson had no intention of implementing whatever he didn’t like is irrelevant. The EU was slow to attempt to address problems but is well disposed towards Northern Ireland and it would seem has been as generous as it can be in the so-called Windsor Framework (the name seemingly an attempt to dress up the altered Protocol agreement in fancy clothes).

The British government has been torn between pragmatists who wanted to get the matter settled and Brexit irredentists who wanted to push the English nationalist boat out. Presuming Sunak gets it through the House of Commons in London with few Tory rebels opposing then he will have pulled off a considerable feat.

The DUP and Jeffrey Donaldson are in no rush to judgement on the new agreement – although at this stage it is not looking very like they will give approval. They will have a tight call but given they only changed their stance on the Protocol to outright opposition when it was clear they were losing support to Jim Allister and the TUV, it is fair to assume that the bottom line for them is whether they risk doing the same if they back the new proposals. However some DUP figures have already protested, e.g. Ian Paisley stating that the British government should not have ditched their ‘bargaining chip’ of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which would have given the British government the ‘right’ to ditch whatever they didn’t like in the agreement – which, particularly as it was a binding international agreement between the EU and UK, shows how little he knows about negotiation. Ian Paisley has also clearly stated that the new deal does not meet the DUP’s ‘Seven tests’ (which, as stated in the other editorial, they DUP were unwise to publicise).

If the DUP continues to boycott the Assembly at Stormont that is their prerogative but a wiser course of action would be to go back in but continue opposition to what is unwelcome to them from within. They could at least then start to deal with the urgent issues piling up – and Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, just with some differences. It has always been a place apart, the only part of the UK with ‘home rule’ for a century, and the only part of the UK having a land border with another jurisdiction. And DUP support for a hard Brexit, and rejection of Theresa May’s proposals keeping all of the UK in the single market, was a substantial reason for the whole issue being such a mess – and Northern Ireland being treated differently to Britain to begin with.

And if the DUP decide to continue their Stormont boycott then direct rule over Northern Ireland from Britain could be the order of the day for a decade or more. That is not a great birthday present for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (which has always been shaky anyway) and it would represent not just a failure of politics but an encouragement to those who think militarily rather than in terms of democratic politics. It is hard to see what more the EU could give without the EU and UK going back to the drawing board on their relationship – and especially after the debacle of the last number of years that is not going to happen.

The longer this debacle goes on, and the DUP stays out, the weaker unionism will be since there there are far more young cultural Catholics than cultural Protestants with an ongoing decline in the number of the latter. The largest unionist party throwing its rattle out of the pram does no one, not even themselves, any favours. Seeing Michelle O’Neill donning the mantle of First Minister would also be a bitter ill for unionists but if they are democrats then it is one they should swallow – and get on with the job, including representing their constituency.

If ‘Stormont’ does return then this is highly unlikely to be the last major crisis or cessation. The “other day’s work” referred to above is to sort out a more effective decision making system for the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better but getting agreement on reform will be difficult – and much more than “a day’s work”.

Editorial: Neutrality – Opting in

Irish neutrality, and neutrality in general, is depicted by the powers that be as a passive opt out from the real issues of the day and shouldering the burden of keeping the peace through military means. There is, and has been, a concerted effort to depict neutrality as outdated, limited in any case (“military neutrality” only while the establishment pushes for full involvement with NATO/EU military structures), and irresponsible in the modern world.

Even a publication like The Economist (based primarily in London) has been getting in on the (rather tired) act, saying “Neutrality looks increasingly like a simplistic answer to complex geopolitical questions…..Switzerland or Ireland throwing its weight behind Ukraine is unlikely to have the same effect. [[As the USA moving from neutrality in 1941]]. But it would be a welcome decision to join the real world.” (The Economist 21/1/23) And so it goes.

We would argue that it is the militarists who refuse to join ‘the real world’. They have numerous fantasies: their faith in armaments is unshakeable; their belief that the burgeoning EU empire will be a force for good; their belief that militarisation makes you ‘safe’. All these are beliefs that are fantasies They spend enormous sums of money on the latest armaments while not dealing with the real needs of human security and justice, locally (in Europe) and globally. And it is NATO expansionism, and outdated concepts of democracy (see Peter Emerson’s article in this issue) as much as Putin’s belligerence and chauvinism which has led to the disaster that is Ukraine today, although undoubtedly Russia is the brutal aggressor.

There is no end to the war in sight for Ukraine. For Russia, which invaded Ukraine expecting an easy victory, to roll over and admit defeat would require a major change in Russia itself and specifically overturning the power of Vladimir Putin, or engineering a situation where he has no choice (nowhere near the situation currently). The death toll is currently likely to be over a hundred thousand, perhaps with the same number again wounded. How many hundred thousand more will be massacred before it ends? We do not hear the true numbers of Ukrainian military killed just as Russia downplays its numbers of dead. And so attrition and bloodbath continue, with the west seemingly willing to fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood, and Vladimir Putin not really caring how many Russians get killed if it advances his cause.

Where do we ‘break into history’ with a mediated response or indeed with nonviolence, nonviolent resistance, and nonviolent civilian defence? ‘Never’ say the militarists who project ‘peace’ as coming after the current war, and then make no moves to build peace. A case for nonviolent civilian resistance in Ukraine – and Ireland – was made in Nonviolent News previously https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2022/04/01/nonviolent-resistance-to-invasion-occupation-and-coups-detat/

Of course neutrality – if it is taken to be an ‘opt out’ – can be a retreat from engagement with the ‘real world’, and the more Irish neutrality is circumscribed by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and others, the more worthless it becomes. But it could be as dynamic, and even more useful, than in the time of Frank Aiken (see the Afri booklet. “A force for good? Reflections on neutrality and the future of Irish defence” and the article by Karen Devine there) who took a fearlessly independent, anti-imperialist and progressive line.

Ireland can do the same again. It does not have to stand with the big boys. While in recent decades it has stood against landmines and cluster weapons, its one remaining feature which might be considered positive for international peace is its military peacekeeping role in conflict and post-conflict situations. This has been a source of Irish pride and can be further developed with work on unarmed accompaniment and peacemaking.

Peter Emerson’s ideas, at the end of his article in this issue, about nonviolent action by state and representative figures might seem fanciful but why not? If we are committed to peaceful resolution of conflict (as stated in the Irish constitution) then why can it not be practised in new and innovative ways?

But it also needs stated that the practice and theory of mediation has developed significantly since Frank Aiken’s time and this is another area where Ireland should be active in a very significant way. Why is Ireland not involved in seeking resolutions to the war in Ukraine? Why is it not talking to Ukraine and Russia and seeing and seeking, behind the rhetoric, whether there are any prospects for at worst a ceasefire and at best a resolution? Who else is doing this seriously? There is a role there that Ireland should be playing – in relation to this and other conflicts and potential conflicts.

While involvement in mediation is voluntary, a ‘soft power’ state like Ireland can clearly indicate it does not easily take ‘no’ for an answer. In negotiation it is important to separate ‘positions’ from ‘interests’ and the negative take on possibilities represented by positions should not mean there is no possibility of getting an agreement if there are sufficient carrots, on both sides, to cater for longer term interests. Even Russia’s claims that the annexed eastern provinces of Ukraine will be forever part of Russia could be subject to negotiation and face saving, say if people there were offered Russian citizenship if they wanted it but the areas concerned were a relatively autonomous part of Ukraine.

Neutrality is projected by the powers that be as an opt out. Those who wish to protect, defend and develop Irish neutrality see it as a very definite opt in – to the pursuit of justice and peace. And neutrality should not be used to justify or copperfasten unjust solutions – mediation theory,for example, is clear that it should not be party to possible resolutions which are against any party’s human rights. And it should be clear that the possibility of Ukrainian neutrality, with guarantees, can-and should be part of a solution, as with previous proposals that Turkey was involved in. The rejection of Ukrainian neutrality as part of a deal has come from ‘the west’ as much as anyone in Ukraine.

Ukrainian neutrality, with guarantees, is an obvious policy to pursue in relation to ending the war, that and relative autonomy for the east of Ukraine which was already part of the Minsk deals but never implemented. Even now such a deal, properly packaged, could allow Putin to claim success in Ukraine while the reality of the aftermath of war is much grimmer.

Expecting victory for Ukraine, and contributing to it with tanks, is upping the stakes including the risk of Russia or indeed the USA resorting to the use of nuclear weapons, ‘tactical’ or otherwise. https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/the-end-of-the-world-is-back-frida-berrigan-on-nuclear-abolitionism/ As we have pointed out before, the USA and ‘the west’ are expecting Russia to accept something – NATO in Ukraine – the equivalent of which (Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962) was violently rejected by the USA with the very real threat of nuclear war at that time. We are back full circle to being close to that situation.

There is a massive, perhaps burdensome but also wonderfully liberating, role that Ireland can play on the world stage. This is not fanciful. Ireland already has a reputation as being friendly and different. That role can be built on as a force for peace, to be a big cog in peacemaking machinery rather than, as the current direction indicates, a small cog in a warmaking machine which will clearly add to the world’s woes as time goes by..

We can actively opt in to peacemaking and peacebuilding. It is going along with the militarists which is the real opt out and which accepts the inequities and violence of the world. We can demand better and an imaginative and dynamic policy which works to build peace globally. The great sadness is that the Irish establishment and political leaders are captured by false visions of what ‘European unity’ and military power mean. It is as though ‘serving neither King nor Kaiser’ has given way to serving both of them simultaneously.

Ban Ki-moon famously said that the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded. In terms of international mechanisms, security and peace should be sought through a reorganised and renewed United Nations rather than partisan and violent military alliances like NATO – or the growing EU military capability. Ireland can opt to be for peace or prepare to go to war. It cannot successfully ride two horses at the same time and in riding the militarist horse it will betray the positive legacy of neutrality which has been bequeathed to it. Ireland can and should build up neutrality in constructive, imaginative and fruitful ways and contribute to the possibilities of world peace..

– – – – – –

Editorial: Neutrality – being the best we can be

Ireland faces a choice as to whether to be a small bit player in a militaristic EU/NATO alliance or to plough a perhaps sometimes lonely but much more fulfilling role as an active agent for peace in the world. But any loneliness would only be temporary because of the friends it would make – as it is, an Irish passport is one of the most acceptable around the world because of Ireland’s past positions and ‘soft power’. Those who think that NATO and the EU are agents bringing peace need to consider the process of 20th and 21st century history – and extrapolate from current EU stances to the EU becoming a bullying superpower on the world stage, similar to the USA, later in the 21st century (just look at the current role of Frontex). The development of the EEC/EU as a force for peace in Europe is well and truly lost in the past.

It is hard to establish exactly where the Irish government and establishment push for full military and foreign policy integration with NATO and the EU comes from. Wanting to be with the ‘big boys’ is certainly part of it. This editorial will, further on, give some quotations from Afri’s new “A force for good?” pamphlet on Irish neutrality. But we would go further and raise the question of whether this fixation stems partly from an inferiority complex, perhaps coming from Ireland’s colonial past. The revolutionary generation in the Free State/Republic had an emphasis, naturally enough, on anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism (Karen Devine’s contribution in the Afri pamphlet is a brilliant summary of the positive aspect of this in Frank Aiken’s thinking and action). But as EEC membership beckoned, neutrality became considered by some politicians as backward, regressive and not what was needed in Ireland – in a sense a ‘culchie’ option – making its way in a world dominated by the USA and a rich Europe.

In the Afri pamphlet, Iain Atack and Carol Fox do refer to the idea that to be ‘good Europeans’* has been part of the thinking in abandoning neutrality (along with other factors). But what does being a ‘good European’ mean? Supporting militarisation and the arms industry? Being uncritical of the development of the EU as a military superpower closely aligned with NATO?

With formerly neutral countries in Europe joining NATO, surely there is a greater need than ever before for Ireland to take a neutral and active stance for peace. It is simply nonsense to think that the only possible international role Ireland can play in the future is a small, even insignificant, member of a large military alliance. The promulgation of Irish neutrality goes back as far as Wolfe Tone. Eamon de Valera played a significant role in the League of Nations. As the Afri pamphlet points out, the drift to Irish EU foreign policy and military integration has led to relative neglect of the UN – and, we might add, perhaps a wasted role as a UN Security Council member. Ireland has played a significant part in the development of peace internationally. Current directions will lead to the total negation of that role and Ireland simply being another cog in a great western militarist machine. It is already happening – for ‘NATO in Ireland’ see https://www.thejournal.ie/irish-defence-forces-nato-evaluation-artillery-5927841-Nov2022/

There are many ways that Ireland can play a positive role in peacemaking in the future, all of which are either dependent on, or would have a contribution made by, Irish neutrality. Building up a skilled team of mediators for different levels of conflict is one such role, engaging before there are even ‘rumours of war’ or armed conflict. Engaging with different parties or governments before conflicts have got ‘hot’ is another related area of work. Pushing and working for the further development of international law in relation to war is a further area – and working to get existing laws implemented and respected. Nonviolent peacekeeping can be explored as well as Ireland’s well-established – and respected – role in military peacekeeping.

This is only scratching at the surface of what is possible, even for a small country like Ireland, and all could be achieved for a small fraction of the additional money which the country is going to spend on army and armaments – which is irrelevant to Ireland’s human and ecological security needs (see the video of the StoP webinar on this, mentioned in the news section). Our politicians and elite seem to suffer from a total failure of imagination and seek no more than being a very small cog in a very well-oiled, and destructive, military machine.

Now, on to a few quotes from Afri’s pamphlet (see news section in this issue). The title of Joe Murray’s Foreword says it all: “Ireland should be a voice for Demilitarisation, De-escalation and Disarmament in the World”. Karen Devine points out that “Ireland used her postcolonial identity and history to gain support from other UN members. A fiercely-guarded commitment to independence from big power pressures, facilitated by an equally strong commitment to neutrality, produced radical and far-reaching proposals for peace in central Europe. Frank Aiken’s formulae for peace are vitally relevant to resolving the Ukrainian situation today……”

Mairead Maguire is quite clear that “Contrary to its claims, NATO is not a defensive organization. Its purpose from the start has been to act as an instrument for US world domination and to prevent all challenges to US hegemony.” John Maguire meanwhile teases out what has been going on in Ireland: “The….strategy involved: Government denials at every stage that referendums were necessary; joining NATO/PNP without the manifesto-promised referendum;’reform’ of the Referendum Commission’s mandate, from presenting the arguments For and Against to magisterially pronouncing on ‘The Facts’ – and above all the blatant rejection of two legally binding referendum results, Nice 1 and Lisbon 1.” John Maguire also usefully uses the image of a funnel: “The abiding image is of a funnel; such debate as cannot be prevented is guided – if necessary, simply shoehorned – into an ever-narrowing channel; a travesty in what our constitution still confirms is a republic.”

In the Afri pamphlet, Tarak Kauff concludes his piece “Stand up Ireland, defend your neutrality. The global community needs you to do that.” Ireland may be a little island falling off the edge of Europe but Tarak Kauffman’s admonition shows that such a matter is of much greater significance. As peacemakers we can stand tall. As warmakers we will collude with, and hide under the coat tails of, the great powers, and contribute to the militarist mania infesting the world.

* INNATE’s printable poster on being ‘a good European’ can be found at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ under “Europe and World…[EW]”

Editorials: 1) Dangers of war – and nuclear war 2) Choices for and about unionists in Northern Ireland

The dangers of war – and nuclear war

If you look at war from the beginning, military resistance seems plausible and a possible solution. If you look at it from the end, the `military solution´ is a disaster.”

The above is a quote by someone from the Balkans, who would have lived through the wars there, at a recent Church and Peace https://www.church-and-peace.org/ conference which took place in Croatia. Most wars begin with optimism about the result – on all sides – and a belief in the cause, usually in the European and some other contexts blessed by the churches. But hope turns to fear, dread, regret, mourning and a thousand other negative feelings – but once warfare begins it is difficult to end as chauvinism and stubbornness kick in. We face Macbeth’s dilemma, in Shakespeare’s words ““I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er”. And there is the feeling that some benefit from the war must be shown for ‘the blood of the martyrs’, those who have died for ‘our’ cause.

It is totally understandable why Ukraine decided to resist the Russian invasion with military means. In Mohandas Gandhi’s hierarchy of responses to injustice, inaction comes bottom, violent reaction next, and nonviolent resistance is preferred. But how may will be killed, in Ukraine and Russia, at the end of the war? How many will have had their lives ruined or disrupted? How long will it take to rebuild anything like normality?

And what dangers have we yet to pass through? We have previously spoken about the dangers of even mentioning the threat to use nuclear weapons, as Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian figures have done. We also have stated that it is simply holding nuclear weapons that is the danger and the UK, for example, has no ‘no first use’ doctrine – in other words they would use them if they felt it necessary. The problem with a war like the war on Ukraine by Russia is that we do not know what escalation might happen, and how it might happen, and it remains a very real danger. If Russia used a tactical nuclear weapon then NATO would respond strongly and militarily and we could be on the road to a European, and possibly wider, armageddon. There is a strange sense of deja vu to be contemplating the horrors of nuclear war once again – for those old enough to remember the 1950s, 1960s, or 1980s.

Carl von Clausewitz may have said that war is the continuation of politics by other means but while it may be an attempt to do so the result is very different. Politics as such does not necessitate the filling of body bags. Politics does not destroy whole cities and displace whole populations. Politics does not precipitate the hate and venom that war does. Politics, we should hope, creates few orphans and widows. Of course some politicians may see war as a continuation of politics – and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a political misjudgement of mammoth proportions, and an attempt to get by force what he had been unable to get through diplomatic and political pressure, insofar as he tried those.

But Putin was not the only one to miscalculate. NATO’s promise to Russia on the fall of communism in eastern Europe not to expand eastward was broken again and again. The failure to have Ukraine state categorically it would not join NATO was another crass mistake, as well as the failure to implement the Minsk agreements which would have given relative autonomy to eastern provinces of Ukraine; even if Russia was not keeping to its side of the bargain, the move to implement its obligations by Ukraine would have pulled the rug under further moves by Russia.. Len Munnik’s cartoon on the transfer of ‘foremost enemy status’ from the USSR to Islamist militant militant fundamentalists after the end of the Cold War was very perceptive (see NATO entry at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ ) – but the problem is now that ‘foremost enemy status’ has switched back to Russia, and the west has had a large role in turning an erstwhile friend into a deadly enemy.

The risks of war, and managing a proxy war like that in Ukraine (NATO supplying Ukraine with war equipment but not itself fighting) include not only the destruction of the people and territory involved but also a significant risk of escalation. We have referred to nuclear risks above. The world is actually lucky not to have had nuclear exchanges (see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/27/cuban-missile-crisis-60-years-on-new-papers-reveal-how-close-the-world-came-to-nuclear-disaster ) and it has been a very close run thing at times, not to mention the many accidents which could have been catastrophic. These dangers continue in a very real way. Nuclear power is another, although somewhat related. Matter but we see its danger in the war situation in Ukraine as well.

The only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear war and nuclear blackmail, by all sides, is to work for universal nuclear disarmament. Some will say that goal is utopian. We would say that goal is realistic in that this is the only way to eliminate the ever real danger of nuclear war – and we may not always be as lucky to avoid that eventuality as we were in 1962 with the Cuban missile crisis between the USA and USSR. Of course nuclear disarmament is only likely to come about through wider international rapprochement and the creation of human and ecological security way beyond what exists today. But the alternative to moving forward on disarmament is to move backwards to greater human insecurity and misery – and the denial of wellbeing to billions because obscene amounts of money is spend on weapons and the military. There is a long road to travel.

Choices for, and about, unionists in Northern Ireland

It is understandable that unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland feel cheated or even threatened by the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the EU. Whether it affects their standing in relation to the Good Friday Agreement is a moot question but it has changed part of the economic relationship between the North and Britain, whatever about the constitutional position – though in relation to that, Northern Ireland still ‘feels’ and functions as part of the UK even if culturally distinct from Britain.

If unionists were sold out in any way then they were sold out by their own government and there is no one else they should blame apart from their own role in the debacle. It was an English nationalist move both for Brexit and especially a ‘hard’ Brexit which created the issue of an EU single market boundary. A hard Brexit was a move which had staunch DUP support and led directly to the NI Protocol.

Any system of government in Northern Ireland has to have broad support across both major political entities, unionist and nationalist, ‘cross-community’ (there are issues in relation to a vote for a united Ireland and constitutional change in this context which we have explored and will explore again). At the moment ‘the system’ clearly does not have such cross-community support. We doubt whether the DUP boycott of Stormont is justified given the severe issues which face the North, as well as the fact that the NI Protocol is a UK-EU issue; although boycotting is a classic nonviolent tactic it is not always for positive reasons or results. The whole matter is also caught up with internal unionist brinkmanship and showing that ‘we are stronger on the Union than you’ within the unionist community which is an unfortunate game of ‘chicken’ (and more like a game of ‘Dodo’).

Realities have changed in Northern Ireland but other realities remain the same. A new election would be pointless, the two largest parties might gain a seat here or there but the result would be the same stalemate. What are needed are substantive talks which involve all sides in the North. Yes, the issue may be a UK-EU one but where there is a will there is a way, and there is no reason why parallel, simultaneous talks cannot take place which provides input from, and feedback to, the Northern parties while the EU and UK do some final bargaining. This would be the most democratic option with the inclusion in some form of all sides in the North.

There are various parts to the current reality. One is that Stormont is only a part-time partial success; whether you judge this to be a ‘total failure’ is an open question, but even when functioning it has not dealt successfully with many issues of which education is a glaring example. It could have better decision making mechanisms which encourage compromise and at least partial consensus. But some republicans and nationalists are very unwise to recently talk about ‘joint authority’ (between Britain and Ireland, Republic of) as an alternative ‘backstop’ to the Stormont assembly, either as a threat or possible reality – apart from any issues of practicality it is not in accord with the Good Friday Agreement and such talk gets loyalist paramilitaries preparing to go on the warpath – not that they should exist or be in position for any warpath.

But the more major, societal change which has a major bearing is the demographic one that unionist parties are no longer in a majority, but then neither are nationalists. The DUP is reputed to have spent less than half an hour deciding to back Brexit, showing a very considerable lack of strategic thinking. Unionists need to think strategically about what will ensure, for their constitutional preference, the continuation of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.

So what is the best way for unionists to ensure the continuation of the ‘UK’? Clearly it is by making it as attractive a place to live for people – especially nationalists, ‘others’, and not-naturally-unionists’. How? By making Northern Ireland an economic success, which it clearly is not at the moment – and by making people feel ‘at home’.

And how can the North be made an economically successful ‘homely’ place? For one, providing political stability, making the system (whatever it is) work, and building on the privileged access which the NI Protocol gives to exporters to the EU (including continuing to grow sales to the Republic). Certainly there are issues and problems with the NI Protocol in the EU having been overly strict but then the UK has been overly lax in meeting its obligations. The EU is well disposed towards Northern Ireland so a bit of effort by the British government, plus compromise and creativity, on both sides, should get a win-win-win result (for the EU, UK and NI itself), and this ongoing sore settled.

As to making people feel ‘at home’ in the current constitutional situation, unionists need to think ‘what do other people want’ – and if possible give it to them. A specific Northern Ireland human rights act (as promised as long ago as the Good Friday Agreement) – certainly. Support for the Irish language act – yes. Creativity and generosity of spirit would go a long way. And perhaps some awareness might be warranted that nationalists in the North do not have the constitutional arrangements that they desire – and this might temper unionist anger at perceived changes under the NI Protocol. Both sides need to think what it is like to walk in the other side’s shoes; it is actually to their advantage to do so..

Please note that we are not saying ‘we support a united kingdom’, what we are saying is we support the coming together of the people of the North, whatever the constitutional situation. And unionists have usually been their worst enemies when it comes to strategic thinking. That may have worked relatively well for them when unionism was in a clear numerical majority but not any more – and even less so in future. If they choose ideological purity over practical progress then everyone will certainly lose – including themselves. But for anything to work there needs to to a stable and relatively strong unionist voice (not necessarily from one party)..

There are many myths about ‘the Protestant work ethic’ (and that is certainly not a runner in the Ireland of today and it never was an unvarnished fact) but there was a reason many Quaker businesses thrived in Britain and Ireland in the past. Apart from any hard work and creativity on the part of the proprietors, they were known to be trustworthy and reliable, and they treated their workers well by the standards of the time. Unionists could do worse than learn from this by thinking of everyone and not just themselves. Compromise can seem a dirty word to some but it can also be the means to achieve a lasting result which is found acceptable to all.

But current unionist concerns need addressed and a way found to do so. Thinking of others includes thinking of unionist concerns by nationalists and the British and Irish governments.

Editorials: Ukraine war, UK miitary-monarchical complex

The reality of war hits Russians – but not the Irish government

It is obvious that there is and has been considerable reaction against the ‘partial’ mobilisation or conscription of men in Russia for the war in Ukraine. Some of that reaction has included the torching of recruitment centres and, in one case, the shooting of a recruiting officer. While some men may feel it is their patriotic duty to go and ‘serve’ their country, many others are looking at how they can possibly avoid being drafted. In a move reminiscent of many men in the USA leaving that country to avoid the draft in the Vietnam war in the 1960s, many Russian men have been fleeing abroad. But women have been protesting too either on principle or because they do not want the men in their family to be cannon fodder. It represents a sad brain drain for Russia. While polling shows just over 70% of people still supporting the war, there are many qualifications to that support.

There were also a reported 1300 arrests in demonstrations following the mobilisation announcement. The mobilisation itself has not been well handled from the government point of view, and seems to have been targetting ethnic minorities and country people more than metropolitan white Russians – while in a rather despicable move some of those arrested for protesting have been served with call up papers as a penalty. While many Russians have been brainwashed by state control of the media, it is obvious to all that the fact there is this mobilisation means the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine has not been going to plan. The number of Russian soldiers already killed is uncertain, Ukraine claims it to be 55,000 but it is certainly far in excess of the figure, a tenth of that, admitted by the Russian state, and people in particular areas may know how many local people have died as soldiers and the real human cost of the war on their side.

Some in other parts of Europe are sceptical of people only showing their opposition to the war now. But this is largely mistaken. Of course it would have been desirable if more people had protested against the war earlier in Russia but at what cost? When the potential cost came, literally, knocking on their door then they had to make up their minds fast. It takes courage to go against the state in Russia and whether acting from principle or self interest (we do not recognise the concept of ‘cowardice’ in relation to militarism), it does not matter if men avoid the draft, the effect is the same, to undermine Putin’s war in Ukraine. And in such situations we are all likely to have mixed emotions, including a desire not to be killed or to kill people from a neighbouring country which has had extremely close links with ours.

All countries should provide safe passage and refuge for Russian war resisters, whoever they may be and whatever their reason for refusing to fight. It should not be too difficult for people to prove that they have been conscripted. Of course false conscription papers could be provided to Russian agents wanting to come to the west but the Russian state has rather a lot on its hands at home and in Ukraine at the moment.

It is uncertain how much Russian mobilisation will affect the course of the war, certainly in the short term. The fact that the war may be longer term brings up all sorts of issues about the final cost to both sides. And that includes a very significant cost to Russia in terms of lives lost and opportunity cost, mainly men from the bottom of the pile in Russia. We hear little, as part of deliberate policy, on the cost of the war in Ukrainian lives except for civilians, that is the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed, while the obliteration of whole towns and cities in Ukraine is staring us in the face.

Warnings or threats about using nuclear weapons, which have emanated from Putin and other senior Russian government figures, are reprehensible. The possibility of a cornered Russia, on the cusp of being defeated, using small ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons against Ukraine is an appalling prospect and one which cannot be ruled out even if the repercussions could be beyond the beyond. But let us get one fact straight; the very holding of nuclear weapons is a threat to humankind (they are held as a military threat) and totally reprehensible, and now also illegal. The western powers of the USA, Britain and France are all holders of massive amounts of nuclear weaponry. When do we hear prominent figures denouncing western nuclear weapons?

This brings us back to the coverage we have previously given to the possibility of nonviolent resistance to the Russian invasion. The longer the war goes on, the greater the cost in lives and the destruction of essential infrastructure. Ukrainians may well have felt they had no choice but to resist militarily. But that was not actually the only option. Nonviolent civilian resistance was, is, also a possibility. As stated in these pages, it would have had a different time frame but would have avoided the massive loss of life and destruction which has been part of this war.

There is also the question of how the war can end. The Irish government has paid €55 million for military aid to Ukraine though the European Peace Facility (sick) though admittedly for body armour and non-lethal supplies – however any army does not march on its bullets and bombs and needs such provisions as part of its total outlay, so the distinction from lethal supplies is academic. The Irish government could have been more usefully employed in looking at how the war could be brought to an end with a just solution.

Neither side has shown signs of being willing to have a ceasefire and negotiate which is why great creativity is needed by third parties who want the war to stop immediately, not parroting pro-war slogans like the Irish government. Of course this might include things like a fictitious ‘victory’ for Putin in such things as a guarantee of Ukrainian neutrality (likely to be part of a settlement anyway) but the government seems to studiously ignore Article 29 of the Constitution about the pacific resolution of conflicts which is both very sad and rather bad. The Irish government and elite has been gunning (sic) anyway to be part of NATO and EU militarism – they have attempted to leverage the war in Ukraine towards this. They could have been using their imaginations and explorations towards peaceful ends. The organising of a second military/arms fair in Dublin [see News section], with an outlandishly greenwashing name (including ‘Ecosystem’) is a further indication of where the Irish government’s heart lies.

All wars come to an end. What is most needed is governments and NGOs who stick their necks out to work on non-violent solutions, and press hard for them so belligerents, and aggressors, take note. Instead of playing a positive neutral role – militarily neutral but practically on the side of justice and peace – the Irish government has been content to be a cheer leader for a military ‘solution’ which look more like it could turn out to be something of a pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile the dangers of escalation and nuclear warfare are considerable. This all represents a massive amount of wasted potential by a supposedly neutral country whose constitution emphasises peaceful solutions.

The death of Queen Elizabeth and the perpetuation of the UK’s military-monarchical complex

Queen Elizabeth II was a dedicated and hardworking woman who fulfilled to the highest degree her understanding of the role which she occupied. And no one under the age of 75 would likely remember another monarch in the UK. She had a good grasp of current affairs and a sense of humour – something instanced by her interaction with Paddington – and was reputed to be a good mimic. She also led an extraordinarily privileged but circumscribed life, the latter perhaps contributing towards her love of dogs and horses who would not distinguish between a member of the royal family and a lesser human being.

The extraordinary ten day mourning period in the UK following her death was very revealing. The pomp and circumstance gave ordinary people an opportunity to mourn her death but it also upheld the status quo of the country and the transition to a new monarch. At most times it looked like too many of those involved in the ceremonies chose unwisely from an extravagant dressing up box. But, as with Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee (celebration of 70 years as queen) the presence of the military, and military symbolism, was everywhere – she was titular head of the armed forces. Even her four mourning children, following her coffin in Scotland, were all dressed in military uniform, except for Prince Andrew and that was only because he has been in disgrace for sexual abuse and/or rape (and whose military titles were removed to avoid tarnishing the military brands he was associated with); they were all in military uniform for a short vigil around her coffin in London.

Much of the set pieces for the monarch’s funeral process were not ancient traditions but dated from the early 20th century. When there is an emotional but also potentially divisive happening it is extremely difficult for it to be marked or celebrated in a way which satisfies supporters but does not make others feel something is being stuffed down their throat (and BBC main news could be half an hour of what was happening after the Queen’s death, five minutes on the war in Ukraine which was going through a critical phase, before returning to more news of the obsequies).

All of this impacts on Northern Ireland. While Queen Elizabeth is considered a reconciling figure to some extent because of her reaching out to both sides in the North, and her visiting of the Republic and what she did there, royalty in the North is a deeply divisive matter. Most Protestants and a considerable majority of unionists in Northern Ireland would be royalists and monarchists, and some few Catholics as well. There is also the ‘celebrity factor’ of those who follow the rich, famous and powerful. But the more one identity is emphasised by the state – as with the obsequies for Queen Elizabeth – the more divisive it is. Obviously the whole matter is divisive for the considerable minority in Britain who are not monarchists but it has further ramifications in the North where by definition of identity up to half of the people are excluded.

The military-religious-royal complex of the past in the UK, the alignment between these forces – the armed forces, the church, and the royals – and the buttressing which each gave the other, has changed somewhat insofar as British society is now very largely secular. The position of the Church of England, and the monarch being the titular head of it, is wholly anachronistic and unworthy of a modern state. The Church of England is still a part of the establishment in a minor way but the military-royal complex continues unabated. The non-military involvement in the pageantry presented after Queen Elizabeth’s death was exremely limited and most parts of the public mourning was a festival of militarism. The queen’s aura was cast over the military, and the military spectacle in turn emphasised the importance of the monarchy. The military-royal complex, or military-monarchical complex to give it a bit of alliteration, is alive and well.

Although relatively minor as mentioned above, the Church of England/Christian aspect of it all is rather unsettling. How any church got from ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ words of Jesus through to outright support for militarism is difficult to comprehend. To anyone believing in peace and nonviolence, all the military trappings are an insult to the deceased person as well as a militarist drug for the masses. We return, as we frequently do, to Gandhi’s saying that the only people who do not believe Jesus and his teachings are nonviolent are Christians. Queen Elizabeth was an enthusiastic member, and titular head, of the Church of England so it is highly appropriate that they should be involved in her funeral arrangements but that is not what we are talking about.

The UK is the European country, or certainly one of only a couple (and we include Russia in this), most likely to be at war at any time. Its colonial wars on freedom fighters in its colonies may be substantially a thing of the past but it has been a participant in various other recent wars including Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which have been completely disastrous for the countries and regions involved, as well, for example, involvement in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya which has also had violent and destabilising consequences. The UK remains a nuclear armed state which has engaged in sabre rattling, e.g. in the South China Sea, and in illegal drone strikes to kill islamist militants..

The class system in the UK, and economic inequality, is among the worst in Europe. While Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly had a strong sense of noblesse oblige, the fact is that the monarchy is one of the bastions of inequality, and part of the circus element of bread (sometimes dread) and circuses which keeps such inequality at least partly palatable to people. Unintentional it may be but the recent mourning period for Queen Elizabeth was a distraction from the real issues including energy prices and resultant poverty which face people.

There are also matters of free speech associated with the aftermath of Queen Elizabeth’s death and the transition to a new monarch. There were instances of people arrested for mildly proclaiming alternative views. There are also more who feel their free speech was constrained by the oppressive faux-consensus and the threat of violence. However there is also an issue of ‘nonviolent communication’ to be taken into account; challenging people’s views when they are mourning, albeit for someone they have probably never met, is unlikely to be the best way to get people to question the establishment orthodoxy. It would be better for them to wait but free speech should apply for those who feel they cannot do so. And, as with all divisive issues in Northern Ireland (it goes with the territory or the territorial division) some people, on all sides, resort to mockery which is extremely insensitive and divisive.

The people of the UK are, of course, free to choose what they want in terms of government and social and state structures. But an antiquated and unjust electoral system (the first past the post voting system is very distorting of anything that can be considered remotely to be ‘the will of the people’) has facilitated right wing whirlwind change under Margaret Thatcher and more recent Tory prime ministers.

Queen Elizabeth rarely put a foot wrong in terms of the establishment’s view of her role. People from countries colonised by Britain are likely to have a more nuanced view. The recent royal obsequies were also about the transfer of power and prestige from one monarch to another and thus ensuring passive stability. It remains to be seen how King Charles III will exercise his role, and how popular he will prove with his subjects. Charles’ vocal and long term support for environmentalism (in theory if not necessarily in practice) should not hide the fact that the monarchy in Britain remains a bastion of class division, privilege, and militarism.

There are many things which the people of Britain can be proud about, and many things which unionists in Northern Ireland can appropriately celebrate in terms of the Northern Ireland link to Britain in the United Kingdom (but rarely do so). Such things were invisible in the mourning and funeral process, with people in some cases queueing for nearly a day to pass her coffin, and the effect of such concentration on the very apex of British society is anti-egalitarian. This has unfortunate consequences in a country where the health service, social security and economy were once in good shape by international standards and served the people relatively well but have been declining rapidly and are failing the people they should be helping.

Editorials: Depressing, distressing support for violence

Northern Ireland

Depressing, distressing support for violence

Northern Ireland is one of the most surveyed and polled parts of the universe. Sometimes there are glimmers of hope, and indications that the North is travelling away from sectarianism and violence. At other times the results are thoroughly depressing. Some polling which came out in August fits into this latter category and makes us realise how very far those in the North have yet to travel. When Michelle O’Neill, northern leader of Sinn Féin, said the IRA had no alternative to armed struggle in the Troubles that set up considerable comment and debate with unionists and many others naturally questioning her logic.

However the most depressing point was not that she said it but the acceptance of what she said in the Catholic/nationalist part of the community. Sinn Féin strategy in exiting armed struggle and moving forward politically has consistently been to justify IRA actions in general (regretting a few in particular) in order to take people with them, and this has had considerable success. Michelle O’Neill said in a BBC interview “I think at the time there was no alternative, but now, thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict and that’s the Good Friday agreement.” However she also said ““My narrative is a very different one to someone who’s perhaps lost a loved one at the hands of republicans. But we need to be mature enough to be able to say that’s OK, we’ll have to agree to differ on that one, but let’s make sure that the conditions never exist again that we find ourselves in that scenario.” And yet politics in the North frequently looks like the continuation of war by other means.

It subsequently came out “In a LucidTalk opinion poll for the Belfast Telegraph, 69% of those in the nationalist and republican community believe “violent resistance to British rule during the Troubles” was the only option, with just 25% disagreeing……Three-quarters of young voters support Ms O’Neill’s position. Surprisingly, so too do almost six in 10 over-45s. ….” https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/seven-in-10-nationalists-agree-with-michelle-oneill-that-there-was-no-alternative-to-iras-campaign-of-violence-new-poll-reveals-41924287.html

The take on all this which INNATE has had is that of course there was a nonviolent alternative to armed struggle and violent action by all sides but that generally those supporting such violence did not see the alternative, or thought it to be likely less effective. This of course was false but it was what most people, on all sides, believed. Northern Ireland could have arrived at political accommodation through nonviolent action which would have prevented the terrible destruction of lives and bitterness which came through the Troubles, and this might have set up higher chances of political agreement on an ongoing basis than exists today with a functioning Stormont being an intermittent feature of political life.

However the argument that nonviolent action is more effective than violent, and it not just being a question of ethics, is not something which even today holds sway in general. Something like Chenoweth and Stephan’s analysis of the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle compared to violent is not widely known, and the possibilities of nonviolence are largely ignored. Laying the blame for this lack of awareness falls at the feet of the peace movement as much as anyone else.

But it is also the case that in the North the story of those who consistently opposed violence on all sides have not been taken into account. INNATE has argued that the role of all parts of civil society in the Troubles and its seeking to oppose and overcome violence – including trade unions, churches, community groups, women’s groups, peace and reconciliation groups etc – has not been properly documented. We have gone on to say that the failure to do so, to document the challenge to violence which civic society groups made during the Troubles – would play into the hands of paramilitaries and the state who justified their own violent reactions. Our prophecy has, tragically, been proved to be true in this recent reflection on Catholic/nationalist views.

However it would be naive to think that it is only Catholics have not come to terms with what peace means. Loyalist paramilitaries have continued to exist in a way that republican ones do not. And the threat from either has not gone away. However on the unionist side of the house, and among those in general who have supported the British state, there has tended to be support for wars that the UK has fought internationally, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have resulted in far greater destruction, death and misery than any IRA or other paramilitary campaigns in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Those who believe in nonviolence do not go for the myth of state backing justifying violence, nor that a death somewhere distant abroad is any less significant or important than a death at home in the grand scale of things, even though a local death may impact on us in a way that a distant death does not – but for those close to that death distant from us, that is what impacts them, and not a death here.

The significance of all this is that it is not just Northern Catholics/Nationalists who have supported the use of violence who may go on to support violence in the future, should the conditions be judged to be appropriate, but the majority on all sides. It might have been hoped that the inhabitants of the North and their descendents, given the experience that people passed through, might have realised that violence was counter-productive and nonviolence was a far better way forward. It seems that few have come to that conclusion.

The task before us is to educate people in, and allow them to experience, the power of nonviolence. That is a huge task. We invite you to participate in that and contribute to that work, in whatever way you can. But it is both depressing and distressing that so many should have gone through so much but learnt so little. We say that not from a sense of superiority, that ‘we have the truth’, but a sense of failure on our part and a sense of the enormity of the task.

Republic

Depressing, distressing support for violence

The ongoing elimination of Irish neutrality continues, engineered in an underhand way by the ruling political parties in the Republic. Bit by bit, slice by slice, the political elite (not just politicians but also others including an incipient military-industrial complex, and some in the military) has been desiccating and destroying neutrality while all the time denying what they have been doing. There is a huge contrast between the fearless and principled non-aligned stance of the Irish state of old, for example under Frank Aiken as minister for foreign (‘External’) affairs, in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties (and Fianna Fáil’s anti-imperialist stance at the time) and the current craven attitude of most of the political parties who can’t wait to be a full member of the emerging EU superstate and its wider military ally, NATO.

An active neutrality on the part of the Irish state, allied with military peacekeeping (of which most Irish people are proud) has been a distinctive part of Irish identity. This is being lost and sold down the river. As peace and nonviolent activists we would strongly support Irish neutrality because the alternative is being either a fellow traveller with, or, as is increasingly becoming likely, a full blown member of the nuclear-armed and confrontationist NATO cabal. And the EU itself is increasingly militarised; it will become another global neo-imperialist player as the 21st century progresses. If things continue on the current track, Ireland will be a fully paid up supporter of violence internationally which will undoubtedly be unleashed by the EU in times to come.

One recent manifestation of this has been the backing by Ireland of military training by the EU for the Ukrainian army. According to the Irish Times of 30/8/22, “Minister for Defence Simon Coveney called the agreement to establish an EU training mission the “next phase of military support” for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. He said Ireland “would like to be involved” and would provide practical support for the mission.” Here again we see the political elite using the war in Ukraine to push back boundaries on Irish action. Peacemaking? No. Peacekeeping? No. Is it supporting the pacific resolution of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination, as in the Irish constitution? No. Warmaking? Yes.

Polls have consistently shown considerable Irish support for neutrality. However an online poll conducted in June-July raised major questions about this, showing approximately even numbers for and against joining NATO (52% for, 48% against) but a slight majority (54%) in favour of joining an EU army rather than NATO. https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2022/08/28/public-divided-on-nato-membership-new-poll-shows/ Paradoxically this poll still said “Six in 10 people said Ireland remaining neutral was important to them but just 42 per cent said it would keep the country safe in the event of global war.” However this begs the question of what questions were asked for the poll; what would keep the country safe in the event of global war?????? However the question is relevant of what would keep the country safest.

It would seem that a majority of the Irish public is attached to neutrality but is unaware of what this entails, or could entail. This is perhaps hardly surprising since Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael (in particular), Labour, and the Greens have done such a good job, from their point of view, of obfuscating issues and trying to ditch it by stages. The above mentioned poll showed Sinn Féin supporters were divided on neutrality so if they come to be the major party in a government after the next election it depends whether their politicians have the courage to chart an Aiken-esque path or keel over and join the imperialists.

With no party championing neutrality and what it can entail it is perhaps not surprising that we have arrived at this sorry state, post-Nice, post-Lisbon, post-’Partnership for Peace’ (sic), post-PESCO. The sad, sad fact is that as Sweden and Finland join NATO there is more than ever the need for a neutral voice or voices to call and work for peaceful resolution of conflicts – as the Irish constitution advocates and stipulates. There is a crying need for the vision of peace, of non-alignment, which Ireland has previously supported, and taking this into the 21st century.

Joining the rich man’s (sic) military club may feel like belonging for many politicians and others but it will be done at great cost, and great opportunity cost. No longer will Ireland be able, even if it wanted to, to offer a critical view of western neo-imperialism, forthcoming EU military manoeuvres, or NATO’s brutal and wrong-headed foreign wars. The motto will be ‘Blessed are the warmakers for they desperately want to be on the winning side, whatever the cost’.

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