Tag Archives: Arms trade

Billy King: Rites Again, 318

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

As I have proclaimed oft times before, April is on average the driest month in Ireland so, after some wet weather recently – including some wetting through on our bi-cyles – perhaps we can hope that the month lives up to its norm. But four seasons in a day is also an Irish reality. Anyway, that is the weather dealt with (obligatory in discussion in this land of ours) and so on with My Thoughts for the Month [I hope they are not wet through too – Ed].

Not out of arms’ way

The people of Gaza are, tragically, the recipients of the products of the arms trade. And profits for the arms companies are BOOMING, literally and figuratively, due to the war in Ukraine and uncertainty in the Middle East with the Israeli war on Gaza. The arms trade is many things including astronomically expensive, corrupt (news was coming in during the last month on British bribes for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, something which is not even the tip of the iceberg) and wasteful – money spent on arms is money that cannot go on human security and wellbeing.

Congratulations to the activists on Gaza and Palestine who have joined up the dots and organised protests at Thales in Castlereagh, Belfast, https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53546068897/in/dateposted/ and Spirit AeroSystems in the docks area of Belfast. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53602899095/in/dateposted/ There has also been an Irish Anti-War Movement meeting in Dublin on “The Gaza genocide and the arms trade”. The west has its bloody hands involved in the war in Gaza in a variety of ways.

In 2023 Irish ‘dual use’ exports (which can be used for military or civilian purposes) to Israel were worth €70 million, an exponential increase – how much of this was due to the Irish government’s promotion of dual use production is unclear – and, ahem, severely conflicts with Ireland standing up (or at least crouching up) for Palestine and against the obliteration of Gaza. The arms trade has consequences, something which Simon Coveney and company seem to have blatantly ignored.

Thales seems to have been going on a charm offensive, e.g. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/uk-world/production-at-weapons-plant-doubles-amid-war-in-ukraine/a933017996.html and

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2024/mar/26/im-not-profiting-from-misery-im-averting-more-thaless-uk-boss-on-making-missiles-for-ukraine?CMP=share_btn_url Of course what Thales is not so keen to state is that they were supplying parts for Russian tanks and planes until a western embargo in 2014 so they are probably still helping the Russian war effort, and they have worked closely with major Israeli arms company Elbit on drones, a key weapon used by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza. The bottom line for arms companies is profit.

We would of course dispute most of what Thales’ personnel have to say. Thales UK CEO proclaiming how good a deterrent ‘his’ weapons are is nonsense, we don’t know whether they have had any deterrent effect whatsoever, they certainly didn’t stop war in Ukraine. Thales’ Belfast weaponry includes Starstreak, Lightweight Multi-role Missile (LMM) systems as well as assembly of NLAWs (a kind of bazooka if you want to know). The Guardian reports that “Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine in February 2022, the group’s shares have gained more than 80%, its value has swelled to €33bn and its order book has reached a record high, at €45bn.” It’s definitely an ill wind.

The Thales CEO is also quoted as saying “It’s a peculiarly British thing that we uphold our armed forces, but simultaneously despise the industry that produces things that will protect them or make them more effective.” No it’s not and that is a militarist assumption. But in any case challenging militarism means challenging all aspects of it.

Thales Belfast production has doubled since before the 2022 Ukraine and yer man says it will double again (the UK sent lots of weaponry to Ukraine and are also restocking themselves). He also said that the Belfast plant was “its best kept secret” during the Troubles in the North; no it wasn’t, not to peace activists anyway, it was always the biggest bomb factory in Belfast. Why kill a few people in Northern Ireland when you can kill far more abroad?

Wheely good, a spokesperson said……

A survey of five metropolitan areas in the Republic https://www.irishtimes.com/environment/climate-crisis/2024/03/05/walking-and-cycling-take-680000-cars-off-road-daily-in-states-five-largest-cities/ could be considered relatively optimistic for self-propelled travel, cycling, walking and so on. This study estimates a saving of some 160,00 tonnes of greenhouse gases. For more info see also https://www.nationaltransport.ie/planning-and-investment/transport-investment/active-travel-investment-programme/walking-and-cycling-index/

This survey showed walking, cycling and wheeling (using wheeled mobility aids such as wheelchairs or strollers) took 680k cars off the road in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Shannon-Limerick and Waterford. While a modest 15% of people cycle weekly, one in two residents want to do more cycling or walking. More than half of people in these areas walk five days a week or more. And there is a high level of support for increased government funding on cycling and walking – much higher than support for increased spending on motoring.

The fact that more men cycle than women probably has a number of reasons, one perhaps being being the higher involvement of women in childcare (though modern cycle options can include a variety of child seats and attachments) but also gender-based safety issues. The way to get more people cycling is of course to provide more dedicated and safe cycling routes – and the more people out and about on bikes, the more others will want to do it too. Dividing cycling lanes from pedestrians is also essential, not least to avoid recrimination between those who are self-propelled and should be allies.

While some Irish cities are hilly in places – Cork and Derry come to mind – the advent of ebikes can also help to make for a more level playing field, so to speak, though I much prefer the plain old push bike for normal usage.

Ireland, North and Republic, has a long road to travel to make cycling the default option for short distance travel, and much more of an option for medium or longer distances. But this has to be achievable both for ecological and health reasons, and through providing safe spaces to cycle. It has recently come to light that serious accidents to cyclists are far higher than Garda figures indicate, particularly for children (by a factor of six). Scary.

Nevertheless two wheels good….. https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ and go to “Cycling……[CW]”

Not a wind up

It is amazing how we can set challenges to ourselves to do this or that, achieve that or this, fulfil some sort of bucket or non-bucket list. I was engaging in the unfashionable task of looking through the CDs in my favourite Oxfam shop when I stumbled across an audio box set of Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”, still unused and sealed, for £2. CDs are, if course, not zeitgeisty now, call me old fashioned [Yes….. – Ed] but I like them and, as with vinyl, they will return to be fashionable at some stage (unspecified).

26 hours of audio, the box proclaimed, in 21 CDs. I’m not sure where it came from within me but I immediately pronounced to the the person on the till right beside the CDs, and the shop manager who was nearby, that I accepted the challenge (….actually set by me) to listen to the whole thing. 26 miles is the length of a marathon. There are 26 counties in the Republic. There are only 24 hours in a whole day. But 26 hours of listening? What was I thinking, and I knew nothing about the book.

Well, well, well, I won’t divulge the most dramatic happenings to the main protagonist Toru Okada in the book and this is not a review as such. Spoiler alert, early on in the book my companion in listening thought it was unsurprising that Toru’s wife left him, so passive was he to things that happened to him (at that stage). But things change and get more mystical and fantastical.

It is not a humorous book as such, and there are passages depicting extreme violence, but I did laugh out loud at some of Murakami’s descriptions (the English translation is excellent, done by the author himself, and the reading by Rupert Degas likewise). The situations described range from the mundane to the truly bizarre and mystical. I don’t think “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles” is intended as a wind up, to use an English language idiom (and different sense of the term), but it can certainly feel like that at times.

But to return to challenges. We all benefit from setting challenges, whether it is some kind of bucket list or one off tasks or goals which we set ourselves to achieve. This applies in the socio-political realm as much as in our ordinary lives. If we don’t continually push ourselves to try and do new things and explore new horizons (by horizons I mean ‘at home’ and not as a tourist where, as the saying goes, it is possible that ‘travel broadens the arse’) then we can stultify in our routines. I am a creature of routine, I enjoy the routine, so I am talking primarily to myself here.

However next time I see a 26 hour audio book for sale in a charity shop I might just leave it on the shelf. I have done that particular challenge.

That’s me for now. May Day, May Day or thereabouts will see the next instalment in my perverse [oh, are you going to take to poetry? – Ed] take on the universe [more poetry? – Ed], until then, Billy.

PS in reply to the Ed, above, it may not be known that I am an accomplished poet, in fact I wrote an epic poem years ago having seen the poet Padraic Fiacc (he died in 2019) in my local supermarket. My poem includes the memorable lines:

I saw a poet shopping in Dunnes

I presume for bread, and not for puns.

Meanwhile I await my No Bells Prize for Litterature (sic).

However, I admit I cannot write as profound and sublime poetry as deceased Irish citizen Spike Milligan who penned the immortal lines:

Said the general of the army

I think that war is barmy’,

So he threw away his gun,

Now he’s having much more fun.

Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Mapping violence, oppression and war

For me, the carefully crafted artwork of Tom Weld https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157711237159086 brilliantly captures the randomness of oppression and war. By that I don’t mean that the causes are random, no, they are very definite, but that the victims, bloodied, beaten, killed, terrified, possibly starving, made homeless and turned into refugees, may be ‘others’ but they didn’t do anything to deserve that treatment, and if it is ‘them’ today it could be ‘us’ or ‘you’ tomorrow. In that sense the victims are random, anybody and everybody.

Tom Weld’s maps are fictional but for me encapsulate the essence in thinking of victory and territory, not people, they represent inhumanity personified, if that is not a contradiction in terms; perhaps you could say they illustrate what happens when we think only of a cause, our ‘just’ cause, and not of the people affected by war and oppression.

They could have been made for Ukraine and the current war. Do have a look at the link above.

Christianity and contemporary culture

A few decades back, Ireland was very definitely a ‘Christian’ country in its overall ethos. Given the dominance of Catholicism, and to some extent the Catholic church, in the Republic, this enabled Northern unionists and loyalists to talk about the state south-and-west of the border as ‘priest-ridden’ (though it should also be pointed out that only one part of Ireland had a Christian minister and church leader who was also a party political leader – Ian Paisley). In some cases, as in the ‘Mother and baby’ scheme of 1951 there was more than a hint of truth in these allegations, it was glaringly obvious. But situations varied enormously.

However if anyone tried to say today that the Republic was priest-ridden they would be laughed out of court. The only political party where there is an ongoing tussle which is religion-related is arguably the DUP where Poots is of the ‘Free Presbyterian’ very conservative evangelical strand and Donaldson of a more secular but still conservative variety of unionism.

Of course if you looked more closely there were always people of secular, non-denominational or even anti-clerical views. Going back in time some such views would have been hidden or partly hidden. Secularisation and sex and child abuse scandals, particularly involving Catholic clergy, have drastically changed the reality of this aspect of life, particularly in the Republic. The incoming of people from elsewhere to the North has been a very positive factor in moving ever so slightly away from concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’ meaning Catholics and Protestants but unfortunately that division is still very real even if it is a cultural-political division of which religious background or community is an indicator.

What has been interesting to see for me recently is the reaction of some progressive people, North and South of the border, to the Downpatrick Declaration https://www.downpatrickdeclaration.com/ This was intentionally written not as a Christian document but calling on the cultural relevance of Downpatrick and the three Christian saints associated with it, Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille and their relationship to peace. It was backed at its launch by Afri, INNATE and StoP/Swords to Ploughshares.

The interesting reaction from the people I am referring to is in seeing it as a ‘Christian’ document because it refers to a Christian context. The Declaration is available to sign on the website but the people concerned felt they couldn’t sign it because of its Christian connotations, that it was a ‘Christian’ document not open to non-Christians.

So does it come across as a Christian document to you? Is it latently, de facto Christian? If so, how could it have been done differently? Would it have meant giving up the reference to Downpatrick and its interred saints? It raises interesting questions about religious, cultural and secular identity and about inclusivity – and individual sensitivities. I hasten to add that by ‘sensitivities’ I am not saying that the people concerned are being too sensitive, they may well be correct in their assessment.

However it does raise questions about how we relate, if we relate at all, to the ‘Christian’ heritage of Ireland, good, bad and indifferent. And, if we are able, to take pride in the ‘good’ parts of that heritage without feeling compromised. But this is all work in progress.

Proudly made in Belfast

Thales arms company (Castlereagh, Belfast, part of a French owned multinational) was proudly basking in the news that their shoulder mounted missiles, a type of bazooka, developed jointly by UK and Sweden, may have been partly instrumental in stopping the Russian column of tanks and armoured vehicles coming towards Kyiv in the Russian war on Ukraine. It is named ‘NLAW’, “Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapons”. What Thales wasn’t quite so keen to publicise, but INNATE did at their St Patrick’s Day demonstration, was that Thales weapons were fighting on both sides. Thales’ Damocles weapons targetting system is in Russian military planes, and they also have two types of thermal imaging/heat-detecting cameras (which may pinpoint humans) in Russian tanks.

Isn’t it wonderful when you can make a profit from both sides. See e.g. https://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/Thales-Key-Role-in-Russias-Defense-Industry-04994/ and https://disclose.ngo/en/article/war-in-ukraine-how-france-delivered-weapons-to-russia-until-2020 The first of these refers to a quote from 2008 that ““Few Western companies can boast of the same experience of broad and productive cooperation with Russian aerospace and defense enterprises as the Thales Group of France.”

Thales’ the arms company is pronounced ‘Talis’ (they say, rhyming with ‘Alice’) whereas the ancient Greek guy Thales that the firm is named after, regarded as a founder of western science, can be pronounced ‘Thay-lees’. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/2899262954/in/album-72177720297420924/ portrays the contradiction in the arms company’s name.

Oh, and here is what that NLAW bazooka does: “The weapon can either be fired directly at a tank or just over the top where the armour is weakest. The missile can discharge an armour penetrating, superheated copper cone down into the tank as it passes overhead. This melts through the armour, “splattering” around the inside and setting off any explosives. The shockwave and shrapnel will kill any crew……” What a wonderful use of Belfast engineering skill! https://www.newsletter.co.uk/business/ni-built-missiles-may-have-halted-40-mile-long-russian-convoy-3594143

Thales is also corrupt – a fact that the media in Ireland have been reluctant to state because of their fear of libel laws. However it is well established. Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s trial for corruption involving Thales resumes in April. A former financial advisor to him when vice-president was convicted of taking bribes from Thales but pardoned by Zuma when he came to be president. Thales have also been implicated in major, and very shady, corruption cases in Malaysia and Taiwan; details are given in Andrew Feinstein’s “The Shadow World: Inside the global arms trade”, pages 509-510 in my Penguin edition (you can check the index anyway). The Malaysian incident also involved the murder of a translator for the illegal deal after he threatened to spill the beans.

Thales in Belfast is now developing laser/energy field weapons for the Ministry of Defence in London so that the enemy can be fried, well, there may be no oil used so ‘fried’ may not be strictly speaking true but you know what I mean.

Thus we can report that the Northern Ireland war process is indeed progressing and that profits are well up. A peace process? What’s that?

Well, we had a beautifully warm week or ten days there when it might have been a fine Irish summer (notice the lowering of expectations there). Now we are back to the norm for the time of year. I am always sad to see the daffodils go, perhaps more than any other flower, because their departure signals the end of the pleasant longing for spring and into the reality. I wish you well for the coming month and I’ll see you again very soon, Billy.