Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
I always welcome the end of January with a noticeable lengthening in daylight, no, spring is not here but there is light at the end of the winter tunnel. And it’s time for me to do some more work in the garden, to get things a bit in order, including digging out all the scutch grass from the Welsh onions (perpetual scallions to you) which will necessitate digging out everything and replanting the Welsh onions when the weeds are, hopefully, cleared. Leave the garden until spring is sprung and for me, anyway, it is already too late to ‘take control’ – I use this term very much in inverted commas because I know I can only work with nature and I can never beat it.
It was good to see Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting Kildare in late January to support the Pause for Peace on St Brigid’s Day, 1st February. Is it too much to expect then that the Irish government will get its Paws off War preparation and its support for arms production then????????
As you probably know, the Good Friday Agreement isn’t the greatest deal for the North since unsliced wholemeal bread but has been an important agreement and move nonetheless. The DUP have never agreed to it per se and its implementation has been extremely patchy with the Assembly at Stormont ‘down’ nearly as much as it has been ‘up’. However a poll in the Tele (Belfast Telegraph) showed a majority of unionists would vote against it today https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/a-majority-of-unionists-would-vote-against-1998-good-friday-agreement-today/43633102.html Yus, we need something better in the North but the GFA has been an important staging post and it to be rejected by 54% of unionists (the category is unionists, not Prods) is scary; overall 64% support it. A clear arithmetic majority of people in Northern Ireland, 60%, felt the DUP should get back into Stormont straight away – but only 21% of unionists. We’ll have to see how the proto calls develop in the next few weeks when the EU and UK come out with their new protocols on the Norn Iron Protocol.
The phrase to be ‘beyond caring’ or ‘past caring’ indicates a certain amount of resignation and a lot of frustration and annoyance about whatever it is you are ‘past caring’ about. Use of the phrase actually usually denotes that the person does care, or certainly did until very very recently, but either tiredness or frustration have kicked in, big time, and the person concerned feels there is nothing more they can do. We have all been there.
But, to give the phrase a twist, ‘past caring’ can be ‘caring for the past’. I have written here before, some time ago, about the pain of being archivally minded – you can’t just throw things out that are of possible significance, like any normal human being, oh no, you have to try to find A Home for them. And that is usually a frustrating search because someone or some institution will take part of what you have, leaving you with a smaller amount of whatever it is and an even more difficult task to find A Home for those.
It has been an interesting task to be involved in going through the INNATE archives. Much has been added to the INNATE photo and documentation site as material was sorted and before going to PRONI (Public Record Office) or wherever. This current issue of Nonviolent News has a listing of resources from INNATE.
Past, present, future. Scientists and philosophers have no coherent theory of time. What we can gather however is that past, present and future are linked in very real and causal ways. We don’t need to be deterministic and believe in preordained realities but we do need to recognise how the past has set up the present and that is creating the future. And we need as true an understanding as possible of the past if we are to avoid self-justifying conceits such as that the Troubles in the North were ‘unavoidable’. They happened and we need to understand why. But to say they were ‘unavoidable’ is nonsense, history could have taken a different path. The tragedy is that there wasn’t a different path tank, and the necessity is to avoid travelling down a similar path in the future.
The death of Northern peace activist Brendan McAllister came as a shock – he was 66 and someone had asked me how he was doing only ten days before he died and I said I didn’t know but presumed he was busy with his work as a deacon (in the Catholic church) – he had just ‘qualified’ in February last in this new career or should I say calling. There are a number of photos of him on the INNATE photo website but my favourite is https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/7122164753/in/album-72157629555375796/ because, although not detailed of him and from the back it shows him in typical, contemplative stance in a less than contemplative situation and also represents the power of the individual. For those interested in such things, https://www.newrycathedralparish.org/2022/02/14/profile-deacon-brendan-mcallister/ gives a fascinating account of some of his faith journey to be a Catholic deacon.
I will tell you one other story. Around 1990 the political parties in Northern Ireland were still not talking to each other, and particularly not to Sinn Féin from the unionist side because of their unequivocal support for, and link with, the IRA. As a result when Pax Christi and others were running immersive/information programmes for people from outside Norn Iron about the situation they had a problem. How to have all political views represented in a panel discussion? So they developed a model using actors to represent individual political parties or positions, I became a Fianna Fáil TD for the duration (“I’m very glad you asked me that question” emanating from my mouth while in role I clearly writhed and objected strongly to being asked….). Brendan McAllister played the role of a middle class member of the Ulster Unionist Party who believed everything was fine before 1968 when civil righters and republicans came and stirred up trouble. It was quite fun but we did our best to represent faithfully our respective roles and it was a learning experience for the actors too, to talk – if not walk – in someone else’s shoes..
Anyway, one time this model for a panel discussion was being used there was quite a crowd and one attendee missed the introduction to say all roles in the panel were being taken by actors, and why this was so. They got up at the end during questions to demand to know why the poor Sinn Féin rep was being ostracised and ignored by the others……. All quite instructive really and also an indication that maybe us actors weren’t too bad.
But back specifically to Brendan McAllister; he was a peace activist and peace thinker, with Corrymeela and elsewhere including Pax Christi, long before he became the first director in 1992 of what is now Mediation Northern Ireland (it went through a few changes of name which I won’t go into here). Policies which he bravely undertook in that position included work on parade disputes (most likely to anger loyalists but also possibly republicans) and work with the police in relation to changing their culture and practice (this was way before the Patton report reforms and it was most likely to anger republicans). He subsequently held different victims commissioner roles among other international work.
I feel Brendan was always someone who tried, to his fullest extent, to be true to himself and to think strategically. He was small of stature but not small in spirit or in the contribution he made. He deserves to rest in peace and like many I will miss him and his quizzical but intelligent expression as he sought to understand what you were saying or your reaction to something he had said, and make sense of the ridiculousness of so much of what happens in the North.
The bould Prince Harry put quite a few cats among a lot of pigeons with his various revelations about British royal shenanigans in his memoir. [I hope you will ‘Spare‘ us too much detail – Ed.] However here I wanted to pick up on his comments on his work with the UK armed forces in Afghanistan, and now breaking the army (most armies) code of omerta in speaking about how many people he had killed. From a purely personal point of view, regarding his own security, he wasn’t very wise to say how many Taliban he reckoned he killed since it could trigger a violent reaction (it was 25, he reckoned) but it was very honest.
He was castigated by Norn Iron’s own (retired) Colonel Tim Collins for being so specific, and by him and others for letting down the military ‘family’. Tim Collins himself is known for a stirring militarist speech before the 2003 Iraq war and a number of questions emerged around that time about Tim Collins’ behaviour himself (see Guardian 22.05.03 and The Sun 21.05.03) although he was later cleared by the army. Collins said about Prince Harry “That’s not how you behave in the army; it’s not how we think. He has badly let the side down. We don’t do notches on the rifle butt. We never did.” What Collins says is true – but the reason is that to contemplate how many lives you have snuffed out is generally not conducive to doing the same thing again, i.e. such contemplation is going to make you a less effective soldier and killer in the future so from a militarist perspective it is better to just ‘forget about it’. And you might also have more nightmares if you count the notches.
But there is a point also about the military as ‘family’. If you have gone through the heat of battle, and lived closely beside other people, it is not surprising you feel your comrades in arms are ‘family’ but to me it is actually the antithesis of family – real family, whether blood relations or not, are not generally in the habit of killing and trying to avoid being killed. But to tell the truth about how many you killed? That is letting the side down because it doesn’t look great, does it. This is without it even being bragging about killing lots of people; it is about being specific about the results of being a soldier; killing is what you do in such a situation. It is cutting through the military mystique to tell the tragic truth about your actions – dead bodies, and that is true whether you feel such killing is justified or not. Such things need to be hidden in order to perpetuate the military system.
Using the phrase “chess pieces removed from the board”, as Prince Harry did for those killed, is actually quite an appropriate metaphor – in terms of military thinking – since, while it has moved beyond that, chess is in origin a ‘martial’ game. Those seeking to kill cannot think of the humanity of the enemy, doing so could either stop them in their tracks or give them severe PTSD and mental health problems. The British general who denied they thought in terms of chess pieces was seeking to give a benign but false take on the reality – troops are specifically trained to dehumanise the enemy so they can kill them. And with high tech weaponry, killing is increasingly akin to a video game, a modern version of, or alternative to, chess.
Modern armies try to give the impression of being caring, sharing organisations whereas the essential role, if it comes to the bit, is obeying orders and killing capacity. Meanwhile as Irish neutrality gets sold down the river, the Irish Army, with a proud role of military peacekeeping abroad for many decades, risks becoming simply another unit in the might of the burgeoning EU empire and its role in wars later in the 21st century.
Details on the non-existent Irish arms Industry
While armaments manufacturing gears up in the North, of course the Republic has no arms industry worth talking about (or so Simon Coveney would have us believe). However a different story emerges when the matter is studied and government propaganda is waded past.. You may already be aware that Phoenix magazine has the best coverage of Irish foreign affairs and neutrality – most of the rest of the media is more than content to extol the virtues of the emerging EU military empire, while the Phoenix takes a more rational view.
Phoenix Annual for 2022 took a look at the arms industry south of the border down Doubling way. It makes pretty disturbing reading. Military licences granted in 2020 amounted to over €108 million – more than double the figure of over €42 million for 2019 which in turn was up on the year before, and that up on the year before that. Business is booming – literally as over €3 worth of explosive devices and related equipment went to the USA in 2020. But as we have often stated here in these pages, ‘dual use’ equipment which goes for military purposes is indeed military equipment.
The Phoenix also refers to Simon Coveney’s statement at the Aviva Stadium arms beano (for the protest there see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/52408699982/in/dateposted/ and accompanying photos) that “…Ireland does not have a defence industry like other European member states…” to which the answer must be “Oh yes it does! And you have been trying to grow it exponentially.”
Of course the term ‘defence’ is also mainly a euphemism, as if arms manufactures are only used for ‘defence’. The only successful attack on the USA’s territory in modern times, arguably since Pearl Harbour, was 9/11 and that was conducted using commercial air planes hijacked with violence but not something that conventional armed forces could have prevented. If arms were indeed only used for ‘defence’ then the arms industry would be very much smaller than it is.
There are more details on Irish arms exports in The Phoenix Annual for 2022, page 8..
Mustard Seed 1976
It was mustard, or was it (‘mustard’ as a slang term/adjective originating in England can have different meanings, positive and negative). Anyway, Mustard Seed was a big ‘alternatives gathering’ which took place in April 1976 https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/20003062983/in/photolist-2m9Zbio-wtAVJg – this entry has an explanation of the purpose behind the festival, written afterwards. Though I am showing my age by saying I remember Mustard Seed well [you certainly are – Ed.]
Far more people crowded into the Glencree Centre in the Wicklow hills than would be permitted today by health and safety or insurance. I think probably 400 people attended in all over the weekend with maybe 150 or more staying overnight, people sleeping anywhere they could find in the buildings and some in a big marquee. I slept behind and under the reception desk (the warmest out of the way place I could find…) – I find I sleep quite well under tables. [No comment – Ed] [‘No comment’ is a comment – Billy] (En français – ‘Comment’? – Ed]
The programme was varied and catered for many different interests though I think it played a significant role in the evolution of an ecological consciousness, and confidence, and networking for many. Of course the informal meeting was just as important as any plenaries or workshops, though when a ‘geographical areas’ exercise took place for people to group and network together – going around the compass of Ireland, N, NE, E, Dublin, SE, etc, one neglected person from the Midlands came up to the organisers – they had forgotten to include the centre of the island as a networking area! And believe it or not, Ireland does have a centre…..
While the event took place at Glencree it was organised by the SCM/Student Christian Movement, an ecumenical left-of-centre student group whose Dublin based organiser at the time was Michael Walsh. What I found interesting, as a kind of Christian, was the fact that aside from a couple of different faces of the SCM itself, the ‘Christian world’ was entirely absent. Looking back this seems, if not prescient, at least a foreteller of the decline of Christianity as a major, or the major, force in Irish society. That is a vast generalisation but I hope you know what I mean. Now many of those present may have been inspired by an individual religious faith of some sort, Christian or otherwise, but it certainly wasn’t something which was obvious in any way. And that was 1976.
Again I am not wanting to write off the contribution made in many fields by people of a Christian faith, of whatever denomination, then or since. And some Christians have caught up, think of Eco Congregation work for example https://www.ecocongregationireland.com/ in relation to ecology and green issues. However it seems to me, looking back, that it was a straw, or perhaps a mustard seed, in the wind of what was about to happen to the Christian edifice in Ireland ‘on all sides’.
…….To Edward Horgan, he was back at Shannon Airport only a few days after being acquitted of criminal damage for a nonviolent action there almost six years ago (see news section this issue). As those familiar with such expeditions to Shannon know, the verdict in the actual trial is only the culmination of a long drawn out process which can put lives on hold for years. His Facebook entry for 30th January reads:
“Back at Shannon airport today, US Marine Corps Hercules KC130T arrived at Shannon today at 14.45pm, coming from Al Udeid US air base in Qatar, Persian Gulf via Sofia in Bulgaria. This is a multipurpose war plane also equipped as a mid air refueller. Such breaches of Irish neutrality are happening almost daily at Shannon airport.
On Friday Omni Air most likely having delivered armed US troops to Wroclaw in Poland, refuelled at Shannon on its way back to the US. On Thursday Omni Air N378AX refuelled at Shannon coming from Al Udeid US air base in Qatar, and flew on to Fort Brag in North Carolina.
On Thursday 26 January The President of Switzerland Alain Berset not only ruled out any involvement in sending weapons to Ukraine, but explained on television that Switzerland had a unique quality of “neutrality.” Their role, as reflected in the Geneva Conventions, is so much more important than joining a parade of weapon providers. “Today, it is not time to change the rules” against exporting weapons. “Neither is it time to change the rules of neutrality. On the contrary, it is time to recall our basic principles, to stay committed to them and find a right path for the country in this situation.” Switzerland has “a different role from other states.”
Our Irish President and Irish Government should now make similar statements and act accordingly.”
I was sad to see the death of Fr Mícheál MacGréil during January, aged 93, and as well as being a sociologist of renown and a campaigner, e.g. on Traveller issues, he was also a peace activist and, presumably the first, chaplain to Pax Christi in Ireland https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/21063426348/in/album-72177720296414662/ A great and gentle guy.
Winter is still here so careful as you go. Careful as you type/keyboard too, our Flickr site inputter reports attempting to key in “Mediation Skills Workshop” and what came up was “Mediation Kills Workshop”, which, as you may gather, is something else entirely and not what we might wish to project.
CU soon, Billy.