Category Archives: Nonviolent News

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

Nonviolent News 291

StoP the arms trade; Raytheon Derry exit chronicled

StoP, Swords to Ploughshares, is the name of the relatively new network on the arms trade in Ireland. It meets online about every 6 weeks and, as well as business and planning sessions, organises speaker webinars. The last one, in mid June, was on how Raytheon was forced to leave Derry in 2010 due to hard work and campaigning over the period of a decade by FEIC, Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign, and DAWC, Derry Anti-War Campaign. The speakers at this session were all Derry activists in the campaign – Jim Keys, Eamonn McCann, and Goretti Horgan. The video of the speakers, running for just under an hour, is available at and it makes for a riveting and rewarding view.

An article by Eamon Rafter, summarising the webinar, appears in the e-mail and web editions of this issue of Nonviolent News.

In addition, there is now an album of Derry Raytheon campaign photos at consisting of well over a hundred images (with more photos and links still to be added).

StoP is run on a cooperative basis by people from a number of different groups and places, including 5 cities on both sides of the border, and can be contacted c/o INNATE You can ask to be added to the mailing list.

Shannon Airport viability should not depend on the US Military

The peace and human rights group Shannonwatch have called on the Irish government to avoid using the US military to help keep Shannon Airport open as it struggles to remain viable. In light of the recent Aer Lingus announcement that it was closing its passenger operations at Shannon, Shannonwatch call for a development strategy for the airport that does not include a reliance on the transit of foreign troops and their weapons to keep it open.

US troop carriers, US Air Force planes and other military and diplomatic flights continue to pass through Shannon with worrying regularity” said a Shannonwatch spokesperson. “Despite Covid-19 travel restrictions, these flights have continued uninterrupted throughout the pandemic. Not only is this a breach of Irish neutrality, it has also put the health of workers at the airport at risk. Over just three days at the end of May, Shannonwatch recorded nine US military related flights at Shannon.

The Shannonwatch spokesperson said “At a time when Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was quite rightly critical of Israel for failing to protect civilians in Gaza during two weeks of bombing, he is allowing their staunchest ally, the US, to take troops and military planes through Shannon without any oversight or inspection. Both Israel and the US have obligations under international law, as do all States. We cannot be critical of one while supporting another as its ignores the mechanisms of the United Nations and continues to create instability globally”.

Shannonwatch have resumed their peace vigils one Sunday in the month at 2pm at the entrance to Shannon Airport. These call for an end to the US military use of Shannon Airport, and will be conducted in line with Covid-19 regulations. For more information, see which includes evidence from June 2021 of arms coming and going from theatres of war, contrary to the assertions of Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Also contact 085 8519623 or email

Peace Brigades International (PBI)

PBI Ireland, founded in 2014, is part of a community of country groups worldwide who work to strengthen and support the protection of human rights defenders that it offers in its field projects. It promotes nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution and contributes towards building a culture of human rights that it believes will lead to a more just and peaceful world. See the website for more details (you can also donate financially via the website). It periodically looks for volunteers for field projects, e.g. recent calls for Mexico and Honduras, typically for one year minimum. You can see its videos at

AVP working away

AVP, the Alternatives to Violence Project, is working away ‘quietly’ with six week postal courses, and, for example, has been delivering a course for 5-6 participants in Limerick Prison every month, and have run a first successful pilot workshop in Addiction Response Crumlin (Dublin). Their website is at and their newsletter (and link to previous ones) at AVP Ireland is a community of volunteers inside and outside prisons who run experiential workshops in conflict resolution and restorative practices. AVP is for anyone who wants to learn to build better relationships, prevent conflict and resolve it when it occurs and who is willing to share his/her skills and experience. Workshops are non residential and are run mostly in prisons around Ireland and during week-ends.

Good Relations Week 2021

This year it runs from Monday 20th to Sunday 26th September and is an opportunity for groups in Northern Ireland to showcase their ‘good relations’ related work. The theme is ‘Brighter Days Ahead’ which celebrates and spotlights the range of projects young people are involved in to break down barriers, unite communities and act as a catalyst for meaningful change in society. See for more details and registration.

Glencree Journal: Legacy of conflict

There are 19 articles in the online 253 page edition of Glencree Journal 2021 on “Dealing with the legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland through engagement and dialogue”. You can choose from a wide number of areas addressed including loyalist women’s voice, the political theology of Fr Alec Reid, the bottom-down (!) approach to making peace with the past, the churches’ addressing of inter-communal violence, Protestant displacement in Derry/Londonderry, drama in addressing inter-communal violence, women in peace mediation among many others. To download go to

Front Line Defenders: Annual report, Cypher ‘zine

Front Line Defenders annual report for 2020 – with a global round up and analysis – is available on their website at And don’t forget their impressive ‘Cypher’ digital comics magazine illustrating (literally) stories of repression and human rights resistance – see under ‘Visibility’ on their menu bar.

Environmental Justice Network Ireland (EJNI)

EJNI, launched in 2019, is a community of practice connecting interdisciplinary academic researchers, NGOs, regulatory staff, environmental lawyers, representatives from industry and government with community activists and the ‘barefoot lawyers and planners’ . It aims to support communities and individuals that are engaged in both promoting environmental justice and challenging environmental injustice through enhancing knowledge about complex environmental and legal issues that exist on the island of Ireland. See their website at for more details.

Feasta: Transformation catalysts

New material on the Feasta website includes Seán Ó Conláin interviewing Dr Sandra Waddock on her decades-long research into the role that certain organisations can play in bringing about societal change on a profound level; look under ‘Bridging the Gaps’ on their website at Other new material includes a Feasta submission on the Irish government’s updated Climate Action Plan and a short piece on ‘cap and share’ for meat production (an issue not being tackled in Irish climate plans).

Eco Congregation Ireland: Gold awards

The Eco-Congregation Ireland Gold Award is for those churches who have already received their initial Eco- Congregation Ireland Award but have been continuing work in all four areas of their initial ECI Award, and mentor another parish/community on their Award journey. In June the first three Gold awards went to Westport Eco-Congregation, Co Mayo; Shankill Action for a Green Earth (SAGE), St Anne’s Parish, Co Dublin, and Faith in Action Group, Ballineaspaig Parish, Co Cork. See the impressive details at

People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland

This has a petition to pressure the Irish government to support global COVID-19 vaccination efforts and end vaccine inequity by the temporary waiving of intellectual property rights to vaccines and by encouraging pharmaceutical companies to share their know-how, so that the manufacture of vaccines can be scaled up to meet demand. The campaign launch is 1pm on 8th July, online. See

Include military pollution in climate agreements

Due to action by the USA in 1997 at Kyoto, greenhouse emissions caused by military forces – a major contributor – is excluded in climate agreements and ‘not counted’ – but it does count to this globe and its people. World Beyond War is putting together a coalition effort to ask the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow in November to include military greenhouse gas emissions in limits on such emissions: “We ask COP26 to set strict greenhouse gas emissions limits that make no exception for militarism, include transparent reporting requirements and independent verification, and do not rely on schemes to “offset” emissions.” See link at

CAJ on vaccine passports, rights

The wide range of concerns dealt with by CAJ, the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland, is well represented on its website including in the July issue of their publication “Just News” which leads with Brian Gormally’s analysis of the human rights implications of vaccine ‘passports’.

INNATE, an Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education, 16 Ravensdene Park, Belfast BT6 0DA, Phone 028 (048 from Republic) – 90 64 71 06, e-mail and web and Nonviolent News is produced in e-mail and web editions and usually a shorter paper edition – however It is intended to mail out the ‘missing’ (due to Covid) paper editions of Nonviolent News soon. As usual in summer, there is a short news supplement for August, deadline 2nd August, rather than a full issue; the deadline for the next full issue, for September, is 1st September. INNATE networking meetings are held regularly in Belfast, currently remotely; all welcome, please enquire for details. SUBSCRIPTIONS UK£10 or €15 minimum, £5 or €8 unwaged or you can have Nonviolent News e-mailed, suggested donation £5 or €8 minimum. Pay by British or Irish cheque or PayPal; subs are on a calendar year basis.

Editorials 291

Northern Ireland:

Confident unionism needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armed to the teeth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eco-Awareness 291

The Delusion of the Green Economy

The idea of success has always played an important role in human society; putting food on the table, finding a compatible mate, acquiring the means to protect one’s self from severe weather, maintaining good relations with one’s neighbours and receiving respect and admiration for attributes and accomplishments such as being a good tool-maker, weaver, story-teller, singer, artist, healer, planner or negotiator. An aspect of success that should be an integral part of our sense of what it is to live a meaningful life is the effort we make towards leaving the biosphere a more diverse and healthier place than it was when we each become a short-term resident.

Outside of sports and the arts the meaning of success that society most embraces is illustrated by the case of the CEOs of large corporations receiving millions in annual bonuses, in addition to high salaries, for increasing the financial wealth of their company whilst the environmental damage done and the impoverishment caused to communities whose livelihood is dependent on the health of these ecosystems is ignored. In this all too common facet of the international economic order the harm done to people and planet is called development and is celebrated. Reinforcing this perverse view of success the CEOs are more likely to receive a state honour than a school teacher or a nurse.

As measured by the success – failure scale used by society, people are hailed successful if they are prolific consumers as in living in a large house, drive an expensive vehicle, or two or three, and take more than a few aviation-based holidays a year. By way of contrast the person who by circumstance or choice lives in a small house, uses public transport and holidays in nearby locations is considered mediocre on the consumption scale. I am sure we have all observed that the mega consumer driving a luxury vehicle and wearing expensive brand clothes receives admiring looks but not the person wearing tatty clothes and cycling to their destination. That the latter person has a considerably less negative impact on the biosphere than the former is considered unworthy of comment. In a society living by an inverse set of values people who avoid causing irreversible harm to the environment and impoverishing others would be commended.

The prevailing widespread view of success has to change if we are to make the necessary rapid transition to an ecologically sustainable society. This not only means achieving zero net emissions of greenhouse warming gases but also zero emission of pollutants, the burning, dumping and landfilling of ‘waste’ as well as protecting what biodiversity remains and healing degraded habitat. Regardless of what governments say most of the above cannot be done without a major reduction in our consumption of meat and diary products.

It is a tragedy that in spite of more and more local councils and governments declaring a climate emergency there are no signs of a substantial shift in society’s understanding of success. Perhaps this is because the model of a “new green society” proffered is based on the norms and structures of our ecologically failed one. This is no better illustrated than the drive to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Given climate breakdown there is no doubting the need to cease using fossil fuels as quickly as possible. What, however, is not questioned is consumerism and the enabling material infrastructure that the new forms of energy will fuel. In the utopia of non-fossil fuel electrification, for which corporations and governments have drawn-up a blueprint, adults will still have their own car, be able to fly to near and distant destinations, eat as much meat and dairy as they like and be encouraged to buy the latest technological devices not to mention clothes and beauty merchandise. Given that there are close to 7.9 billion people on the planet there are simply not enough resources to enable this to happen, certainly not enough to sustain unlimited consumption for an indefinite period of time. At present the rich world uses 50 per cent more bio- resources each year than the Earth produces. If the blueprint for the “green economy” were presented to early-year primary school pupils in the form of a story they would understand it as fantasy.

The fantasy nature of the new green society is underscored by the case that the materials essential for it such as cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, lithium and platinum have to be mined and as Thea Riofrancos informs us in The Guardian, 14 June 2021, mining causes enormous environmental damage:

extractive activities like mining, are responsible for 90% of biodiversity loss and more than half of carbon emissions. One report estimates that the mining sector produces 100bn tons of waste every year. Extraction and processing are typically water-and energy-intensive, and contaminate waterways and soil. Alongside these dramatic changes to the natural environment, mining is linked to human rights abuses, respiratory ailments, dispossession of indigenous territory and labour exploitation. “

The “green society” as envisaged by governments and corporation, and which mainstream media accept without question, is incompatible with an equitable, ecologically sustainable society. Some of the reasons include the following:

– The environmental devastation that will be caused by mining on the gigantic scale necessary to fuel and sustain it.

– The additional trillions of litres of fresh water needed annually for the industrial processes in a period of increasing worldwide droughts.

– Mining of the minerals can emit more tons of carbon than the mined minerals. (*1)

– The environmental problems associated with disposing of trillions of defunct batteries. (*2)

– The industrialization of hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of land and sea.

– The plethora of economic injustices and human rights abuses that will underpin the drive for low costs.

With regard to the industrialization of the countryside The Economist, 12 June 2021, reports that in the United States the land occupied by solar and wind installations by 2030 might well measure 61,000 square miles. This is approximately twice the size of Ireland. Similar amounts of land and sea will be required in other parts of the world. (*3) In the envisaged clean energy utopia the idea of success will, as at present, be judged by how much we consume, the material wealth we have accumulated and the power and influence that goes with this. In other words the blueprint put forward by governments and corporations for an ecologically sustainable society is delusionary.


(*1) Austin Price, The Rush for White Gold, Earth Island Journal, Summer 2021.

(*2) Millions of electric cars are coming. What happens to all the dead batteries? Ian Morse, Science, 20 May 2021.

(*3) Environmental minister rules huge renewable energy hub in WA ‘clearly unacceptable’, Adam Morton, Guardian, 21 June 2021.

Readings in Nonviolence 291

Art and peace series

Music is the dialogue

– An interview with Darren Ferguson

“My identity and my history are defined only by myself – beyond politics, beyond nationality, beyond religion and Beyond Skin.”

Darren Ferguson, is a musician, a community worker, and a peace activist. He founded Beyond Skin in 2004 to tackle racism and sectarianism at a local level, to encourage positive social change and empowering people to celebrate diversity.

Beyond Skin is a diverse team of artists, facilitators and peacebuilders who design and facilitate different creative projects using intercultural music, arts, dance, digital media and sensory engagement.

Beyond Skin has been using artistic methods for global education and peacebuilding with local councils, education boards, schools, community groups, businesses and social enterprises across Northern Ireland and has been collaborating with different organisations and individual internationally.

This year Beyond Skin will deliver 35 different projects active involving people from 23 different countries. To name a few: Orchestra for change, Peace in Mind – The 100, Youth4peace, Blueprint are some of the projects which connect local artists and communities with artists and organisations in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Japan, Zambia & Kenya.

The interview was conducted by Stefania Gualberti.

Stefania – How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in music and peacebuilding?

Darren – I was influenced by a lot of things I was doing as a community worker. In my youth I was volunteering for different faith groups, and I volunteered to go to Romania and worked for a couple of projects which ended up lasting over a decade and set up a charity there with various other people. I was influenced by both the community sector but also by popular culture. Musicians like Peter Gabriel, who was using music for speaking out about human rights and also Nitin Sawhney, a British born Asian artist – we took our name Beyond Skin from one of his albums Beyond Skin. There was another project called “1 giant leap” with these two music producers who travelled the world to try to find out what connects us all as human beings and used music as their narrative. Those three different projects really influenced me as well as popular culture, and as a community worker I just loved being around people and I got involved that way.

Stefania – What do you feel is special about art and especially music to transform conflict, connect and build peace?

Darren – I’m always learning from other people, every day. A good friend of mine Mark Smulian who did amazing thing with music bringing young people from Israel and Palestine together and is doing lots of things with music for mental health, he reminds me constantly that we are all creative, everyone is creative. Some people have talents such as someone can sing, others are really good dancers. We are all creative. Those of us who are blessed with legs doesn’t mean we are Usain Bolt. Some people have talent, and they can run really fast.

People are creative beings, it’s innate in us, it’s in our DNA. We can also clap together in time randomly, no other creature on earth can do that.

We are creative and we are designed to work together. We have all seen the power of music, especially during COVID time, it got everybody through this traumatic experience. When you see the impact of music and other art forms it makes it obvious to connect it into peace building and community work, why wouldn’t you?

I get invited to a lot of peace conference, peace events and they don’t lead themselves in a way that we function best as human beings. Human beings function at their very best around music, art, green spaces, food, and drink. When we are together in these spaces, we create things, things will come out and we have great time building relationships, relating with one another. When you are in four walls in a hotel room for a conference you don’t have that, it doesn’t have that big impact.

I think we have got to look at how we interact and relate as human beings and integrate that more into peacebuilding.

We tend to think of arts and culture as something you go to: you go to the theatre, to the cinema and so on. But when you wake up in the morning art and creativity is in everything. What we choose to wear in the morning is being creative, we create when we cook, and we are creative when we navigate life challenges, how we deal with things. It’s in us and that should be brought more into peacebuilding so people can relate to that more.

Stefania – How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as musicians or knowledgeable about music?

Darren – At Beyond Skin we try to engage people into music and sound. Sound is very important in how we relate to our environment; it is all around us. A great example is a project we did for Make Music Day4’33. It is based on a famous, very experimental composer called John Cage who is no longer with us. He composed 4’33”, a piece where musicians don’t play anything for 4 minutes 33 seconds and he copy righted. We are replicating that project in collaboration with the John Cage Trust, and we asked 23 musicians from different places in the world to send us videos of themselves not playing anything for 4 minutes 33 seconds and we put a compilation together.

His thought process as composer was that there is always sound. As I am talking to you, I can hear the fridge buzzing, I can hear birds outside, I can hear traffic from the motorway. That is a composition. When we hear the musician from Sri Lanka you can hear the sounds from the environment there. In the piece from the Victoria Falls in Zambia, you can hear the water in the background. Sounds and music are often separated but they are so connected. If you look at Belfast, in West Belfast you have big diesel black taxis which service that area. That is a sound familiar only with that area, you have always that sound on the background and people do not realize that, but when they wake up in the morning they know where they are when they hear that sound. If you were to take those taxis away people would miss that sound and feel maybe a slight unease, as it wouldn’t sound as their environment.

All those elements are important when we interact music and sound. What makes us feel safe and how we step out of our comfort zone and meet people from different cultures and engage with them because, it is all relevant to all of us as human being. How do we engage people with sound? The 4’33” is a great example of that, and everyone can take part, you don’t have to play an instrument.

It is a mindfulness exercise as well, so important coming out of this pandemic which affected everyone in our mental health, if people say they were not affected they are lying. Sound and music give a great opportunity to be mindful, be still and focus on sound. How our brain respond to music is a chemical reaction and the benefits are widely researched.

Inner peace, once you have inner peace you can bring peace into the world. It is that simple, we have to be at peace with ourselves and with our neighbours and then extend to the wider world. The different levels are very much related.

Stefania – How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?

Darren – It has been well documented, especially in the last few years with the neuroscience research, the impact of sound and music in the healing process.

We work with people who live in countries experiencing violent conflict. Music is a good way to process what might have happened to you. Not to put it away, as it will always be there, but to help move on. We all have this music centre in our brain, it is a chemical reaction, which trigger us, music can be used to deal with trauma in a certain way. It works both way for the people creating and playing the music and for the people listening to it. Art is a very personal experience. When you look at an art gallery you could have someone sticking a bit of tape on the wall and that’s considered art, or somebody could consider the Mona Lisa art, but in my opinion, it is all art. That’s the beauty of art. It is not about being good, that’s subjective.

I think art can have purpose and no purpose. Art is about freedom and expression. Sometimes we forget that. Some of the peacebuilding projects which involve art limit people. I have done a lot of research on social media and YouTube and I have done a presentation on how we make peace infectious. You look at YouTube and there might be a well-done video on the issues of refugees, and it might have 2 million views. Then there is a video of a cat in a bath, and it got 80 million views and you go: “how is that more attractive to people?” We are obviously missing something of what attracts people to things and why that is. I believe the peacebuilding sector needs to look at popular culture to bring new people into those spaces and attract new people.

At Beyond Skin we have always done wacky things. An example is one day I noticed there were all these pop-up stands and people sitting behind tables presenting themselves at events, why would we do that? So, we decided to retire our pop-up stand. We had an official photographer to do a story for us, in a very humorous way but also as a way of challenging the sector in a creative way. If you want to do something as an organisation, association or collective, you don’t need a pop-up stand, just do it. Instead of sitting behind a table, sit in front of it, speak to people. You are the pop-up stand; you are the story you don’t need a pop up stand. It was a way to give people a wee shake and look at why we do things? How we do things, and do they work? Why things like the pop-up stand become normal? We love to challenge the status quo in a creative way.

Stefania – How do you work with people who reject certain music as ‘theirs’ rather than ‘mine’?

Darren – Yes, interesting question as here in Northern Ireland music has divided communities. We have a project at the moment with people part of a marching band from Protestant culture working alongside heavy metal rock musicians. We always bring it back to the music.

We did an event at the Black Box- a music venue in Belfast- and we had three Loyalist marching bands (all men) and we had guest musicians from Colombia and female musicians, as it can be very male dominated sector. We did it and it was great. We got great feedback and one guy came to me and said: “It is great what you have done here” and I responded, “What is so great about bringing musicians together into a music venue?” Sometimes the politics take over. Those were just some guys learning to play, read music, the band gave them a place where they felt they belonged and gave them the space to be creative. That’s overlooked.

In the new project we are creating a heavy metal flute marching band. That is to open up to audiences who might have not listened to that kind of music and going beyond the stereotypes. Music is a great way to do that, connect people.

We did another project with Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, and it opened up to people who said “I have never listened to that music” but through these projects they have been introduced to this other music and I find this interesting.

As my friend Mark would say “Music does not assist the dialogue, music is the dialogue”. Getting people together to do art and play music is a way of building relation and relax to talk about their culture. In some peacebuilding events you bring people together, strangers, and they are encouraged to talk about the issues. You would not do that in real life, why would you do it there. You need to build up trust and relationship.

At Beyond Skin we need to justify it with the funders that we are doing it in a different way, but this is more effective. Sometimes peacebuilding can get very boring! I have been to many boring peacebuilding events. Why are we here? I could be doing something much more interesting, fun and get people to talk about serious issues as well.

I was in Japan before the pandemic last year and I was at an event organised by this organisation who is doing music and peacebuilding. They are the largest music peacebuilding organisation, they are called Min-on Concert Association, they have been going on for 40 years and they have one million volunteers. How do we get one million volunteers? How do you sustain that? I had a meeting with the founders to talk about how they did that. I could see their smile the joy was apparent. I thought, whatever you have, I want that and that is what is really attractive. I had been at a antiracism event where lots of people were really angry and they were right to be angry but I left feeling angry. I don’t want that, that is not attractive, no wonder they struggle to get members. In this association, you have people with smiles on their faces, they are well aware of the problems of the world and they say: let’s deal with that!

There is nothing fun about racism and sectarianism but there is a way to use fun and joy to deal with those issues by engaging people in dialogue. We have to find ways to attract people (the cat in a bath).

Stefania – How can global education help tackle racism and sectarianism locally?

Darren – Before Beyond skin I worked with developing organisations who worked with countries struggling with poverty and in global education programmes. The project “1 giant leap” looked at issues that connect us, love, faith, death, sex, money… all the subjects that relate with all of us.


One of the big issues at the moment is health as well as gender inequality. I have a four year old girl and I am thinking about her future and what she will be dealing with, we should have tackled those issues years ago (pay gap, accessibility and patriarchy).

Global education for me is listening and learning from our global neighbours. When the pandemic hit, we contacted our friends in Africa, they always had restrictions and always have done with less than we have. So, we asked how are you doing it? We should be doing the same. Learning from them. Our partners in Zambia are well ahead of us in terms of renewable energies, they are doing tremendous stuff! It is important to learn from our global neighbours.

Stefania – Is there a particular project or engagement that stands out for you that you can talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

Darren – Not one particular project. We did a conference in a very different way as we left 50% of it unprogrammed, a space for what was emerging. It was March 2017 and it is difficult to describe, it was powerful. At that event my friend Mark got up to the stage saying, “Music does not assist dialogue, music is the dialogue.” We got into this discussion on how the funding can be restrictive and put you in a box. A lot of artists felt like that. If you are from Africa that doesn’t mean you need to do drumming; you like jazz, do jazz. Don’t let people put you in a box, be creative. That opens the door for us. A big initiative called Art Dialogue was born out of that. 30 artists collaborate together from different countries in very creative and innovative ways. That conference was one of those moments of realization, we need to be freeing artists and not being restricted/restrictive. Freedom in art to make a difference; freedom from labels, expectations and stereotypes and bringing fun and joy into the process.

We get invited to help organise multicultural festivals. I ask, what is the difference between a festival and a multicultural festival? Just mainstream it and call it festival so it becomes normal to have a diversity of people collaborating in it. When I hear Chinese people called minority when they are in fact a global majority, I think we need to change perspective, from our inward perspective. Let us focus on our language, what is a minority? What are we saying? It gives a distorted perception of reality. I think with art you can “shake the tree”, challenge people and wake them up a little bit.

Stefania – Could you share or summarise some of your learnings in your years of experience?

Darren – Every day is a school day, every day I am learning. There are no experts in peacebuilding. Peace is a process, a process of learning.

Get people together around food, music, art and green spaces and things happen.

Take risks, we constantly say let’s do this and deal later with the consequences.

Understand where people are coming from, you don’t know what they are going through. We have to be really empathetic with our fellow humans. We can’t judge people from what we see, as we don’t have the full picture -social media doesn’t help as it is very reactive, you wouldn’t do that to somebody in person, we need to bring back people to human interactions.

– – – – – –

Raytheon in Derry

June 2021 StoP webinar report

by Eamon Rafter

The webinar was organised by StoP – Swords to Ploughshares, a new Irish network against the Arms Trade. With Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast grant aided by the UK government to manufacture military drones and their continued support for arms production at Thales, it was decided that it was a good time to get together to celebrate the removal of Raytheon from Derry to inspire resistance to current development in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The webinar was introduced and moderated by Joe Murray of AFRI. He spoke about how he saw a picture of John Hume and David Trimble welcoming Raytheon to Derry in 1999 as the ‘first fruits of the peace process’. The shocking irony of this had inspired him to hold a public meeting in Derry along with Children in Cross fire and this included students from East Timor at a time when weapons from the UK were being sold to the Indonesian military for use in East Timor. Out of this meeting FEIC – Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign was founded who along with Derry Ant-War Coalition (DAWC) and others built the campaign against Raytheon.

Jim Keys was one of the people behind the FEIC campaign and he gave an overview of how this cross community group with no party affiliation operated as a loose alliance who took on Raytheon. Following the AFRI meeting they had worked on an East Timor mural and set up a citizens jury to consider the appropriateness of Raytheon coming the Derry. The jury returned a verdict of ‘not welcome’ and a monthly vigil was established outside the Raytheon offices. A symbolic grave was dug here to mark the innocent victims of the weapons industry and signs around the city, the appearance of the theatrical ‘stealth monster’ and various actions took place which included the use of the Free Derry wall.

Politicians didn’t engage though in 2003 the City Council did oppose the war in Iraq. Raytheon did not engage or make a response to any of this, though they claimed that the Derry operation was essentially a civil one. Jim pointed out that Derry was a place where people understood what it was like to be ‘collateral damage’ and this was important in the development of the campaign. With a vigil in the Guildhall Sq, a shroud covering the Free Derry Wall and the Black Shamrock symbol of Irish neutrality and opposition to war, the campaign broadened across the city and in Feb 2008 a plaque was placed on the city walls dedicated to lives lost as a result of weapons made in Derry. Though the campaign would continue with regular vigils it would take a more public action to have greater effect.

Eamonn McCann, who had been a key leader in the civil rights movement, was one of the six of the Raytheon 9 who stood trial for occupying the Raytheon offices in August 2006. He talked about what had led to the occupation and how they were vindicated in court. A meeting of DAWC had taken place in Sandino’s Bar on 2nd August to hear former U.S. army interrogator Joshua Casteel. Hearing about the recent Israeli massacre in Qana, Lebanon on 30th July, the Raytheon connection was made and it was decided to occupy the plant.

It was felt that everything had been tried to engage the politicians and media and that vigils would not be enough to close down Raytheon. There had been no support from the mainstream who said they were against weapons manufacture but did nothing against it. The occupation of 9th August (the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing) was a last resort and McCann talked about the ‘semi-spontaneity’ of the event. They didn’t expect to get in but had managed to rush the door as an employee went in and once inside proceeded to throw computers and materials out the window. The eventual arrival of riot police in full armour saw nine men seated quietly playing cards and they were arrested and subsequently put on trial.

Eamonn Mc Cann talked about the case that was presented at that trial in 2008 and how the six men were acquitted. The case was based on the fact that the law would not see their action as defensible, so they had to show that they were actually trying to save lives, stop or delay a war crime, not just protest against it. They had to show that they had previously done everything that was possible and only after that failed did they commit to action in the reasonable belief they could stop war. The involvement of the Derry Raytheon plant in the development of rocket guidance systems and interconnectedness of the computer system with the Scotland plant meant they had legitimately targeted this to put the system out of action to help prevent a greater evil. In effect they put Raytheon on trial and their defence was McCann claimed ‘unassailable’. This gave it a certain international resonance and he felt that the Derry action had a real effect on the morale of victims in Qana, who they later went to visit.

He said it was the best thing he ever did and that it is never futile to stand up against war, even though you think it won’t achieve anything. The accumulation of actions, protests and messaging had been important so it was not a one off event. The trial victory was the pay-off for many previous events. It was important that the occupation was not over-planned and had some element of spontaneity. Neither was it just about the ‘burly men’ who were arrested, as women had been hugely involved. He said it was essential ‘to do everything patiently, but not to be afraid to be daring when the moment comes’. You need to wait and be alert for that moment.

Goretti Horgan was one of the nine women who entered the Raytheon offices in a third occupation in 2009. She spoke about being motivated by the Shannon 5 who had earlier attacked a US military aircraft in Shannon Airport and been through a long trial at which they were acquitted. Goretti had been present at the second occupation though at the time left before the arrival of the police to avoid being arrested. She emphasised that women had always been involved in the protests and actions and that Israeli bombings of Gaza had also been an influence on the women’s occupation. The precision guidance systems used in the Israeli attack were developed by Raytheon.

The women’s occupation may not have done as much damage as the men’s but it had stopped the plant functioning and kept the opposition to Raytheon going which was important. This time the main frame computer had been encased in steel so water couldn’t damage it. She said it was an educational process where they learnt a lot about the arrogance and lies of the arms industry. The sheer horror of the weapons they manufactured was shocking and it was hard to conceive how people thought them up in the first place. ‘We have to do whatever we can to end this evil trade for once and for all’ she said. The women were also put under trial and acquitted.

There was some discussion at the end of the session and some conclusions were drawn. Protests had never stopped after the trials and Raytheon eventually announced their departure in January 2010. They denied this had anything to do with the protests but under Freedom of Information it was revealed that they had said they couldn’t stay because the legal system could not guarantee their safety. It was mentioned that global solidarity is important and the protests at Raytheon in Tucson, U.S., had taken inspiration from what happened in Derry.

It is essential to know your rights and work together to get rid of the arms trade. We need to draw on victories like the one in Derry to give us momentum, just as the Dunnes Stores strikes against South African apartheid and solidarity with East Timor had had an effect. A new phase of protest would now be required to oppose recent arms contracts in Belfast and extractive industries. Derry activists were ready to be involved again and this time would make connections with climate change and what arms trade does to the environment.

Billy King 291

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

The truth about The Twelfth

If you have ever attended Twelfth of July parades in Norn Iron you will know what a great occasion it is for those involved. The sun doesn’t always shine but it often does (for weather it certainly beats St Patrick’s Day in March…) and there is a combination of solemnity and carnival atmosphere. Old friends greet each other. Families come together. At a large parade (in normal, non-Covid years) like the one in Belfast, people coming as spectacle-watchers stake out their place beforehand. Children play around. Young men get to strut their stuff and show off to their friends, male and female. Old men ditto. Young people, friends of band members, walk along to accompany their band friends, laden with bags of beverages. A good time is had by all – and more than a few sore heads that day (after the Eleventh night) or afterwards, and perhaps sore feet.

And this of course comes after the Eleventh night itself when the competition to have the biggest, best bonfire – built by young males – is as hot as the resultant blaze. Who doesn’t love a good bonfire? And these aren’t just any bonfires, they are Protestant/Loyalist Northern Ireland bonfires, some so ginormous they risk setting alight to anything in the nearby vicinity (in one area in 2021 a fire station is at risk!!!!). The bonfire is a great spectacle, lit as dark is approaching, and pallets burning like the blazes and lighting the way to the stars.

Orangefest’ has been the rebranding of the whole Twelfth of July package. But there are a number of problems. The sides in 1690 may have been multinational, but in celebrating the victory of King William, King Billy supported by the Pope, is is actually celebrating the victory in battle of one side in Northern Ireland (Protestants and unionists) over ‘the other’ (Catholic and nationalist). That is why it resonates today. That is not just a historical event from some hundreds of years ago but an event ‘now’. It is a celebration of ‘my’ victory over ‘you’, and your debasement.

There is no possible way that the celebration of this event can be made neutral in the Northern Ireland context. The Orange mythology may be that King Billy’s victory established ‘civil and religious liberty’ for all but that is a complete lie. Yes, if James had won the boot would have been on the other foot and it would have been Protestants discriminated against, possibly even worse than Catholics continued to be discriminated against, but that is not what happened. And at the time it wasn’t even civil and religious liberty for all Protestants – but Catholics were treated much more severely than Protestant dissenters.

And from a nonviolent perspective the militarism on display in Twelfth parades is both unfortunate and, if you permit yourself to look at it critically, a bit both blood curdling and oppressive. Military uniforms, military formations, celebrations of past wars and battles, marching music. Is this what Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist culture is all about? It looks a bit to me like inculcation of the cult of militarism and military sacrifice, preparing people to be the cannon fodder of the 21st century or, in the era of military drones, survivors when others are killed. Parades also mark territory; where we go is ‘ours’ (even when an area is very mixed); this is about dominance, not sharing. That is before we even get into the conservative ‘Orange card’ nature of Orangeism.

Then there is the whole issue of flegs and emblems, a year round issue but particularly one in the summer, associated with the Twelfth. One person’s display of identity and allegiance is frequently another person’s intimidation. Marking territory in a divided society is naturally divisive. And remembrance of people killed and murdered is frequently done in a way which is also divisive, by all sides. The report on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT), a long time in the making has been with Stormont for a year and will not see the light of day until the NI Executive has dealt with it, and when that will be is uncertain. But the matter should be expedited and the report published as soon as possible after the Marching Season (Norn Iron’s fifth season, as in the words of Colum Sands’ song on the topic).

There is much that can be celebrated about Britishness and British culture or cultures. Many British social and political movements have been in the vanguard of progressive thought and change. There is also a huge amount of British culture – music, drama, other arts – which can be celebrated. The best of ‘British values’ are second to none. And none, or extremely little, of this would be divisive if celebrated. You have to recognise the Twelfth as a major cultural and political phenomenon but unfortunately the Twelfth of July is stuck in a divisive time warp. Of course many Prods want nothing to do with it but the attempt to rebrand the Twelfth and make it more inclusive is on a hiding to nothing. The basis of the Twelfth is division and ‘victory over’ others. There is no way this can become inclusive. (full stop)

There are of course many other aspects of the situation which I am not going into here. The feeling of having their backs to the wall is a real issue for many Protestants in the North; this feeds into their sense of betrayal and danger – and with a British prime minister like Boris Johnson continually lying to them it is a sense which is readily reinforced. The DUP miscalculating their strategy so badly has added to the angst. And old habits and beliefs die hard. Prejudice and intolerance are not the preserve of some Northern Protestants, that goes with the territory being divided, but there are particular manifestations of it on different sides (including middle class liberal prejudice, I would add)..

The Twelfth of July is a great spectacle. Unfortunately it is a divisive and exclusionary spectacle and if it represents ‘Protestant and unionist’ culture – one argument used for it – that also does not instil either admiration or respect beyond the fact that a lot of people have expended a lot of effort, time and money in it, colourful and quaint as it may be. And in a way, you cannot not be impressed in some form, it is bound to make an impression on you, whatever that is. It speaks to the converted. It says something entirely different to the unconverted who look beyond the spectacle to the meaning behind it.

The colourful nature of grey

There is probably no greater insult than to call something, or someone, ‘old and grey’. The expression ‘a grey day’ summons up images of the worst of Irish weather, at any time of year, when dampness and cloudiness congeal into a feeling that everything is dull and lifeless. Grey may be a favoured decorative colour for walls and tiles at the moment but planners often permit grey superstructures on buildings which were ugly even before this superstructure was placed there, a sort of ghostly and unwelcome presence on top.

But, I am here to defend grey. Without grey days, would you enjoy sunshine so much? [Eh, yes, probably – Ed]

On a foggy or misty day in the countryside you can peer into the distance and imagine Tír na nÓg is just there, only slightly beyond reach, and let your imagination take over. Reality is no longer visible so you can rearrange everything to your satisfaction.

Looking at distant mountain ranges on a grey day you can savour the variety of greys, whether ‘fifty shades of grey’ or more.

And, particularly in a summer misty twilight, at dawn or evening dusk, there can be a period which is neither ‘light’ nor ‘dark’, neither day nor night, it is, in a sense, another realm entirely. This is not necessarily a scary twilight but certainly a mysterious one, again one where you can unleash your imagination.

The anatomy of grey, grey’s anatomy, can be a fascinating pursuit. In an Irish summer you may have plenty of opportunity to do so……. In summary though, you might conclude that that an overall assessment of the colour grey is……well, a bit grey……


Probably nothing gives me so much pleasure in the garden as the first courgettes coming on stream in early summer. Planting at the right time in the right sized pots, planting out at the right time in composted soil, protecting from the wind (and any possible frost) and slugs and snails when small, and removing the cloche covering at the right time, all play a role in getting the courgettes to produce. By a mixture of good luck and good management I got it just right this year and was rewarded with the first courgettes a week before the end of June.

Over the summer we will certainly have a go at a large number of courgette recipes. And if one or two grow too large to use as courgettes, well, they can grow on as marrows, to marrow is another day, and after decorating the kitchen for a time they will serve as a reminder of summer in the autumn or winter until eventually they succumb to being served in a stew or casserole. Courgettes are not of course the veg with the most distinguished taste but they are pleasant and versatile.

I’m not going to give you any full courgette recipes here but favourites include a courgette bake with two layers of sauteed courgette with another layer of tomato and onion in between, with breadcrumbs on top, and grated courgettes in savoury gram flower pancakes with rosemary (courgettes can go in cake too to make it moist). Sauted courgette as a plain veg of course appears frequently. They can also be parboiled and used in salads And in warm weather they produce at a very rapid rate which means there are ones to give away, and that is always good too.


When is midsummer? The so-called ‘longest day’, ‘day’ in this phase being ‘day’ as in ‘daylight’ as opposed to ‘night’? In which case it is now downhill all the way… Or somewhere in July and August based on a period of warmer weather? To be pedantic, in places with daylight saving, where the clock goes forward an hour in spring and back an hour coming into winter, the longest ‘day’, with 25 hours, is the day the clock changes in autumn.

Of course meteorological and common understandings do not naturally agree. Folk traditions are another thing again; St Brigid’s Day on 1st February may traditionally mark the start of spring in Ireland but it’s usually very much winter. And the four seasons in a day nature of Irish weather does not make for easy delineations of seasons. Climate change/heating also muddies the waters (figuratively and literally with more flooding).

We are now past ‘the longest day’ on 21st/22nd June and the cycle inexorably continues. The rain is warmer in an Irish summer and it all helps the garden or window box to grow, though it has been quite dry recently.

I wish you a summery summer and not a summary one, and I hope you get a good break from routine to relax. See you in September,

– Billy

Ireland – Island of Peace

Ireland – Island of Peace 

1 July 2021 – Time 5PM (Irish Time) 


Noel Dorr, Former Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations and Former Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs 

John Maguire, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University College Cork and  Board Member of Action from Ireland (Afri) 

Shona Bell, Programme Manager – Sectarianism, Corrymeela 

 David Mitchell, Assistant Professor in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation,  School of Religion, Trinity College Dublin  

Lisa Clark, Co-President of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and the IPB Representative to the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates 

Chaired by 

Iain Atack, Assistant Professor, Peace Studies, School of Religion,  Trinity College Dublin  

The history of the island of Ireland, which suffered colonisation, conflict, famine and mass migration, resonates in many countries affected by protracted conflict, and yet signals hope that a peace process is possible. The ongoing position of Irish neutrality, commitment to international peacekeeping, and the current role as a member of the UN Security Council, also contribute to the potential for Ireland to be put forward as an island of peace. However, there are significant internal and external challenges for the island to reach this potential. This ISE at 50 webinar, ‘Ireland – Island of Peace, explores the challenges and opportunities for Ireland to become an island of peace. In the roundtable webinar, chaired by Iain Atack (Trinity College Dublin), we are fortunate to be able to draw on the depth of wisdom and range of expertise embodied in our contributors: Noel Dorr (Former Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations and Former Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs); John Maguire (Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University College Cork and Board Member of Action from Ireland); Shona Bell (Programme Manager – Sectarianism, Corrymeela); David Mitchell (Assistant Professor in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, School of Religion, Trinity College Dublin); and Lisa Clark (Co-President of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and the IPB Representative to the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates). 

This webinar, ‘Ireland – Island of Peace’ is part of the webinar series to celebrate the Irish School of Ecumenics – ISE at 50. The ISE was founded in 1970 by Fr. Michael Hurley, with a vision of a place where people from diverse backgrounds and disciplinary perspectives could explore the meaning and possibilities of peace and reconciliation together. The ISE continues to uphold Fr. Hurley’s vision as an academic institute in Trinity College Dublin. 

For more information or go to where you can also register for this event.


Nonviolent News 290

How Raytheon got kicked out of Derry

Raytheon left Derry in 2010 with their tail between their legs after a local campaign to rid the city of this arms company. They had consistently denied they were involved in arms related work in their Derry office – and they were consistently lying through their teeth. An online seminar at 7.30pm on Wednesday 16th June will look at what took place in terms of the campaign to oust Raytheon, and lessons for arms campaigning elsewhere. “Derry’s response to the international arms trade – FEIC off!” is organised by the network on the arms trade in Ireland. The speakers were all centrally involved in the campaign: Jim Keys of Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign (FEIC); Eamon McCann of the Derry Anti-War Coalition (DAWC), involved in the Raytheon 9 occupation; and Goretti Horgan of the Derry Anti-War Coalition, involved with all 3 occupations. The platform will be Zoom and to book to receive the link, or for queries, contact INNATE Flyer attached for the e-mail edition of Nonviolent News

l The next business session of the network on the arms trade in Ireland is at 7.30pm on Tuesday 8th June – if you’d like to join in the session then e-mail to receive the link.

Corrymeela: Moving from Violence to Peace (and ‘good to go’)

A detailed but fairly short report “Moving from violence to peace” produced by an international working group from Corrymeela and the University of Ohio’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies looks at transitioning from violence to peace; “While the character of violence might differ, from paramilitarism and criminal gangs to civil war and genocide, societies moving toward peace share similar challenges. As such, the lessons gleaned from one context are informative for others…[and] several overlapping themes emerged.” The report can be found via the Corrymeela website at

l Meanwhile their report “Crossing Borders: Brexit & The Book of Ruth” looking at issues of migration, belonging, community and stereotyping can be downloaded at

l It has been a tough time for everyone over the last year and a bit but when you run a meeting place where people can’t meet….well, that has been hard. Corrymeela have now reopened their Ballycastle Centre to groups and have been awarded the industry standard ‘We’re Good to Go’, which means groups can have confidence that they are implementing all the latest public health guidance to keep them safe. Contact or phone +44 (0)28 2076 2626

CAJ welcomes Ballymurphy inquest findings

CAJ/Committee on the Administration of Justice has welcomed the inquest verdicts and findings into the deaths of ten people killed at Ballymurphy between 9 and 11 August 1971. CAJ states: ”The findings of Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan have vindicated them. It was held that each of the victims was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, and no valid justification was provided for soldiers opening fire. The Coroner found that there was a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (right to life) as the shooting occurred without the minimisation of risk. The Coroner also found that the original investigations were shockingly inadequate, and the state failed in its obligations to properly investigate these deaths under Article 2 ECHR.” They go on to state this case demonstrates the vital role of an independent investigation in compliance with Article 2 ECHR; “something which many victims in our society are entitled to but are still being denied.” which has a link to the summary inquest findings.

The right to protest

ICCL/Irish Council for Civil Liberties have pointed out that in mid-May the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign had to cancel a pandemic-safe rally planned for Saturday after gardaí told them they could be prosecuted for organising a protest. ICCL have pointed out that protest is a fundamental right and reiterated its long-standing call for an end to the extreme restrictions on protest: “Government and gardaí are duty-bound to facilitate peaceful protest. They must clarify how people can make their voices heard safely.“ See and for more on their monitoring of rights during the pandemic.

Afri Famine Walk session

This is the second year that Afri’s May Famine Walk has been online. The video of the session, including a very useful look at An Gorta Mór by Prof Christine Kinealy, can be found at Also included is music and poetry, and reflections by Rose Kelly. Afri’s goal is the promotion of global justice and peace, and the reduction of poverty; this includes, but is not limited to, the progressive reduction of global militarisation, and responding to the threat of climate change, corporate control of resources and water, and interference with food sovereignty.

St Patriky: New chapel opens in Belarus

The first ever Eastern Orthodox church named in honour of St Patrick has been blessed and officially opened on the grounds of Vesnova Children’s Institution, where CCI/Chernobyl Children international, in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection in Mogilev, is leading pioneering work on de-institutionalisation to ensure that institutional care in Belarus will no longer be necessary and to enable children to live a free and independent life. The miniature, timber framed, gold domed, Church of St Patrick was funded by the Belarusian Orthodox Church, and was dedicated to “St Patrick”, or “St Patriky, the Enlightener of Ireland”, as he is known in the Orthodox tradition, as a tribute to the work of Irish donors and volunteers for the past 25 years in transforming the lives of the children and young adults who reside in Vesnova. Chernobyl Children International is a non-profit, international development, medical, and humanitarian organisation that works with children, families and communities that continue to be affected by the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

Open letter from Mairead Maguire to Presidents Biden & Putin

In late April, Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire sent an open letter to Presidents Biden and Putin, some of which is quoted here. The full letter is available on the Peace People website at “…..I write to you both as World Leaders to ask for your advice and help in these challenging times. I would like to know what I can do, together with my friends, to help avert a Third World War, and prevent further suffering and death for millions for my brothers and sisters around the world.…….Having visited Russia and the USA and having met your peoples, I know they are good, who feel love for each other and humanity. I, believe your people are not, nor do they wish to be, enemies. For myself, I have no enemies only brothers and sisters. Yes, there is fear and anxiety about difference, but this should not divide and separate us, the human family………The artificial enmity between Russia and the USA has gone on too long already, and the world asks you to end this by becoming friends and peacemakers not only for your own people, but for the entire world, especially the children, who deserve your help to survive violence, hunger, pandemics, wars, climate changes…. The war games being practised in Europe are dangerous because something may happen that will trigger a war as evidenced by the two last World wars. We the Peoples of the World, do not want war, we want peace and disarmament, to feed the hungry and provide a better life for all children…….Please, President Putin and President Biden: Make peace not war, start to disarm and give the world some hope…..”

PCI: Young artists invited to contribute on nuclear weapons

As part of its work on nuclear disarmament, Pax Christi International is inviting young people to contribute in a creative way to efforts to finally getting rid of nuclear weapons…..the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force on 22 January 2021. People aged 15 to 35 years old are invited to create a video, animated graphic, or motion graphic or create a non-moving digital artwork (graphic, photography, etc) to express in a creative way why it would be important for countries to join the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Details at Deadline: 15th July.

Global gender gap widens significantly

The times scale needed to close the gender equality gap has increased by 36 years in just 12 months according to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report unveiled by the World Economic Forum. While the 2020 report showed that 99.5 years were needed to do away with gender disparities, the 2021 report now puts this figure at an average of 135.6 years. The regress, which is believed to have been triggered by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, is the first registered since the earliest issue of the report in 2006. Covering data from 156 countries, the Global Gender Gap Report follows gender-related progress over time among four key dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. See Source: Centre for Global Education E-Bulletin for May 2021,

European arms trade: Answering the difficult questions

A video is available at on discussing how people can answer the difficult questions about the arms trade when talking to European policymakers, arms traders, colleagues, neighbours, or family members. It is from an April event organised by QCEA/Quaker Council for European Affairs, ENAAT/European Network Against the Arms Trade and Stop Fuelling War.

l A new 40 page report from QCEA on “Climate, peace and human rights – Are European policies coherent?” is available at you can find the QCEA periodical ‘Around Europe’ on their home page.

Mahatma Gandhi – Dying for freedom

This 42 minute Deutsche Welle documentary on Mohandas Gandhi is available at detailing some of his life and work including his opposition to sectarianism and violence but also why he was assassinated, and his ongoing legacy.

Local ownership in peace processes

On 22nd June, Principles for Peace and Peace Direct invite local activists, changemakers, organisers, healers, and peacebuilders to a one-day conversation on ‘Local Ownership in Peace Processes.’ This will be the first in a series of consultations on the issue. They state “…most of the world’s major violent conflicts are not being resolved, and close to half of all conflicts between 1989 and 2018 have recurred despite political settlements……Local ownership, and leadership are acknowledged as crucial to peace, but most peace processes continue to be externally designed, forcing locals into implementing roles instead of being in charge of their design and planning. Ambitious UN initiatives such as the Sustaining Peace agenda have demonstrated a global political will to change this, but they have thus far failed to establish new good practice for conducting effective peace processes.” Using Platform4Dialogue, this will discuss how local actors conceive of local ownership in peace processes.; it will also consider how to better structure, sequence and build more inclusive peace processes, ensuring that they are genuinely designed and led by local actors. Register at See also and

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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Eco-Awareness, NN 290

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Invisible Economy

Lessenich calls this a ‘generalised desire for knowing nothing.’

(The Imperial Mode of Living, Ulrich Brand & Markus Wissen, 2021, p.145)

If we mentally removed ourselves from the imperatives, routines and interests that absorb our time we might, in our absence from the theatre of life, see that the fabric of society, every cell and fibre of it, is sustained by a complex network of relationships we are not normally aware of. It is not only that our attention is so focused on living within the perimeters of our circumstances that we are ignorant of them but that the institutions that shape our society, the large corporations, powerful financial institutions and government, prefer that we remain so.

These relationships are environmental and economic. When we put an item into our shopping basket, one out of 3,000 different products many supermarkets have on display, it is extremely unlikely that we will know its life story. Our decision on whether to buy a product or not is based on our familiarity with it, the design of the packaging, quantity and price.

If the product is one we have never used before we will probably read the label to see if it will do the job we intend it for. Most labels list the product’s main ingredients, many of which will be completely meaningless to us. We can buy the item regardless or use the internet to learn about the ingredients. This, however, is time consuming and will only take us so far. There are 5,000 natural minerals and 170,000 synthetic ones. If any of the latter are in the desired product the company, wanting to protect its commercial interests, will have revealed little. If in doubt ask Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia to give you the list of ingredients in its drinks.

What companies most certainly don’t want you to know is the impact its products have on the environment in the course of their life-cycle and the remuneration the workers receive during each stage of their manufacture. The company though will have employed creative minds to lead you astray with uplifting visuals of the natural world assigned to the product you are thinking of buying, evocative and memorable catch-phrases about its health benefits and various capabilities. To discover the truth of these will involve more research.

If all is good you still can’t buy the product with a clear conscience as the company, even if it abides by the highest ethical standards, may use the profits to support products that are not produced in an ethical way. The truth is most of the things we buy have, during their life story, a negative environmental impact. The question is on learning of these, and the low wages paid to the workers who made it, are we prepared to do without. Many people take this option even though it can be a challenge.

Take the case of palm oil, an ingredient in over 50 percent of consumer products including margarine, breakfast cereal, chocolate, biscuits, shampoos, tooth paste and soap. It is also used as a biofuel for motor vehicles and power stations. The plant is mainly grown in Indonesia and Malaysia where tens of thousands of square miles of rainforest have been set alight and turned to ash in order to provide land to grow the crop. Millions of sentient creatures in the forests will have been killed by the fire and smoke including pollinating insects, orangutans and tigers. The indigenous people will have been expelled to live as paupers in a culture they were not socialised to survive and thrive in.

The 2016 report by Amnesty International ‘The Great Palm Oil Scandal’ found that in one of the plantations it surveyed the workers were not paid enough to meet their basic needs and that there were serious human rights abuses. These, the report says:

included forced labour and child labour, gender discrimination, as well as exploitative and dangerous working practices that put the health of workers at risk. The abuses identified were not isolated incidents but due to systemic business practices.

The ill-treatment of the workers on the palm oil plantations and the destruction wrent on the environment, in what can only be called ecocide, applies to the production of many of the products we in the high income countries consume without a second thought. These include tea, coffee, cocoa beans, cotton, bananas, and rubber as well as many types of clothing and electronic items.

The Guardian, 13 May 2021, used its centre-fold pages to highlight the environmental destruction and dangerous working conditions of people working in the informal gold mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Cobalt, another mineral of global importance that mostly originates from the DRC, is used in electronic devices that many consider as essential to their life as a set of healthy lungs These include mobile phones, laptops, digital TVs and smart speakers. Cobalt is a vital component in the batteries used in electric vehicles and other technologies which it is vainly hoped will reduce the emission of global warming gasses to the point we can continue our orgy of consumption with environmental impunity.

The out-of-sight human and environmental relationships that bind the global economy together need to be made visible. We have to release ourselves from the “generalised desire for knowing nothing”. Otherwise we will continue to act as if the terrible harms we do to sustain our way of life don’t exist. Not only can this situation last for much longer, as all the indices of biodegradation indicate, but in “knowing nothing” we are bad ancestors as well as our own worst enemy.

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 290

Art and Peace series

In the space between –

an interview with Viviana Fiorentino

Viviana Fiorentino is a teacher, writer, poet and activist. She is Italian and lives in Belfast. She published in international webzines, journals and in anthologies (Dedalus Press, 2019; Salmon, 2020); In Italy, a poetry collection (Controluna Press) and a novel (Transeuropa Publishing House).

She co-founded two activist poetry initiatives ‘Sky, you are too big’, a celebration on international migrants day which combines poetry and music from migrant artists living in Northern Ireland Letters with wings’ (founded on Poetry Day Ireland 2020) is a poetry campaign in support of artists in prison that collected 727 poetic letters to be sent to artists in prison for their art and/for defending their freedom of speech and human rights. ‘Letter with wings’ as part of the ‘Imagine Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics’ in 2021, organised “When art meets activism”, an online event dedicated to the women artists Chimengul Awut (award-winning Uyghur poet) and Nûdem Durak (Kurdish origin folk musician and political prisoner in Turkey).

She is on the editorial staff of Le Ortique, a blog and an initiative that voices and rediscovers forgotten women artists.

She facilitates the creative writing and photography project “Same/Difference” (Quotidian – Word of the Street Ltd – exploring themes like identity, belonging, diversity and peacebuilding.

She was interviewed by Stefania Gualberti.

Stefania: How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and activism?

Viviana: The truth is “I don’t know”, exactly. If I look back at my background and experiences which led to my involvement in art, it comes to my mind all the times that I walked back and forward, that I changed my path, all the times I questioned my perspective, interrogated my way of living. My background is made of this: lots of intertwined paths. These doubts and questions led me to my involvement in art.

My first path was to study Natural Science and Biology. The connection to nature and the environment around me was for sure very important for both my involvement with art and activism. My art is a way for me to connect with the world around me, with the nature and the environment. Activism for me is living as communities which means to connect with the world around us, nature. Nature is made of human beings as well. Sometimes we perceive nature as non-human animals and plants, but nature is the whole environment, including us and all the millions of interactions between ‘we’ animals and organisms. If we take care of nature, we take care of ourselves too, this is a form of activism.

My background is also influenced by the fact that I travelled a lot in Europe. I was born in Italy and after secondary school I left the country and l went back to Italy and left again when I was 28. I lived in Switzerland, in Germany, in England, back in Germany and finally in Northern Ireland. These changes in ground and languages gave me the opportunity to shift my point of view many times. I think a revolution of the point of view is at the base of art. When you create art, you have to look at the world around you, or anything that is ‘the other’, from a different, new, perspective. To express it you need to be outside for a moment, in a space which is in between. This space allows you to create something new.

Stefania: What do you feel is special about art to challenge, connect and transform?

Viviana: Every day we listen to thousands of words, from the radio, the media, from the people around us as we receive the news from the world. In a way we become anaesthetized, we lose contact with words, we forget the meaning of words. Art, writing in my case, put these words back in a new context. That way we have a kind of revelation again from the words. This is the challenge. The art has a transformative quality. As we get this revelation, we finally see the new meanings of the words, from which we were anaesthetized, we have the possibility to transform our feelings of rage, despair, sorrow into something new, into something that can be beautiful through the act of creating.

Stefania: How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?

Viviana: There are two sides: one side is the power of transformation of collecting your experiences and reshaping them. The other side, the healing process, is not in the art itself but in the connection that art offers us. We create art to communicate with “the other”. For example, when I write a poem, at the end, I create a connection with another person. The healing is there whenever I reach somebody else. It can be just one single person, it can be in the future, it doesn’t matter. This connection, this possibility we have, is a flow of love.

I am not sure that art can be healing for the person who is creating it, it might sometimes, for me the healing happens in the moment the artist and the receiver connect. When you as an artist reach someone and when someone is reached by the art. The healing is not in the art but in the connection thanks to the art.

I think sometimes creating can be energetically tiring as you have to put together your fragmented pieces and you have to recollect your experiences that maybe traumatized you, so it can be a problem of re-suffering. In that moment of recollection the artist does a leap: you leave your specific individuality, your ‘ego’, for making that experiences universal. Before reaching the page, there is a process of growing, so to say, for you as artist. Somehow you are you look at yourself from outside.

This moment when you are in between space, in this outside space, is when you look at your life, and say, look that was me, but now it is an experience for everyone – you want in fact talk to many others – it becomes a universal perspective. It’s the growing of a new possibility, like a seed, you see you can grow from there. You can move forward from that experience. So, at the end, I can heal from that experience thanks to the other person that I imagine will receive my art. Art is art if it is universal, if it has something that can speak to others.

Stefania, you also asked me about the collective levels. In this sense, art can be a glue, because of its power of universality we can stick together. We can find a collective voice, in a poem, in a painting, so we can imagine something together.

Stefania: How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as ‘writers’ or ‘poets’? How can poetry be accessible to everybody given that it is sometimes seen as the most pretentious of the arts?

Viviana: It is a challenging question because the inaccessibility of poetry comes, I think, from an old way of talking or reading poetry in education. Because of its nature, most poetry can talk to everyone, and it is largely accessible, it depends on how we read it. What is a poem? It is something written on a piece of paper. It is like a stone, it does not speak by itself; we need to give it a voice. How is the stone made? Maybe it is sedimented with water, but where does it come from? The same questions can be asked for a poem.

In a poem, what are the meanings of the words? What are the sediments that made it? What is the poem saying to us? Doing that, we give the poem a voice and doing so we recognise a part of ourselves in there. Looking for the voices inside us and bringing them to the surface is a way to say, Look, that is what I understood, what do you think? This question is poetry.

Each art has its own tools and techniques you need to learn if you want to be a professional, but the kernel is this voice which is inside of everyone.

Stefania: How has your bilingual and migration experience facilitated your engagement in this area?

Viviana: In Northern Ireland in particular, there is a movement from the reality which was true 30 years ago of a net division between two different groups. Now there is a wealth of different cultures which still needs to be recognized by the society. Each migrant here has this beautiful great possibility to be a bridge for those people who think they are still divided. People who have more than one language, more than one culture, can be a present for Northern Ireland.

Stefania: In your years of experience is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

Viviana: There are two main projects that are part of my art and heart. One is Same/difference devised by Quotidian artists Maria McManus, Nandi Jola, Bernarde Lynn and I. It is a series of creative writing and photography workshops. The project has been implemented for the first time in Portadown supported by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council  through Peace IV funds. It was then followed by further implementations of the project with two further series. It examines the concept of identity, belonging, home, diversity and peace-building, through creative writing and expressive abilities and explores the lived – experience of migration.

The common thread is to see ourselves with the eyes of the others, being in dialogue with the others, understating my own story and listening to the others’. The groups we worked with actually represent Northern Ireland’s society today, diverse.

Letters with wings was born last year (2020) during the first lockdown when the feeling of constraint in our house was a good opportunity to emotionally connect with artists and people who all over the world were imprisoned for fighting for human rights or for defending freedom of expression. We asked the public to send on social media artistic letters to address to the artists who were imprisoned. We collected more than 700 letters and we are in the process of sending these letters. The letters can be read in our website ( It was fantastic, we had a great engagement as people felt the necessity to reach out to the artists who were imprisoned. It was a community project, which was the strength of it, to do something together, to imagine a possibility all together.

I would love to finish up this interview with a poem that actually inspired many of the projects I talked during this interview. I initially wrote it in Italian then Maria McManus and I worked together toward a translation in English. Please take it as a way to thank you for this opportunity.

I – Landing


Sky, you are too big;

Persian Blue –

I cannot know you.


Instead, I call on you, Land;

give me a place to put my feet,

a home for my uncertainty,

a place to doubt.


A place to live.

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