Category Archives: Editorials

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

Editorial: War in Europe again

It seems scarcely believable to be talking about war taking place in Europe once again, now in the year 2022, and yet that has been the recent reality. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is unjust, violent, and colonial. To inflict the terror of full scale warfare on anyone, let alone a whole country, is a crime against humanity.

How did we get here? There have been a huge number of factors at work, just some of which are explored below and in this issue of Nonviolent News. And what lessons can be learnt? The most perceptive lessons are not those which have tended to be expressed most dominantly in the media since the invasion of Ukraine when bellicosity has been dominant. If the first casualty in war is truth, actually trying to establish what is ‘truth’ is a very difficult task. But one truth is indisputable; invading Ukraine was unjust and unjustifiable.

The militarist approach has failed; it could not protect Ukraine from a Russian invasion. Bellicose responses from the EU are not helpful though strong opposition, sanctions and so on are appropriate. A strategic analysis is needed, even within military thinking, as to the extent to which Ukrainian military opposition to Russian invasion can or could succeed or whether it will simply lead to more deaths of Ukrainians and destruction in a war which, as this is written, is getting more violent and lethal. This also raises questions about the supply of arms to Ukraine at this stage. Of course it is for the Ukrainian people to decide how they resist Russian invasion but the ‘fighting to the last man’ (woman and child) approach may be brave but also foolhardy.

There is the danger that Ukraine falls into the trap of what a French general said during the battle of Balaclava in 1854 during the Crimean War of 1853–56, “C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre” – ‘It’s magnificent but it isn’t war’ – when he watched the ill-fated British ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, due to a misunderstood military order. In other words, there are certain things you do in war and certain things you don’t; taking a course of action which is certainly leading to your death and destruction is not wise and is not ‘war’. Continuing to resist militarily by Ukraine when they cannot defeat the Russians is not wise if it leads to their death and destruction. Ending the fight at this stage does not mean accepting defeat in the longer term; it may be to accept reality and ‘live to fight another day’, whether militarily or nonviolently. We need to think outside the militarist box. Ukrainian pride in standing up as a nation can take a different path.

When Ukraine is defeated militarily, and accepts or rejects whatever terms are meted out to it, despite whatever resistance is put up, the focus should switch to nonviolent resistance which can, of course, also be disguised disobedience. They may of course choose guerrilla military action. The Ukrainian people face a hard time indefinitely and it is difficult to see that Putin-controlled Russia will permit Ukraine to escape its orbit again in the near future. It is impressive that in the many demonstrations that have taken place against the war, large numbers of Russians have taken part – and those within Russia who have done so will pay a high price including loss of employment in cases.

Opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine must be medium to long term to succeed. What Putin’s plans are we can guess but presume will include the incorporation of some majority Russian speaking provinces into Russia. How Putin will try to control or instal a puppet government in the remains of Ukraine remains to be seen. But the effects of Russia being made a pariah state will be hard on the Russian people and difficult to cover up with propaganda about ‘the west’ out to get Russia when the vast majority of the globe has the same view.

Nonviolent resistance is difficult to deal with for military and militarist leaders; they don’t know how to respond. See e.g. and The power of various forms of nonviolent resistance is well established, even in Nazi occupied Europe in the Second World War, though not necessarily popularly known. The problem is largely that when people think of resistance to invasion they think only in military terms. This can be disastrous and when there is a major power imbalance, as there is between Russia and Ukraine, there is likely to be only one victor, certainly when they are neighbours, i.e. supply lines are close.

With nonviolent resistance it is much more difficult to justify repression, or, in the case of Ukraine, to attempt to justify action on the basis of ‘denazification’; there are fascists in Ukraine but their number is small even if they have been active and visible, and their significance is disputed. But it is also highly ironic that Putin should accuse Ukraine, which has relatively free elections and a fairly thriving civil society, of being fascist when Putin does not permit free elections and has decimated civil society in Russia. However atrocities have been committed against Russian speakers in Donbas, Odessa for example, by the Ukrainian regime and its allies, so it is not all a one way street and there was enough there for Putin to support separatism militarily.

There was a viable peace deal agreed in Minsk in 2015 which would have given autonomy to the east of Ukraine. Such measures are a standard practice and relative autonomy for different ethnic or language groupings is one way to deal with such inter-group tensions. But it never happened and if it had had support from the USA – which had its own ambitions in the area – and others then Ukraine could have been at peace now.

However it needs clearly stated that in Ireland we do not have our hands clean. It is difficult to even express the irony of Ireland closing its airspace to Russian planes (we are not saying they shouldn’t) when the Irish government gives carte blanche to the US military to pass through and use Shannon airport as a base en route to its illegal and neo-imperialist wars which have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions. Clearly there is one law which applies to some people and another entirely different law which applies to others – others when the wars involved are outside Europe it might be said — even when both are engaged in highly destructive wars without justification.

Where were the boycotts of the USA and UK when they invaded Iraq? Where was there action taken against the USA when it invaded Afghanistan? What is the difference in terms of death, destruction, displacement and human misery to what is happening in Ukraine? Is it simply ‘our’ wars are just and theirs not so? And to say such wars were ‘altruistic’ in intent is simplistic in the extreme; they were illegal in international law, and arms and security companies made a mint, apart from, for example, US and UK oil companies taking a slice of the action in Iraq. The USA and UK acted against massive worldwide expressed opinion wishing to avoid war in Iraq; ‘they’ knew better and contributed to horror and destabilisation on a massive scale.

And where is ‘Irish neutrality’ in any of this reaction in Ireland, let alone the Irish constitutional commitment to the pacific resolution of conflicts? Even if not ‘buying in’ directly to the EU supply of arms to Ukraine, as a net contributor to the EU, Ireland is helping finance them and this new military departure for the EU.

Many mistakes have been made by ‘the west’ and NATO in relating to Russia. Weak and impoverished after the fall of communism, the regime in Moscow was initially favourable to the west. But the promises given by NATO and the USA not to expand NATO eastwards were forgotten, and a weak Russia was ignored. NATO helped to turn a friend or potential friend into an enemy. In all of this, too, there was an expectation that Russia would accept what the USA certainly would not; ‘enemy’ arms on its doorstep. The USA threatened global annihilation in 1962 to avoid Russian missiles being based in Cuba.

You can certainly understand why countries bordering Russia might want to be part of NATO as a bulwark against Russian expansionism – and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made more likely what he was trying to avoid, a NATO build up on Russia’s borders. But why would anyone think that Putin’s Russia, in nationalist mode and remembering not just the Second World War but other western military incursions, would accept this, something which the USA would not? We are not excusing anyone’s militarist thinking but saying ‘the west’ expected Putin’s Russia to react in a way which they (i.e. the USA) would not accept. Russia’s demand for Ukrainian neutrality was not unreasonable in the context of power politics..

On a relevant but also slightly tangential note, transition to a green economy is essential to rid ourselves of dependence on fossil fuels which are highly tainted not just by their contribution to global warming but also for giving profits to those who do not need our money. The faster we can transition, the faster we will avoid the risk of a woefully overheated world and a contribution to despots and autocrats (whether in Russia or the Gulf states).

It is time to try a different approach. And for Ireland the message is that a smaller country cannot defend itself militarily against a highly militarised larger one so that again imagination is required in taking a different path; the path of active neutrality, peacebuilding and peacemaking, and civilian-based defence.

We have a choice in the world. Militarisation and highly charged stand-offs between armed blocks and countries is the way the world is going. In this approach there will be periodic wars but also, even in peacetime, enormous waste of resources which are needed to establish real human security against global warming and the risk of pandemics, as well as all the other human needs that exist. The risks include global destruction in nuclear war. With climate change the risk of resource and other wars increases, and highly armed countries make this prospect more likely. The other, rather different, possibility is that countries, whether armed or not, use non-offensive defence and neutrality, or perhaps sophisticated civilian-based non-violent defence, as their territorial security.

The world can be a dangerous place. It may be counter-intuitive for most people, but arming ourselves to our teeth is the way to risk war and invite war to take place, because our perceived enemies also feel they have to arm themselves to the hilt and in this dangerous balance it only takes one slip to unleash the terror of war. In no way are we saying we should roll over to violence and aggression; we are saying that we need to be clever in how we confront it. At the moment we are simply reacting in ways which encourage the violence and war which we say we want to avoid.

Editorial: Northern Ireland – In, out, shake it all about

The collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, this time through the actions of the DUP, once again show the real weakness of the political system in place. Of course some of it is due to the particular consociational system (stipulating involvement and balance between the perceived two sides) introduced but the wider issue is, of course, the unresolved semi-post-colonial nature of society in Northern Ireland with its entrenched divisions.

However there is currently a strong mismatch between the stand taken by political unionism in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol element of Brexit and ordinary pro-union Protestants. The DUP, reacting to opinion polls showing defection to both right (the TUV) and ‘left’ (a term very much in inverted commas for the UUP and Alliance), chose to veer right and make much more trenchant demands in relation to the Protocol. But other polls have shown most ordinary pro-Union people do not put the Protocol and its replacement at the top of their shopping list and are not in favour of the collapse of power-sharing arrangements at Stormont. And some businesses have been sticking their head above the parapet to proclaim the facing two ways nature of the Protocol to be advantageous.

As we have stated here before, a prosperous Northern Ireland would be less likely to want to risk a move to a united Ireland. So if the Protocol was seen to be advantageous to business then you would expect to see unionists welcoming it but they have become fixated on the Irish Sea border. Of course such a departure is a change to the relationship with Britain, and a betrayal of what they were promised by renowned liar Boris Johnson, but Brexit was going to bring change of some kind – and a majority in Northern Ireland supported staying in the EU and still favour close links. The DUP, with a lot of work in persuading unionists on the advantages of the Protocol, could have stuck with their initial take of ‘the best of both worlds’. It lost its nerve over polling indications and moved to the right on the issue.

The DUP decided to exit holding the First Minister post, and thus bring down the Executive, to attempt to establish their hard line credentials before the May Assembly elections. It probably suits them not to go back into government in the North as the polls all indicate the First Minister post would go to Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin and it may take some time to adjust psychologically to having the Sinners as the largest party; the fact that this may be what the Northern Ireland form of democracy delivers is something they are prepared to ignore and not as important for them as the loss of the largest party slot – and the beginning of minority status for political unionism in the North.

Meanwhile many issues will not be dealt with, and the continuation of the Assembly for a short period currently is only with limited (already in train) business and no three year budget which the health service needs. Come the Assembly election in May there could be a considerable gap before an Executive is formed again.

The Good Friday Agreement should be seen as an important staging post for Northern Ireland but also something which will need replaced, not least because a) the system keeps breaking down and b) it is unable to deal with the emergence of greater support for middle ground parties like Alliance and what is sometimes described as the current 40-40-20 voting pattern (40% unionist, 40% nationalist, 20% others) where the ‘20%’ may even grow. Any such move needs done in an inclusive and consensual manner.

Having decision making on contentious issues made easier should be a goal and there are voting mechanisms, such as those espoused by the de Borda Institute, which not only help to make contentious issue decision making easier but also have built in protection for minorities. The larger political parties may not like these because they make party political control more difficult but this should not be a barrier, although it most likely would be, to moving to a system better able to make the necessary decisions and not break down every few years.

As we have also said here before, perspicacious unionists should be giving nationalists all they are asking for, within the boundaries of Northern Ireland, to establish a generosity of spirit as cultural Protestants become a minority in the North. The census results appearing later in the year should reveal the current state of demographic play. However for some time to come it will be the ’middle ground’ of Alliance, Greens, the unpersuaded, newcomers and others who will have the balance of power in the North. That is certainly to be welcomed and, if unionism and nationalism are wise, will help both of these to be on their best behaviour in order to attract floating voters.

The concept of the power of floating voters is of course a relatively new one for the North, for so long dominated by shibboleths and monoliths (the Republic is also charting new territory with the redundancy of the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael split). Nationalism, with its theoretical basis in stating all inhabitants are Irish (even where they recognise the British identity of many on the Protestant side of the house) can be somewhat ahead of the game here, though Sinn Féin also needs to learn that taking people with you is not a matter of simply getting 50% +1. And unionism needs to learn to play the game by different rules than heretofore if it is to attract floating voters and not antagonise them.


Neutrality – and Ukraine

Neutral on whose side?’ was the title of a Dawn magazine issue in 1982 about Irish neutrality and that question remains an extremely pertinent one today, forty years later. Is neutrality in the Republic simply something which has been an historical albatross and current day anomaly to be ditched at the first available opportunity? Is Ireland simply a cheapo fellow traveller with NATO? Or is neutrality something much more meaningful and productive on the international scene with great scope for development in the future?

It is quite clear that the current Irish political elite wishes to ditch neutrality as something from medieval times which is inappropriate for a modern, progressive and ‘European’ country like Ireland. In other words, it belongs with de Valera’s ideas about athletic youths and comely maidens dancing at the crossroads. But in fact behind this image of progressiveness in wanting to ditch neutrality is the most reactionary and violent of enterprises; the creation of an army for a new, and transnational, European empire – one which will not only be adept at turning away migrants in need but fit for intervention in resource wars later in the 21st century, and doing the bidding of NATO.

This, and the strong backing the EU is giving to the arms industry (with the Irish government backing Irish enterprises getting their snout is the violent trough of the ‘European Defence Fund’) is a terrible harbinger of things to come. Ireland, which has been a victim of imperialism and at least a partial bastion of anti-imperialism, is slowly, slowly joining a new imperialist venture. No, of course it doesn’t call itself that but instead of drawing on Irish history and culture it is joining up with the European imperialist countries in a new militarist venture.

It is, as you would expect, all dressed up in the most positive terms, just as ‘Ministries of War’ were relabelled ‘Defence Ministries’. But what is really needed for defence, and defence of what? The two greatest threats in the current era have been global warming and a pandemic; while the rich world responded quickly to the latter, it has been extremely tardy on the former. We need a response to the real challenges and issues that face us today. Human security is what needs protected and governments are too busy thinking about – and spending on – military ‘security’ (which tends to lead to insecurity).

Some commentators talk about Ireland ‘hiding behind’ UK and NATO defences. The question is – hiding behind what and why? Who would want to attack Ireland? And if they did it would be part of a greater conflagration which wreaks massive destruction across Europe. Even thinking in conventional ‘security’ terms, it is nonsense to think Ireland needs to be a part of a military alliance like NATO, or part of an EU army, to feel secure. Far better to make friends, to turn perceived enemies into friends, and to speak fearlessly against the military confrontational tactics used by NATO, Russia and others. And it is quite possible to have a nonviolent defence strategy for Ireland, or one allied with non-offensive military defence.

Ireland can play a real role for peace by being neutral and expanding its action for peace. It has acted constructively over the years on nuclear non-proliferation, the banning of landmines and cluster weapons, and in military peacekeeping with the UN. This kind of role is not only the best defence for Ireland but the best contribution Ireland can make to peace in the world. There are more than enough countries who go down the route of military confrontation, war, and waste of money on weaponry; Ireland would be foolish to copy or join them.

The Irish government and some of the media recently went somewhat wild about Russian naval exercises to take place in the Atlantic nearest to Ireland but far away from its territorial waters. No such protestations have been made about frequent NATO exercises much closer to the Irish coast. As other commentators have said, ranked along with the Irish government giving the use of Shannon Airport to the USA on a plate, this is rank hypocrisy. However it is interesting that a meeting between Irish fishermen, worried about the effects on fishing in the area of the naval exercise, and the Russian ambassador, was successful; the manoeuvres have been moved further away from Ireland, an example of successful negotiation or conciliation.

NATO missed the chance to disband when communist regimes in Russia and eastern Europe fell in 1989 and instead has helped create new enemies. At this time, firm declarations were given to Russia that it would not expand eastwards. It has.

Russia under Putin is an autocratic, violent and corrupt regime but NATO has managed not only to create fears in Russia but also to help destabilise the post-communist peace. Russia has continually been invaded from the west, including in both the First and Second World wars, and by the ‘Allies’ after the First World War was over, in support of the Whites against the Reds.

Solutions are there but the USA is unwilling to accept a situation which would be intolerable to itself. The USA threatened global nuclear disaster in the ‘Cuban missile crisis’ of 1962 when it would not accept the weapons of a perceived enemy to be ‘on its doorstep’; Russia (USSR) backed down. And yet the USA expects Russia to have perceived enemy forces (NATO) in its neighbourhood. We do not believe in big power ‘spheres of influence’ but if it comes to having a level playing field on this, it should be noted the USA has over 800 military bases around the world and regards the whole globe as its oyster (for consumption).

The solution for Ukraine is clear: an autonomous regime in the Russian-identifying east of the country (in line with the Minsk II agreement of 2015), and the whole country to be neutral with neither foreign bases there nor military alignment. Neutrality is not just a sensible policy for Ireland.

In closing this piece it is worth quoting at length a statement from the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement:

The people of our country and the entire planet are in mortal danger due to the nuclear confrontation between the civilizations of East and West. We need to stop the build-up of troops, the accumulation of weapons and military equipment in and around Ukraine, the insane throwing of taxpayers’ money into the furnace of the war machine instead of solving acute socio-economic and environmental problems. We need to stop indulging the cruel whims of military commanders and oligarchs who profit from bloodshed.

The Ukrainian Pacifist Movement condemns the preparation of Ukraine and NATO member states for war with Russia.
We demand global de-escalation and disarmament, the dissolution of military alliances, the elimination of armies and borders that divide people.

We demand an immediate peaceful settlement of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, around Donetsk and Luhansk, on the basis of:
1) absolute compliance with a ceasefire by all pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian combatants and strict adherence to the Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements, approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202 (2015);
2) withdrawal of all troops, cessation of all supplies of weapons and military equipment, cessation of total mobilization of the population for war, cessation of propaganda of war and hostility between civilizations in the media and social networks;
3) conducting open, inclusive and comprehensive negotiations on peace and disarmament in the format of a public dialogue between all state and non-state parties to the conflict with the participation of pro-peace civil society actors;
4) enshrining neutrality of our country by the Constitution of Ukraine;
5) guaranteeing the human right to conscientious objection to military service (including refusal to be trained for military service), in accordance with Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and paragraphs 2, 11 of the General Comment № 22 of the UN Human Rights Committee.
War is a crime against humanity. Therefore, we are determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.”

Gender based violence: The missing link

The killing of Ashling Murphy on a canal bank outside Tullamore in Co Offaly on 12th January shocked people in Ireland and further afield. While death dealt by (presumably) a stranger in this way is unusual in Ireland and generally – most femicides involve a killer known to the woman killed – it sparked a considerable and welcome debate about violence against women in general.

Perhaps some good will come from this tragedy if education and expectations change so that there is outright rejection of interpersonal violence and particularly violence against women, much of which currently is sexually related and taking many different forms. Increased educational programmes and exploration at school level will help. But there needs to be a focus on this for adults too and a general change in culture. This requires ongoing commitment and not simply knee jerk reactions.

Male violence has been the elephant in the room – or, in the words of the INNATE poster, too big to fit in the room (go to poster ‘MV’ at ). There is perhaps starting to be an awareness of the gendered nature of violence but this understanding has a long way to go, and the parameters are no way wide enough. Maleness certainly does not equate to violence but the vast majority of violence stems partly from the perpetrator being male.

Why do (essentially male) people achieve pleasure from playing an extremely violent computer war game like ‘Call of Duty’ (which was part of a recent multi-billion dollar deal)? What is it about us that we can enjoy a ‘game’ where killing and destruction is routine and something we are encouraged to do? Do we not make connections? All right, say many, this is fantasy and allows people to let off steam; perhaps yes but it does so at the cost of normalising such violence and destruction. If we learn by playing then such games are literally a death trap. Violence in our culture is endemic.

The Downpatrick Declaration, launched in December, seeks among other things to link the commitments made to non-violence in Northern Ireland as part of the Good Friday Agreement to wider and international dealings. We need a commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict – which the Irish constitution speaks about – not just in the ‘domestic’, inside a country, environment but at every level. There is essentially no difference. States give themselves the ‘right’ to declare war and fight wars but why? And how is this really any different to someone or a group using violence within a country? Ethically and practically there is no difference though states claim the mantle of statehood to do so.

This is where we need to introduce the concept of toxic militarist masculinity. What entitles men to go to war, kill and maim others, attack who they wish, all for a cause which would be better served by nonviolent means? And this is not the preserve of countries in the Middle East or elsewhere; it is regularly practised through drone and missile strikes by the USA and UK with impunity, and by invasions of countries with regimes they don’t like. And it is the politicians and leaders who direct the soldiers to go to war and the weapons to be fired; soldiers, who know what violence entails, may be much more reluctant to engage in warfare and not just to avoid risking their own lives.

The state tends to hold their war-fighting machinery and sophisticated armed forces in high regard. Most countries treat their armies as symbols of their nationhood, although it is ironic that individual soldiers are often not well treated even in peacetime, and forgotten and neglected after fighting a war. Many men join their national army for altruistic motives as well as it being a job.

We feel there is a strong link between toxic masculinity in general, including the violence of men, with military violence and potential violence. Individual soldiers and ex-soldiers may be the gentlest and most considerate of people but the very fact of having armed forces – and possibly the more belligerent a country and army the worse it is – acts as an incentive to male violence at other levels. If men are entitled to use violence in armed forces in “our country’s” cause – and ‘God’ is inevitably expressed to be on our side – then that also legitimises violence by men at other levels, perhaps very unconsciously, but legitimises it in the minds of some. Please note we are not saying this has a direct affect on all soldiers and ex-soldiers but ‘it is in the air’ and affects some.

In other words, there is a direct link between the legitimisation of violence at a military level and men’s assumption of its legitimisation at a personal level. This may not be thought out or expressed rationally but it is there. It is not a simple link and for most people it may not have an effect but it is there in the culture. And therefore no amount of educational or anger management programmes will erase the potential for male violence at a personal level while violence at the state level is considered legitimate and even worthy, and countries go to war at the drop of a hat.

This is the missing link in the debate about male violence. It is unexplored, controversial and even raising it is likely to be an unpopular point of view and considered iconoclastic – but, we insist, that link exists. It is not the only background factor to male-on-female or other interpersonal violence but it is an important aspect which is part of the ‘elephant in the room’ which is male violence.

About the contents of this (bumper) issue….

While the individual contents of this bumper issue ‘speak for themselves’, some general clarification is perhaps needed. We are aware that our analysis of ‘the missing link’ in relation to male violence (in the second Editorial) is controversial.- controversial, yes, but also needed to point out something entirely missing in the discussion.

Edward Horgan’s piece on neutrality and what it means, nationally and internationally, is important; his viewpoint, included in the piece, on the need for a national army might not be ours but it fits into the concept of “non-offensive defence” which is important and progressive in the Irish context. Realistically, defending and developing Irish neutrality is essential in avoiding Ireland (the Republic) jumping fully into the NATO camp with its militarist and confrontational approach – or of course continuing to buy into EU militarism as the western European arm of NATO.

The article by Garreth Byrne on the development of organic growing, selling and communicating in the north-west is not just a little bit of history but also detailing some stepping stones on the way ‘we’ need to go in relation to land use. The size of the Irish cattle herd is unsustainable in terms of global warming emissions, a point evaded by the Irish government in relation to COP26. Developing new, and rediscovering old, ways of relating to the land is essential and credit is due to trailblazers on this.

Continuing the series on ‘Art and peace’, there are many questions we need to ask about how peace can be built up in our society and culture; this series with Stefania Gualberti continues as explorations of the whole area, this time in a fascinating and grounded interview with Karen McFarlane.

The aim of Nonviolent News is not just to inform but also to stimulate debate. We welcome comments on these and all articles and material in Nonviolent News . Comments can be sent to

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Editorials, NN 295

Good COP, bad COP

The dual nature of COP26 in Glasgow is well captured in Larry Speight’s Eco-Awareness column in this issue; your judgement depends who you are and where in the world you are, as well as (for activists) what pressure you feel feel can be brought to bear to implement the agreed changes and press for other urgent necessities. You could say it depends on whether you see the glass half full or the glass half empty – or whether your glass is dry and you are parched, or the glass is overflowing and you are drowning.

Shifting the powerful from any position is a difficult act, especially so the case of the fossil fuel industry with its enormous financial resources and interest in keeping enough of the status quo to maintain their economic dominance and control. But even fossil fuel companies see what way the wind is blowing and know that they will need to do some sort of transition or their money will dry up. The problem is the urgency for change is different to the time frame they have, and inimical to their power and the power of their vested supporters.

The climate crisis is the No.1 survival issue in the world today. Without mitigating climate change we will literally have hell on earth. The devastation which this will wreak in terms of the uprooting of people, the destruction of lands and cultures, and migration crises unimaginable to us currently, is horrifying. All citizens everywhere need to be aware and support the changes needed.

These changes may be painful at times – they should be less so for us in the richer parts of the world if our governments take the necessary actions – but inaction will be far more painful. And once the transition is made then the future will be sustainable. Basically we have no choice.

So where does peace and nonviolence come in? Awareness, and publicity of, the violence which runaway climate change will inflict on the world is essential. If we think the early 21st century has been bad for wars and violence, we have seen nothing yet compared to what it could be like later this century. The Hobbesian vision of everyone and every country or bloc for itself is perhaps a step too far but there would be elements of it. And on current form and developments, the EU would be up there fighting resource wars.

This is where nonviolence and antimilitarism comes in. We may know that arms are for linking but governments and armies tend to think that violent arms are for using; if you create strong armies, if you create new weapons, there is a strong tendency to use them, or threaten to use them – which then ends up with military escalation and eventual use of these arms and munitions or scary climbdown.

The militaries of this world are also some of the worst polluters, not just in terms of climate change gases (an estimated 6% of carbon dioxide is produced by armies). ‘Forever’ chemicals and depleted uranium are just a couple of the highly damaging ‘products’ of the arms industry and militarism. That COP26 did not force the carbon accounting of a country’s military on their score sheet is a total disgrace; the military are in this case, as so often, literally above the law.

In addition, the expenditure on a country’s military may have a severe effect on its ability to fund its health and services of all kinds, or deal with such a massive issue as climate change.. The military are usually top of the queue when it comes to dividing out the government’s cash. The EU’s backing of investment in military research and development, and the arms industry in general, is truly shocking, and the Irish government’s desire for Ireland to get its hands on its bloody share of this is doubly so.

But back to dealing with the climate crisis more generally, and the relevance of nonviolence. While governments in a variety of countries try to crack down hard on different forms of protest, nonviolent action and civil disobedience is one way to challenge the status quo and push for fuller implementation of the necessary measures. As with all nonviolent action, however, activists have to take the consequences, legal or otherwise, and be prepared for whatever is thrown at them – and as governments get rattled by climate activists, this can be draconian. Being martyrs for the cause is not the aim, however; the cause is preventing the worsening of climate change. Imagination and imaginative action can be key.

However another factor in all this, from not just a nonviolent point of view but any perspective, is ‘being the change we seek’. Obviously what we as individuals can do is limited by a variety of factors including our financial resources but personal choices on shopping, consumption, travel, heating and insulation etc, can be important. We can also be involved, collectively where we can, in ‘constructive programme’ to insulate, to produce green energy, and to assist transition to a sustainable future in whatever way possible.

15% of global warming emissions are the responsibility of the top 1% of wealthiest people, and therefore social justice measures are necessary to curtail such flagrant disregard for the people of the world. And governments have to not only get to deal with the biggest polluters (the rich, the military etc) but support the transition to being a green society in a way which does not further penalise the poor. Doing this requires quite a radical agenda in a world where political conservatism is common, if not the norm, but,as many commentators have pointed out, governments have done extraordinary things by what they have financed in the Covid era.

While individuals can do their bit, only governments have the resources and political power to ensure all the changes happen that are needed. To keep pushing for that radicalism, and avoid them taking their feet off the pedal and freewheeling, will need considerable effort. We all need to keep our shoulders to that particular wheel. We need a green future but it has to be a green future which does justice to everyone, wherever they are in the world. That requires a multidimensional approach to climate, economic justice and development, peace, and migration. And nonviolence and nonviolent action are part of the mechanism to achieve this.

Ireland fully joins the arms race

25th November 2021 could be noted as the date that Ireland officially joined the arms race internationally. This was the date of a webinar, altered from a face-to-face event, when the government in Dublin officially backed Irish involvement in arms production and gave a platform for arms companies to tout their wares (including Thales which has a considerable Belfast base manufacturing missiles for sale around the world and now developing laser/energy field weapons for the British ‘Ministry of Defence’).

This is a shocking development for a country whose constitution strongly supports the peaceful resolution of conflict, and a further move away from any pretence at neutrality to join the European ‘big boys’ (sic), and former imperialist and current nuclear powers, in supporting militarist solutions to human problems.

Of course Ireland is not a stranger to the arms trade and militarism; reports from Afri in the 1990s clearly indicated existing Irish involvement with arms and dual use production. Ireland is signed up to PESCO. And a couple of years ago the Slándáil ‘national security conference’ had Irish army sponsorship. But this new departure indicates a level of official support for arming the world which was previously missing.

In a written response to a Dáil question about whether “he is satisfied that the hosting of this event is in accordance with traditional foreign policy objectives”, Minister for Defence (and Foreign Affairs) Simon Coveney said “Supporting Irish research and enterprise in accessing funding and in exploiting opportunities in capability development in the security and defence domain, and participation by such entities in such research and development opportunities, does not compromise Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. These initiatives do not involve Ireland becoming a member of a military alliance nor a participant in any mutual defence arrangements. I am satisfied that this event was consistent with Ireland’s foreign policy, including our participation in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and our traditional policy of military neutrality.”

So producing the means for killing people in new and innovative ways is judged to be consistent with the Irish Constitution’s advocacy of the “pacific resolution of international disputes…” ? And, having whittled away at the meaning of neutrality over the years, and defining it as ‘military neutrality’, the Irish government judges its own immoral, escalatory and wasteful policy to be just fine.

What we need is an emphasis on human security. The possibility of a military ‘solution’ to the two greatest crises in the world today – runaway global warming, and Covid-19 – is absolutely nonsensical and non-existent and in the case of climate change the military and military emissions are part of the problem. The possibility of military developments ending up in war is all too great. Not that it needed too much of a push for Putin, but NATO actions close to Russia have helped create huge tensions in that area. NATO and arms industries need ‘enemies’ to prosper but they are good at helping create those enemies. (See NATO cartoon poster by Len Munnik available for free downloading at )

The contribution which Ireland can make to world peace is though its neutrality, its support for disarmament (which has been considerable in relation to nuclear non-proliferation and the banning of landmines and cluster weapons). Whether we support armed peacekeeping or not, Ireland has a strong record of service with the United Nations. That is increasingly being overtaken by involvement with EU and NATO forces.

There are a myriad of things which Ireland can be doing and supporting to promote peace internationally. Joining the arms trade and putting its snout in the EU arms trough is not promoting peace, it is strongly supporting war and contributing to the escalation of tension. To say something is a shame can be a stereotypical response but in this case it is really a shame that a country whose citizens previously said “We serve neither King nor Kaiser” should now, metaphorically at least, say “We serve both King and Kaiser”.

It is a sadly opportune time for the launch, on 7th December (the 1500th anniversary of the birth of Colmcille), of the ‘Downpatrick Declaration’ which challenges the militarisation of Irish society, north and south of the border, the increase in military production and research, and the increased alliance with military solutions internationally. Seeking to draw on the best of Irish culture and traditions, and political documents such as the Irish Constitution and the Good Friday Agreement, this initiative seeks to say and show there is another, better path, a path to peace and not to war. There is such a path but the powers that be seem to prefer the war path.

– See separate report by Eamon Rafter on the webinar referred to above.

Editorials, NN294

COP26: Altruism and self-interest can and should unite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A history lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorials, NN 293

Protocol protocols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taxing matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorials, NN 292: Afghan debacle, Underdogs and overdogs in Northern Ireland

Afghanistan debacle for ‘the West’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Ireland:

Underdogs and overdogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Editorials, NN 291

Northern Ireland:

Confident unionism needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armed to the teeth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial, NN 290

Peace history: piecing it together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Editorial, NN 289

Political identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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