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 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.

– – – – –

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.

– – – – – –

Billy King, NN 290

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Those Quakers

The review in the last issue on Quaker international conciliation got me thinking of a relatable story (I’ll relate it to you and you can then see if you relate to it). It’s not about conciliation, I’m not sure what you’d call it, possibly direct action peacemaking. Veteran English Quaker activist Will Warren came to live and work for peace in Derry in the early years of the recent Troubles. The story was about that he could stop a riot by walking right into the middle of it, perhaps nobody wanting to harm this venerable Quaker. However the late great English peace activist Howard Clark told the story of visiting Will in Derry when he, Will, decided to do just that, walk into a riot, accompanied by Howard. Howard said it made absolutely no difference to the riot and he was never as scared in his life……you might say he was positively quaking… this case there was a Will but no way.

Past peace activism

Isn’t that an amazing entry in the INNATE Flickr/photo site of the 1839 anti-recruiting leaflet? If there is one thing we learn about the past, surely it is that people were just like us even if their circumstances were very different. It is difficult to imagine yourself into 1839 Dublin and the context in which this was produced [But there go, or went, the Quakers again – Ed] and arguing from a pragmatic basis against joining the military was, is, probably quite effective.

The cat-’o-nine-tails may not exist for soldiers any more but I have personally witnessed offending squaddies being exhaustion-punished – not pleasant. And “orders is orders” is not a good place to be either, nor being moved about the place on someone else’s whim. That is altogether aside from the jobs soldiers are tasked to do. I do think the peace movement could do more on the anti-recruitment front.

Not pootering about

Clearly new DUP leader Edwin Poots doesn’t believe in footering or even pootering about the place. He had his campaign for the leadership ready to go and launched within a day of Arlene Foster announcing she was hanging up her First Minister boots. And all in the year when he had already had a cancer operation. Clearly he wasn’t born yesterday even if he does believe the earth is only a few thousand years old.

Poots’ ‘young earth’ creationist views have received a lot of comment. Me, I am with the Dalai Lama when he said in relation to his Buddhist beliefs that if science proved Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism would have to change. I take that instruction in relation to my own religious/philosophical/political beliefs. But looking at it ‘from outside’, how is Poots’ creationist views any different to, say, someone who believes in horoscopes (horrorscopes?) – and there are plenty of them – and that planets and stars directly influence our lives aside from being part of the fabric of the cosmos we inhabit?

Anyway, we will see how pragmatic Edwin Poots is in his new role soon enough, his problem is not in expressing opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol but in finding an alternative that everyone is willing to go with.. Unless of course Britain gives the EU an even more Frost-y reception and unilaterally dumps more of it – and you wouldn’t put that past them. Personally I reckon if Britain showed the maximum cooperation they might get the same back again so that much of the red tape could disappear. But the EU needs to pull out the stops too if they don’t want to be back at Ground Zero of no agreement. But you have to laugh at Lord Frost criticising the EU for disturbing the Good Friday Agreement when it was Brexit that first did just that, at least putting a rocket under the general status quo, and a hard Brexit leading to hard questions and hard resolutions

But a final word on Poots. ‘Blessed are those who expect little for they shall not be disappointed’ might be an appropriate saying. But sometimes the ‘strong’, seemingly intransigent leader (think Poots’ predecessor and party founder Ian Paisley) can take people places that someone without that reputation couldn’t. But that is the exception, unfortunately, and Ian Paisley only changed over to the bright side in the twilight of his career.. A Belfast Telegraph poll showed most DUP voters would have preferred Jeffrey Donaldson, and with the DUP on 16% and the Sinners on 25%, plus ructions in the party, there is a mighty big hill to climb before the Assembly election next year for the DUP to retain the position of First Minister through being the largest party. And we thus might have to see what existential angst a Sinn Féin First Minister in the North would inflict on loyalists. And in the, perhaps unlikely but not impossible, scenario of Alliance coming second in the polls (not designated as unionist or nationalist under the GFA assembly arrangements) what does that do to democracy if then the third largest party actually take the spoils of Deputy First Minister?

A united Ireland – in NATO?

There are a thousand and one questions to be answered about the future of this island irrespective of whether the border stays (and where would we be without it – as Kevin McAleer has put it, it’s the best border in the world, it unites the whole country…). If Northern Ireland remains part of the UK but ‘unionists’ of a traditional sort are no longer in a majority, what does that mean? For politics in the North, for North-South cooperation, for unionist self-esteem and self perceptions? Or indeed for ‘nationalists’ who don’t actually vote for a united Ireland? There are lots of intriguing questions, aside altogether from current Brexit and NI Protocol issues

However I am not sure how many who are not staunch and conservative unionists would agree with the News Letter’s opinion of 4/5/21 that “Far from being a failure on its centenary, Northern Ireland has been a resounding success” – which it was, ahem, somewhat short in detailing; the best it could do is “Support for things such as our magnificent sporting teams — notably the Northern Ireland Women’s team recently — and our ambassadors and achievers and business leaders and famous faces will not go away. Nor for the towns and countryside and the local spirit that make the place — which is why growing numbers of people identify as Northern Irish.” The last point is certainly true though, and if justice and equality became the hallmarks of Norn Iron then a united Ireland could be a hard sell

And what are the people of the Republic willing to forgo to bring about a united Ireland? Are they willing to bear higher taxes to support the North in the style to which it has been accustomed? A relatively recent poll raised questions about that issue. And how do you compare standards of living and wellbeing given different welfare and healthcare systems? Though in the longevity stakes it looks like those south-and-west of the border are doing relatively well compared to those north-and-east of it. “Irish reunification would cause a financial shock in the Republic, requiring either a major hike in taxes or a significant reduction in public spending, according to Trinity College Dublin economist John FitzGerald” said The Irish Times on 4/5/21 – though others have dissected current subsidies to the North and not come to as stark a conclusion.

A free at point of delivery healthcare system is still almost a complete chimera in the Republic while in the North the NHS remains extremely popular despite all the cuts and queues associated with it. On many levels of welfare the Republic has for some time overtaken the UK system but supporting another couple of million in the North raises all those questions of affordability and sustainability. Like I say, there are a thousand and one questions and very few answers or potential answers as yet.

However a letter in The Irish Times raised another issue which is at the back of some of our minds [I don’t know what is at the back of your mind but I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near it…..Ed] On 7/5/21 they published a letter from a retired colonel (presumably in the Irish army)- asking would people in the North be prepared “to leave the security and protection afforded by Nato membership, to join up with an underfunded, militarily neutral Ireland? Conversely, would the people in the South join Nato as the price for a united Ireland?” Leaving aside the distinctly biassed language the questions are phrased in, these are good questions.

But let’s rephrase the questions with a peace orientation. Are people prepared to sell out and join the US and European military empire? Are they prepared to leave the security and protection of being a neutral country to join a rich-world war and war-making machine which wastes huge resources in the process, could drag Ireland into wars it wants nothing to do with, and when there are all sorts of pressing needs to be met? And are people in the North that paranoid that they insist on the whole island of Ireland being in such a military machine? The answer, my friends, is blowing in your hands. [Is this an oblique reference to Dob Bylan and his 80th ‘bidet’? – Ed] [Well guessed – “how many times must the cannonballs fly / before they’re forever banned”, “and how many deaths will it take till he knows / That too many people have died?”]

Well, June is upon us but certainly it has not been anything like summer until very recently. April was dry, May wet, and neither warm like last year. But whatever about the weather I hope the political temperature doesn’t shoot up too much in the North over the July-ing Season. However I hope you are able to get out and about into the countryside or parkside when you can – the effervescent green in the foliage of May or June, with the sun shining on it and through it, makes you very glad to be alive. We have been monitoring nesting swans along the Belfast-Lisburn Lagan canal to see the emergent cygnet-ture tunes, and you can’t beat the emergence of new life for a sense of joie de vivre. Or indeed the vibrant blue flash of a kingfisher. See you soon, Billy.

Nonviolent News 289

Afri virtual Famine Walk event

For the second year running, because of Covid, Afri is unable to organise its Doolough-Louisburgh Famine Walk, commemorating the people who died on a real famine walk there in 1849 and looking at links to issues today. However there will be talks, music and poetry on Saturday 15th May from 7pm – 8.30pm in A celebration of land, life, freedom and solidarity.’ Those participating include Blanca Blanco (Resource Rights Advisor with Trócaire), Rose Kelly (Teacher, Activist and member of Beyond Extractivism on the Island of Ireland), Professor Christine Kinealy (Author of ‘This Great Calamity’ and Director of the Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University), Poet Paula Meehan, Harpist Brídín and the MC will be Ruairí McKiernan (host of Love and Courage podcast and author of Hitching for Hope). Details and booking at and the Afri website is at

Conflict transformation event with Gobnait’s House

From Self to Community: Deepening Connections through Conflict Transformation” is a course running from 17th May to 21st June; sessions will be two hours in length and will be held weekly online. The fee is €300 Euros with half-scholarship available to those who are underemployed or unemployed. This training is designed for mediation professionals and practitioners as well as those interested in an introduction to this field and designed for those who want to add new skills to their tool-kit, and, in particular, core communication, leadership and relationship skills. Gobnait’s House has been created by four women working in peacebuilding, mediation, conflict transformation, and healing from across the world though the geographical base is Limerick. The input on this course will be from Catherine Ali and Susan Hartley; the other members of Insight for Social Change/Gobnait’s House are Debi Parush and Aura Hammer. See and e-mail

CAJ: Good Friday commitments, Covid Conversations

A new paper from CAJ/Committee on the Administration of Justice maps the status of the principal commitments relating to human rights (including equality) made as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent agreements that have emerged during the peace process in Northern Ireland. Many of these rights-based commitments still remain unimplemented more than twenty years later and the paper provides detailed and important updates to previous mapping; see

CAJ’s analysis of the legality of Covid vaccination/immunity ‘passports’ can be found at

The Equality Coalition, along with the Transitional Justice Institute and Human Rights Consortium, organised a series of webinars examining a wide variety of human rights issues brought into sharp focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. Videos of these are now available at

ICCL on Covid, passports

ICCL/The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has continued to be active on a variety of Covid-19 issues. They state “ICCL has been telling government that vaccine passports should not be used domestically – that establishing a two-tier society, especially when the vaccine is not yet readily available, is a violation of civil liberties.
….. at the Fianna Fail parliamentary party meet
ing [at the end of April], the Taoiseach agreed with us and he ruled out their domestic use based on our campaign.”

Irish coroners system not fit for purpose, rights of bereaved

ICCL, with Professor Phil Scraton and Gillian McNaull, has conducted research that showed Ireland’s system of investigating death is inadequate and can compound and even aggravate the suffering of loved ones. Root-and-branch reform was demanded by an independent Working Group in 2000. Twenty-one years later, those reforms have still not been implemented. This failure on the part of successive governments means grieving families are side-lined, marginalised, and left out in the cold as they wait to find answers. A briefing can be found at along with a link to the full report of over eighty pages.

Afri: New Global Citizenship education resources

Afri recently launched new global citizenship education resources – you can watch the launch event at This includes three publications designed to support secondary school teachers and other educators to deepen global citizenship education within their classrooms and schools:

1) The Web of Life: Biodiversity, Interconnectivity and An Gorta Mór, written by Nicola Winters and edited by Joe Murray and Dervla King has lesson plans containing a wide-ranging series of workshops on themes relating to biodiversity and interconnectivity with a particular reference to the critical lessons to be learned from An Gorta Mór. The Web of Life presents cross-curricular opportunities in a whole variety of subjects.

2) “Interdependence Day! Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals through Drama for All Ages” is written by Pete Mullineaux. It can be used by teachers at both primary and post-primary level, offering eight projects that are relevant and appropriate to all ages, from children as young as four through to older teenagers. The overarching aim is to encourage a whole-school approach to Global Citizenship Education.

3) “Pleananna ceachta le húsáid taobh le hacmhainní de chuid maidir leis an Oideachas Forbartha” consists of lesson plans in Irish built around three resources previously written for Afri’s Development Education programme: “Exploring Global Issues Through Drama and Theatre”; “Pathways of Peace” and ”Lessons from History.”. Compiled by Miriam Barragry with translation by Mark Doris.

All three are available for download at and they are available as printed copies at €5 each, plus p&p, from Afri. and e-mail

21 Years Too Late Show: Direct Provision

21 Years Too Late Show – Exploring the End of Direct Provision”, organised by MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) and Amnesty International, was an online event at the end of April, available to view at MASI is at and Amnesty at

Information and analysis from Doras, Limerick, on direct provision can be found at

CGE: Climate strikes and public activism

The three quarter of an hour video on this topic from an Imagine! Festival event organised by the Centre for Global Education/CGE can be seen at It involves activists Kaitlyn Laverty, Anna Kernahan, Lynda Sullivan (FOE-NI) and chaired by Stephen McCloskey of CGE. CGE is at

Eco-Congregation Ireland

Eco-Congregation Ireland/ECI encourages Christian churches of all denominations to take an eco approach to worship, lifestyle, property and finance management, community outreach and contact with the developing world. It produces a regular newsletter, which you can subscribe to, and its annual report is available on their website; it offers resources and support to churches. See

WRI: International CO’s Day

Every year on 15th May, the International Conscientious Objection Day, WRI/War Resisters’ International organises solidarity with conscientious objectors (COs) and draws attention to their resistance to war. This year there is a particular focus on Turkey – working closely with the Conscientious Objection Association – Turkey (VR-DER). In Turkey, there are thousands of COs who refuse to perform compulsory military service. The right to conscientious objection to military service isn’t recognised and anyone refusing compulsory military service faces lifetime persecution, including continuous arrest warrants and repeated prosecutions amounting to “civil death” – a term being used to describe their exclusion from social, cultural and economic life. More information at

World Beyond War drones campaign

World Beyond War has launched an international campaign against killer drones, BanKillerDrones – to ban weaponized drones and military and police drone surveillance. They state “This comes at the moment when the Biden Administration is reportedly looking to increase U.S. drone killing and drone surveillance as key to retaining some level of colonial control in Afghanistan, under the guise of countering Al Qaeda, as U.S. troops are removed.” See

The UK-based Drone Wars UK – whose director Chris Cole spoke at a recent arms trade network meeting in Ireland – is at

Aloha national security for Hawai’i

What brings security? Not guns or big guns, that is for sure. A very useful paper on Hawai’i by Pōkā Laenui

in Transcend Media Service may contain some useful lessons for a different island, on the edge of Europe, which also sees itself as a place of welcome (even if the reality for many newcomers may not be quite that). Cèad míle fáilte?

Peace Direct: Pioneering Peace – digital inclusion

In the Covid era, organising for peace online has become a necessity. Peace Direct was involved with other groups in a collaboration entitled Shift Power for Peace working to support peacebuilders internationally, including making small grants – most applications were from Africa. A 40 page report is available at

The state of the world’s human rights

The Amnesty International Report 2020/21 documents the human rights situation in 149 countries in 2020, as well as providing global and regional analysis. It presents Amnesty lnternational’s concerns and calls for action to governments and others, at a time when Covid rocked the world and threw inequalities into start relief. See

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 Nonviolent News is produced in e-mail and web editions and usually a shorter paper edition – however not currently due to Covid (missing paper issues will be produced in due course). The deadline for the June issue, which will appear early, is 27th May. 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.

Editorial, NN 289

Political identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eco-Awareness, NN 289

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Religion and salvation

Although it is widely thought by the inhabitants of these islands that we live in a secular society this would not wash with a first time visitor from a distant country if they had listened to the radio, watched TV and read the newspapers these past few weeks. A fair amount of time was devoted by the mainstream media to the Easter celebrations, and to a lesser extent to Ramadan. The lament of Christian leaders over the Covid-19 closure of their churches received considerable media attention. In addition to covering religious festivals and giving airtime and print space to the debate of such issues as the teaching of religion in schools the traditional media, RTE 1, Radio 4 and Radio Ulster for instance, have a stable of religious programmes.

Our visitor would certainly not have missed the confluence of religion and militarism at the funeral of Prince Philip. This entwinement of military and religious symbols is on display in many a Protestant church. Examples are St Ann’s Cathedral, Belfast and St Macartan’s Cathedral, Enniskillen where an impressive amount of space is given to remembering British soldiers who died in various wars. Needless to say the people killed by these same soldiers are not mentioned, probably because they were regarded as non-entities, impediments to British sovereignty and profit. One will also observe that in some Protestant churches homage to British regiments is on par with the homage paid to saints in Catholic churches.

The pairing of religion and militarisms is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. What of the Christian ethic of not living by the sword? If abided by, air planes, ships and submarines designed to carry nuclear weapons whose sole purpose is to kill people by the million, utterly destroy material culture and decimate the nonhuman world would not be blessed in the name of the very same God held to have created life.

In Ireland, if not in other parts of our archipelago, our visitor would likely by struck by the degree of religious thought that runs like a stream through everyday conversations. In spite of the prevalence of religion in everyday life there is a marked lack of appreciation of the role it could play in affecting positive social change especially in regard to the need for us to realign our relationship with nonhuman nature.

If religion was more concerned with universal wellbeing than of trying to ensure that people go to Heaven then all the money, energy, time and administrative know-how that goes into running a religion, and adhering to the do’s and don’ts, would be channelled into eradicating poverty, assisting the needy and healing our dying biosphere. In other words the religious would be devoted to securing the salvation of all living things.

In fact if religions abided by their golden rule of love your neighbour as yourself their adherents would not destroy the handiwork of God in the first place and there would be little if any structural poverty. The retort to this might be that humans by their nature commit sin – which is to say cause harm. This does not hold. What does is that people care more about the earthly delights of a meat based diet, using a private car in a city well served by public transport, and taking regular flights than the health of the biosphere.

Barring the exception of religiously minded individuals who defy orthodoxy in compassionate and socially creative ways, the main function of religion is to provide a sense of existential comfort and security by shoring up the normal as sanctioned by the state and endorsed by society at large rather than as an agency of wholesale positive change. The “mother and baby homes” in Ireland and the forced schooling of Aboriginal children in Australia are a testimony to this as is institutionalised racism in the Church of England as recently documented by Panorama on BBC 1. It does not have to be this way. Religions could learn from liberation theology as practised by some parishes in South America.

The term liberation theology was coined by Gustavo Gutiérrez in his book A Theology of Liberation (1971). Gutiérrez encapsulated what he thought the focus of organized religion should be with the phrase “preferential option of the poor”. By this he meant that God has a preference for those considered to be outsiders and insignificant, the marginalized, vulnerable, and the poor. Gutiérrez emphasised praxis over doctrine. Fifty years on some of the mainstream religions have developed a theology of the environment underpinned by praxis. The best known text in this field is perhaps that of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si; On Care for Our Common Home.

The Covid-19 mantra that no one is safe until everyone is safe should apply to the religious promise of salvation. In effect this means we are obliged to do what we can to save all life forms from extinction and protect the ecosystems we dwell in and are part of. This, without doubt, would be one of the cardinal messages of Jesus Christ, Muhammad and other religious figures if they breathed toxic air, saw the scattering of plastic waste, were aware of the plummeting loss of biodiversity as well as experienced extreme weather conditions that scientists link to climate breakdown.

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Readings in Nonviolence, NN 289

Art and peace series

Moving from injustice to generating alternatives:

An interview with Rita Duffy

Interviewer: Stefania Gualberti

Rita Duffy was born in 1959 and is a Northern Ireland artist. She describes herself as a pacifist and feminist. Her installations and projects often highlight socio-political issues and some of her work is in the permanent collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Imperial War Museum in London. Rita Duffy will have a new website available soon at

1. How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and peacebuilding?

I grew up in Stranmillis, right beside the Ulster Museum. The Ulster Museum became our playground at the weekend. It was a privileged situation to have that in proximity. We went to the Botanic Gardens because our house was a Victorian terrace and that was an escape to greenery and when it rained, we went to the Ulster Museum and slide on polished floors. I would look at the paintings so that was something very guiding and important for a child who was obviously taken with the visual.

My father was from Belfast, my mother was from county Offaly. I didn’t really feel I belonged. I didn’t realize I came from Belfast until I was about 12. The pull of my mother’s people, she had six sisters, was so great, so it became inevitable to start making art, painting, about what was going on around me. It didn’t satisfy me that in art school the conversation was about shades of yellow, concepts, it seemed really bad and poorly argued philosophy, so I made a conscious decision to make work that was on what was around me.

What was going on around me was a battle in the city of Belfast that was a microcosm of what was going on in every conflict area across the planet, so it seemed to me an appropriate place to start. Something that I knew, something that had been formative, certainly the topic of conversation in our household. I went to St Dominic’s Grammar School for Girls on the Falls Road through the ‘70s and that was a very important time. We were safe, I was removed from it every evening. I was questioning my identity, who I was, a young woman and all that seemed to be an inevitable necessary conversation within myself and as a result within my work.

2. What do you feel is special about art to build peace?

I think art is a spiritual force I have come to realize. I have identified art as a spiritual force. Susan Sontag said that first. There is something incredibly powerful about art that stops human beings collapsing into barbarity. I am not talking about middle class, I am talking about stuff that really moves you, how creative thinking, artistic thinking, how artists think provides alternatives. There is a reason why artists, poets, writers, musicians are the first people locked in prison by regimes, because they draw attention to the necessary. It is not about some dislocated discussion about some philosophical concepts. It is about an urgency; it is about a passionate response. It is about drawing attention to injustice, it is about creating a space that encourage people to think and to act, and to respond and to be unsettled.

3. How can art help to transform conflict and connect people?

I suppose it is up to people to engage with art in terms of connecting people and transforming conflict. I have seen projects that are very effective and passionate about bringing people together. I think the fact that art takes place in a space apart from your area or my area, we go somewhere else. We go to a theatre, we go to a cinema, we go to a concert hall or we go to an art exhibition. That gives the opportunity for that third space, where we can argue, where we can allow ourselves to become confused, where we can then create something fresh out of that confusion. And I think transforming the battlefield into something else is what we have done many times. We had to rebuild, rethink, reconstruct and that means potentially there is space for fresh thinking.

4. How do you overcome the barriers in groups especially people who would not consider themselves as “artistic”?

Quite often people would say things like “I can’t draw to save my life” but you try taking people onto a journey where they enjoy and are challenged but they are not put into an excruciating place, because then what they will produce is excruciating. I think it is the artist’s job as a leader to have some sense on what you are working with, and what and how that might work in terms of their involvement into the art project.

You need to be really quite well tuned-in and informed on what, where, how, what your budget is and what are the possibilities. Then you have to take it and do a creative jump with it. If people find they resist too much, they don’t have to be involved, they can do something else, or find another project that suits them better. You don’t cater to the lowest common denominator you try to inspire people and you lead them. You are not finger painting, you are communicating, you are explaining why you are doing this, why this is necessary, and you can always find a place for people, find a way to engage people, even in the most basic situations, even doing a simple task, they feel like they have contributed. You are not being led by the group the artist has to lead.

Too much community art is about process. But if you want to do a fingerpainting exercise where everyone puts their input don’t expect to find something interesting art wise and don’t pretend there is something interesting visually either. You can find methodologies to engage people: like photography is a fantastic way, because everyone can take a photograph, it doesn’t take any skill to take a photograph, and occasionally you get really lucky. I always believe there is magic if you are genuinely trying to really engage with people and there is stuff you can’t plan for! That’s the stuff to go after and to recognize when it appears. As an artist you need to have a vision, if these people are not interested in painting, find another way, if they are very talkative, maybe you should have a writer on board, or they love to sing… you have to work with what is there and you have to suss out what’s possible.

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

I don’t know, I am an artist and I trust what I do. There is a level of trust, I don’t measure what I do, I don’t go back to examine, I don’t think. But I do know there is a sense that something has changed even if it’s a molecule of an individual’s psyche. They might not even get that straight away, but it might come back to them in different ways later on. I am interested in art, really, and I think it’s up to everybody to decide whether they were going to switch off the TV and listen to that symphony or be content and watch somebody playing darts. It’s their personal choices involved here. Sometimes people are at different stages of their life and sometimes they are more open to the possibility of transformation, sometimes not.

6. You are one of the best-known artists in Northern Ireland, indeed Ireland. How has this affected your art, if at all?

It’s funny, it either really works really well for you or really badly. In the North sometimes I would experience the attitude “Who do you think you are? I’ll bring you down a level or two”, so there is that aspect. But more times than not, you would get, “We will be delighted to work with you”, it gets a little bit easier to get your foot in the door.

7. How do your pacifism and feminism interact, and do you feel they are equally represented in your art?

I am politically interested. It is not something I think about. It is a subliminal thing. I am very interested in feminism; politics and I am very interested in pacifism. I am also interested in contemporary politics and what is going on around. I listen, I engage, and sometimes I come up with an image that is a response to that. Watching the Trump presidency unravel was something that I thought had a global resonance, that populism, I wanted to do something about that, so I made a list of drawings and a recent painting because it affects us and what was going on in North America, has happened in Brazil, The Netherlands, London. I suppose it’s about what sparks your interest at any given moment. I am reading a wonderful book by an Egyptian feminist, Nawal El Saadawi. She trained as a medical doctor, she died recently. I am reading her writing at the moment, it is amazing, incredible stuff. I am continuing to soak in things, reading and looking and thinking and I am doing lots of writing myself at the moment.

8. 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?

I should talk to you about the project I was making at Quaker Cottage* (with Ann Patterson), a portrait of eight women. I was looking at the Ulster mythology, the curse of Macha. The story is all about tribalism, division and not showing compassion to women and children who bear the most suffering of conflict. That is the most amazing story and I went to Quaker Cottage with the idea of choosing one of the women as a sitter for the portrait of Macha. When I was there one of the women was having contractions. Unfortunately, she had conceived as a result of rape. Her partner had a barring order but because of where they were lived, the police couldn’t exercise the barring order, so he occasionally broke in and raped her. I was thinking that was the most horrific story and I was thinking from my comfortable middle-class existence in South Belfast, it really kind of opened my eyes, to what women were experiencing in Belfast.

If I had heard that about a crazy worn torn spot in Bosnia, I would have thought, yes that is believable, but that was Belfast, Belfast, 11 years ago. I thought we don’t reflect these narratives, these experiences. So, I ended up making an exhibition on the portraits of these eight women and I interviewed them, and I recorded their stories, and we called the project “House to house”. From Quaker Cottage you can see clearly across to Stormont. Also ‘house to house’ was how the army searched. At the time there was an argument going on the radio about whether they should be allowed to have Easter lilies or calla lilies because they had had orange lilies. These men in Stormont were arguing about floral decoration in the lobby at Stormont and meanwhile I had heard that story.

That’s an example of how things grow. There is an element of magic, that’s how things develop.

*Quaker Cottage, managed by Quaker Service, is a cross community family support centre which provides services for some of the disadvantaged areas of north and west Belfast.

– – – – –


Dining with diplomats,

praying with gunmen

Dining with diplomats, praying with gunmen:

Experiences of international conciliation for a new generation of peacemakers”

by Anne Bennett

Quaker Books, London, 2020, ISBN 978 199931 415 6 (also available as e-book), 162 pages. UK£10.00.

– Reviewed by Stefania Gualberti and Rob Fairmichael

Well, given that this is a book based on an internal Quaker process and there isn’t too much demand for international conciliators, what is the point in reviewing the book? Plenty, as we hope this review will reveal.

The first thing to say is that it is impossible to write the history of working for peace in Ireland, or indeed internationally, without mentioning the word ‘Quaker’ or Religious Society of Friends.

Conciliation is defined in the book as “the process of bringing people together and creating enough trust between them for them to talk constructively together. It usually involves the help of facilitators to encourage the parties to move to that point and to engage in dialogue to resolve the conflict that has divided them” (pages 2 and 22).

Anne Bennett tells the story on how the Quakers started to take up the role of international conciliators and how their quiet processes around the world have been successful over the years. They created a reputation based on their integrity and on their principles and values; building relationships of trust with people on both sides of the conflict, starting where they are; not taking sides but listening to all parties with the belief that if each person’s stories are not heard and acknowledged it is difficult to move forward; encouraging parties to explore options, nonviolent responses; working in building capacity of the local peace groups.

Nearly all those processes need to be done in strict confidentiality. Quakers, grounded by their spirituality and in the belief that “there is that of God in everyone”, have held the light of hope for peace even during violence. They trusted and have demonstrated that “peace processes begin with small groups and communities who can exert change amid divided societies” (page 42).

Conciliation isn’t the only show in town but as Andrew Tomlinson says, (page 96) “conciliation is part of an orchestra working for social change.” One particularly effective shout out in favour of conciliation is given by Diana Francis (page 84) where those who might not have listened to each other both listened and learnt.

Another question about the usefulness of this book for a more general audience is its transferability. Does the ‘international’ part of conciliation apply to national or local? And do the specifically Quaker parts apply to others? The first point here is that conflicts are now much more intra-national than international but the same approaches apply. ‘International’ or societal conflicts may be at a different level, and different cultural rules will likely apply in different situations, but these may be differences of scale and context rather than essence.

Some coverage is given to the fact that the Quaker name can provide an entry point, and we can say that cannot easily be replicated by non-Quakers who don’t have (or belong to an organisation with) a long and known track record of being fair and understanding to all sides. The ‘spiritual’ dimension of Quakerdom, however you might define it, also contributes to their acceptability. And the rules apply everywhere, e.g. “never saying one thing in one place and something else in another” (page 68).

But some other points are that Quakers are not infallible – the book mentions failures including in the mid-19th century over Schleswig-Holstein (pages 8-9), times change, and having a name to live up to can be hard work. Quandaries and dilemmas appear in any challenging aspect of life, including in relation to conciliation the balance between confidentiality and justice (pages 17 and 39), and the possibility of appearing to collude with evil in certain circumstances (page 78). Sue Williams is usefully quoted on ‘the purity dilemma’ (page 80). Quakers have a particular moral and spiritual code but it is not necessarily any easier for Quakers than anyone else to traverse this ground.

The book is very comprehensible and also very comprehensive for its length. There is only one point in the book where we feel something was left hanging. In outlining the different parts of a peace process (page 47), it outlines and defines peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. It simply states “Quaker activity is concentrated on two of the three stages: peacemaking and peacebuilding”. The definition of peacekeeping given includes that “It involves monitoring local activity and being ready to use force if necessary”. Is this a judgement that force is or may be necessary? Lethal or non-lethal? And, if considered necessary, left to others rather than Quakers with their peace testimony?

Of course it may have been felt that going off on this tangent, and it is a bit of a tangent since conciliation certainly does not involve force or violence, was introducing a red herring into things. However a few sentences on why Quakers pick two of these elements and not the ‘peacekeeping’ one could have been helpful.

There are significant Northern Ireland links to this book. Both the author, Anne Bennett, and Sue Williams who is quoted a few times, lived in the North aside from when they worked, at separate times, for Quaker House in Belfast. Another also quoted participant, Clem McCartney, and the illustrator, typesetter and participant Lynn Finnegan are from Northern Ireland. Lynn Finnegan’s intriguing and slightly enigmatic, but highly appropriate, illustrations turn the book into a beautiful work of art.

This is aside from the fact that Northern Ireland has also been the recipient of long term Quaker conciliation efforts; Micheál Martin has remarked before how much he learnt about Northern unionists and the situation through programme organised by Quaker House in Belfast. When you consider that as Taoiseach he is not rushing headlong down a (potentially slippery) slope to a unification referendum, this is worth bearing in mind. And positive outcomes may not be the ones worked for; Nigerian magnanimity towards the erstwhile breakaway Biafra, after the latter’s military defeat, may have been partly occasioned by Quaker conciliation efforts previously, and their work to overcome demonisation of the military enemy (page 71).

The book was a response to an intergenerational conference the Quaker held in Woodbrooke conference centre in September 2019 with the aim of bringing together experienced Quaker peacemakers and younger generations to capture the learnings, knowledge and experiences the Quakers gathered over the years and explore ways of applying them in a fast-changing world. Ways of operating internationally have changed and the limited resources for processes, which can take a long time, as well as having a more widespread presence of other groups and organisations working for peace, made the Quakers doubt if they should still invest in this area or adjust and use their skills and knowledge locally. The willingness and energy to continue international conciliation is there, alongside the need to widen the pool of conciliators to include young Quakers to be able to respond to requests of intervention promptly as they did in the past.

The conference tried to bring together experienced Quakers and younger ones, with their eagerness to get started and learn. They demanded answers on the “mystery” of the stories of what Quaker international conciliation was, bringing hope to continue to do a good and relevant work updated in today’s world. The poem that closes the book (page 139) speaks of those questions the younger Quakers put forward: should we stay or should we go? Give us practical theory and robust framework. How can we join? Is peace work only for privileged volunteers? The Quakers found themselves in a threshold and again (amongst uncertainty, fear, and frustration) chose dialogue and trust to move forward.

The guru was looking glum. One acolyte asked another what was wrong and received the answer “He has forgotten the secret of the universe again.” We all have to keep discovering and rediscovering meanings and realities. When it comes to conciliation, this book is a very worthwhile part of an understanding and it is great that it has been written up in such an approachable style.

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Billy King, NN 289

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello there, good to see you visiting this part of the world’s ‘social’ media, although you can also get antisocial media. In relation to another current phenomenon, the Zoom call, I previously advised anyone worn out by Zoom calls to join a specialist group – meeting on Zoom of course. More recently I advised a colleague complaining about said calls to get fit for them by doing Zoom-ba. [I wasn’t going to say you couldn’t make it up but clearly you just did – Ed]

Well, spring is springing by, I am always sad when the last of the daffodils/narcissi disappear from flowering (there can be ten days or more difference between us Nordies and where our haughty culture is at and those further south in the Free State – we will never forsake the freezing wasteland of Norn Iron for the land of milk and honey in an Irish Republic). Obviously snowdrops and crocuses are earlier but daffodils/narcissi are around for a while and their departure announce that the first call of spring is gone….

Mind you we do have honesty growing (and as I have told you before, honesty is the best policy) and that provides an explosion of mauve and white, I have both colours, when the daffodils have just been dead-headed.- they are great because they seem to come from nowhere to dominate the show for another little while. And April was a very dry month, if cool often enough, and lived up to being on average the driest month of the year in Ireland.

Press on

I have written before about how everyone is artistic – although some don’t realise it [and your name doesn’t have to be Art]. There are many, many ways that you can express your artistry about the home. One of the art forms that I use is making cards and pictures with pressed flowers. That’s deadly boring say some – Princess Grace of Monaco (formerly actress Grace Kelly) was into making dried/pressed flower pictures and I vaguely remember reading someone’s review of an exhibition she had and it indicated it was boring boring boring, the most deadly boring thing in the world.

It can be if you let it – though what I see of Princess Grace’s pressed flower pictures online are very competent pieces of art, and the review above probably said more about the reviewer than the reviewee. But if anyone uses what they have in small and innovative ways then it can be both beautiful and meaningful. Mainly I make pressed flower cards and a homemade card can be really appreciated. You can slip a pressed flower in with a note to someone. You can do ‘vases’ of flowers on card. You can do something really simple or something quite intricate. It is also a very inexpensive art form and it does not require ‘high art’ skills.

For pressing and drying flowers you can buy a flower press which has wingnuts to screw the whole thing down. I use what is not available any more but you could still search one out – a big old phone directory but any book with fairly absorbent (not glossy) paper will do (put more books on top to weight it down). You will have to experiment with what flowers and leaves you have access to that will ‘work’ in being pressed and dried. Gorse/furze/whins/aiteann has lovely yellow flowers – but when pressed they dry grey and horrible, for a negative example. Smaller flowers can work better than bigger but while you would not try to dry a whole tulip you can easily dry a tulip petal by itself. You will learn as you go along.

How long you need to leave leaves and flowers being pressed will vary – autumn leaves I might ‘leaf’ until the spring because there aren’t so many flowers to pick in the winter (though wilting Christmas cacti flowers can do well), others maybe for a couple of months. Many wild flowers and leaves will press. When they are dry I put them together in a folder on different loose A4 sheets of paper so I can easily look through.

You can buy ready-sized cards, if doing cards, in paper and art shops or, obviously, online, or you can cut your own. An A4 sheet of paper or card cut into two at the vertical half way will fold to make an A6 size card which is usually about right; a small paper guillotine is handy for getting edges straight and fast for cutting. One of the more successful pictures I have done is arranging pressed golden ferns which have not yet uncoiled onto ink marbled paper.

For sticking pressed flowers down I use PVA glue but you can experiment. Unless you are using something very strong like a muscular leaf you would not be able to use ‘hard’ glue sticks because the glue may rip the flower apart. I place the pressed flower onto kitchen roll, upside down to the way I want it to go, and then use a very small paintbrush to coat it lightly with glue. When stuck onto your card you can then use more, clean, kitchen roll to mop up any extraneous glue. I usually place something flat and relatively heavy onto a finished piece just for a minute or two to make sure everything is adhered – but don’t leave it on too long or the glue can stick to your object and pull your creation apart when you lift it.

I could go on and on with more info but that is enough. Even if you don’t get to making pictures or arrangements of dried flowers, and you are ‘pressed’ for time, you can make a pretty and evocative souvenir of somewhere just by slipping a flower into an absorbent book and leaving it, maybe with other books on top to weight it down.

May a thousand flowers bloom in your creations.

Using nuclear missiles to counter cyber attacks

No one is born with weird and violent ideas but some people adopt them readily because of how they see the world.. Take the UK government’s recent ‘defence’ review. This judged that Trident nuclear missiles could be used against cyber attacks. Yes, yes, we know cyber attacks can be extremely serious and could close down all sorts of systems necessary for society and its health and service sectors to operate. But nuking a country because some autocrat/plutocrat/dictator in power decided to launch a cyber attack on another country is, shall we say, a tad too revengeful for our liking. It is also completely stupid for so many reasons; killing innocent civilians, engendering revenge, lowering the threshold for nuclear war, being disproportionate….the list goes on. Nuclear weapons are also illegal in international law and those perpetrating such an act could be found guilty of crimes against humanity. And depending on what country was involved, or who its friends are, it is totally MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

The phrase about sledgehammers and nuts comes to mind but taking a sledgehammer to a nut would be extremely logical and moderate compared to this.

But that is what is coming from our nearest neighbours. See

Don’t forget your shovel

Staying with the same offshore European island, Britain, this piece is about Irish workers there and partly the Irish navvy who built the motorways and before that many of the railways and probably even some of the canals. And of course Irish nurses were a backbone of the British health system. The best known modern song about the Irish navvy is “Don’t forget your shovel” – “if you want to go to work”, which was Christy Moore’s first real hit (you can easily find it on YouTube). The song was originally written by Christie Hennessy though the other Christy adapted it a bit and certainly made it his own. It reflected a time when Irish migrants were pulling themselves up by their own working bootstraps.

Times have certainly changed in a couple of generations. The rightly much disparaged recent report on racism and racial disadvantage in Britain, by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (disparaged because it looks like it set out to give the answer the Tory government wanted), revealed that three ethnic groups earned more than the white British; Chinese migrants earned 23% more, Indians 15% more….and white Irish earned a whopping 41% more than white British. Of course there are exceptions to every rule (Irish Travellers being one) but the Irish there are now an ethnic elite as much as an ethnic minority. So “Don’t forget your shovelful of money if you want to go to work….”

Polls apart

Plenty regarding Norn Iron for you to get yer teeth into in recent opinion polls, one commissioned by the BBC, another by Queen’s University, and a third in the Belfast Telegraph. You can look up the main results (links below), I am just going to comment on a couple of features here. Norn Ironers are often accused of having heads in the sand but on some things sense shone through: in the BBC/Spotlight poll, 76% of those interviewed in the North agreed that violence could return. 55% of people in the North thought it would still be in the UK in 10 years time but 59% expected it to be linked with the Republic within 25 years. We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow but in terms of looking at the current situation and extrapolating from current trends, that is probably a fairly good assessment, it is probably as good an assessment as you could get.

Interestingly, 45% in the BBC poll thought NI’s centenary should not be celebrated with only 40% saying it should – though how people interpret ‘celebration’ is open to interpretation (more were in favour of a neutral marking of the centenary). I am not going to go into the prospects for a united Ireland here except to say it’s all to play for, whatever your political views on the North, and all figures have to be treated with caution. See and

Nothing barren at the Burren

Great – and beautiful – couple of programme on RTE recently on the Burren in Co Clare (“The Burren: Heart of Stone”, you may find it on the RTE player). The first programme took us through the seasons, and the counterintuitive grazing pattern which sustains the wonderful plants growing in the cracks in the limestone paving; the cattle are taken up to the high ground in the winter where eating the grass allows other plants, such as gentians and orchids, to flourish and flower in the summer. This pattern of grazing – moving to higher ground in winter – is a pattern contrary to almost anywhere else. The Burren is really and truly unique.

The second programme looked at human interaction with the Burren. It is, as you may know, a human-created landscape insofar as the denuding of the rock was occasioned by human activity. Fascinatingly, the first hunter-gatherers in Ireland after the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago, were dark skinned, blue eyed people; when farmers came about 6,000 years ago there was some inter-breeding but there is no trace of these hunter-gatherers in our DNA today, the programme informed us.

There was some astounding new information, to me anyhow, about the last Ice Age though; the fact that this information didn’t feature in what I saw of media coverage of the programmes I presume was to do with its interpretive nature. An expert on bones (Dr Ruth Carden of UCD) stated that there was evidence of human presence 18,000 – 33,000 years ago through butchery cuts on animals bones (reindeer) which indicated they had been cut by humans. Other animals around at that time would have included hares, red fox, wolves, brown bears, woolly mammoths, giant deer and reindeer. The end of the ice age and the shifting of glaciers profoundly affected the landscape, searing away evidence of any humans, yet here was someone showing a clear argument for human presence, from animal bones preserved in Burren caves, way way back into the Ice Age. Pretty amazing. It really was Hibernia (the land of winter, and perpetual winter) then but humans were there. Respect – and perspective.- not to mention wonder.

So we ourselves really are Johnny/Jeanie-come-latelys. All those mythical tales of different groups of people coming to this land, the Fir Bolg, Tuatha Dé Danann, and so on may actually reflect a certain reality about successive wanderers and settlers on this westernmost tip of Europe, as we fall into the Atlantic. And we were a part of mainland Europe before the ‘bridge’ to Britain disappeared (rather earlier than the Britain-to-now-mainland-Europe link was washed away) [So you’re not talking about Brexit here then?! – Ed]– which explains why Britain has rather more native mammals than Ireland since they had more time to migrate from the ‘mainland’.

Well, that’s my tour around for now, or should I say my shoverful. This year you may or may not get the vacation you want but I certainly hope you get the vaccination you want. See you soon, Billy.