Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

Editorials: Ireland’s future and Ireland’s Future, The EU gets even more bellicose

Ireland’s future and Ireland’s Future

Ireland’s Future” is a nationalist think tank which recently released a report entitled “Ireland 2030” with proposals for the period between now and then, i.e. 2024 – 2030. https://irelandsfuture.com/publications/ireland-2030-proposals-for-the-period-between-2024-and-2030/ While this editorial is not intended to be a full scale analysis of this report, it does refer to some points of agreement and disagreement while looking at aspects of what “Ireland’s future” should be.

The Irish government needs to be pro-active – in a way it has not been – to explore what a united Ireland might entail. One point of disagreement with the Ireland’s Future group is on timescale. It is important that nothing is rushed and therefore that the short timescale in that report should not be followed. Some things take time.

The reason we would say that the Irish government should be proactive is not to push a nationalist agenda but to avoid a vacuum. At the moment, while various discussions have been held, there has been no officially-sponsored discussion from the 26-county state on what a 32-county state might look like – despite the ideological commitment to same. Ireland’s Future recommendation to have a dedicated Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on ‘the Constitutional Future of the island of Ireland” is fair enough as far as it goes but it should not be limited to constitutional change – it should be considering social, cultural, economic and human security matters as well. The Civic Forum type body (“”All-Island Civic Forum/Assembly/Dialogue”) which Ireland’s Future recommends, however, is much broader.

There are obvious reasons for the state in the Republic not having done more, and one being not to inflame loyalist passions in the North is positive in the sense that they are thinking of others. But it is also irresponsible because at the moment ‘a united Ireland’ can mean anything, and also people in the Republic have not thought through what it might mean and entail, e.g. in relation to national symbols or to the nature of the state. We know, to a considerable extent, what a ‘United Kingdom’ with Northern Ireland as part of it means; of course there are uncertainties on this, much arising from Brexit, and currently from British government attempts to reassure northern unionists on their commitment to the Union.

We cannot currently compare like with like, or unlike with unlike. If a united Ireland does come about there will of course be some uncertainties right up to whatever changes take place. But we need to know a general impression of what is likely to be the template so that people can be encouraged to make a rational decision – insofar as they are willing to do so – in both the North and the Republic.

Ireland’s Future also recommends that “Human rights, equality and environmental assessments – and associated values – must shape every stage” (of the process they recommend). This is commendable. However the idea of harnessing international opinion (in favour of a united Ireland) is unhelpful and should only be utilised if it is clear that a Secretary of State should have called a referendum, based on what is in the Good Friday Agreement, but has failed to do so for whatever reason. The most important opinion to be influencing is in the North, not internationally.

The fact that Alliance is no longer a small-u unionist party, with more party members supporting Irish unity than the continuation of the existing United Kingdom, is certainly a straw in the wind. It is only a decade ago when prominent Alliance party member Anna Lo caused very considerable angst by proclaiming herself in favour of a united Ireland. For unionists, this will be proof that Alliance has ‘gone over to the other side’ but in reality Alliance as a party has taken no position, and it is another clarion call to unionists to up their game in being able to demonstrate that the continuation of the status quo (or something like the status quo) is in the interests of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, so that they note and vote accordingly. While some unionists are starting to express this point of view there is not much evidence as yet of it being put into practice.

Whether a Labour government in Britain, likely within the next year, affects things significantly remains to be seen. It will be less English-nationalist and perhaps less defensive of the British army and its deeds or misdeeds (cf NI Legacy Act) but it is unlikely to significantly loosen the purse strings. Of course many people will vote on simple unionist/nationalist lines when, and if, it comes to a referendum on Irish unity, but the ‘middle ground’ of Alliance-type voters, and other swing voters, may decide on economic and social grounds as to what is best in the medium to long term for the people of the North. In this case such people may decide that some short term pain, in relation to economic wellbeing and general disruption of existing institutions and practices, is worth the long term gain. Alternatively they may decide the divil you know is better than the divil you don’t.

However there are many things which would need to happen first before there would be a referendum, not least changes and developments in the Republic irrespective of the nature of the proposed constitutional arrangements and any ongoing devolution to the six counties of Northern Ireland under either jurisdiction. An initial point we would stress is that Irish unity, if it is to come, should be a process and not a sudden volte face. There are many ways of organising such a process but a sudden move from UK to Republic without very considerable planning and consultation could be a disaster in a variety of ways – societally, organisationally, financially, and in relation to resistance, violent or not, to such a move by unionism and loyalism.

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement of 1998 gives the power to the British Secretary of State to decide if and when to call a referendum “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.” This is very imprecise, gives the Secretary of State a lot of power, and no Secretary of State as yet has clarified exactly what circumstances would lead him or her to that conclusion and course of action. And if a vote was in favour of a united Ireland then ”the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.” Unfortunately not all of those holding the position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could be said to be first class players in British politics or indeed imbued with great understanding of the realities of Northern Ireland (this is an considerable understatement).

It all does get pinned on a simple arithmetic majority (50% +1) either way in a referendum. A multi-option vote would have been a better way to proceed but we are where we are and neither side is likely to want to change from that. This is where the importance of process comes in. However here is nothing to say that a multi-option referendum or referenda could not be held at any stage after the simple arithmetic majority vote.

We would strongly argue that even if there is a vote for a united Ireland in such a referendum that should be the start of a process, perhaps with an indicative time frame of a number of years and certainly not the next morning, next month or even next year. If the writing was already on the wall then many more unionists would seriously engage with the issues involved and the definite shape of a new Ireland could be thrashed out; at the moment only a few from the unionist side of the house are willing to engage with such questions. Without adopting the details of the time frame advocated by Ireland’s Future – and it is a different context, this is the sort of thing which should come into play after a majority in a referendum vote for Irish unity, if that comes to pass.

And if unionists want to have any chance to continue a link with Britain then they need to facilitate a situation where nationalists are happy to continue under the UK umbrella because their needs are addressed and they also feel they can express their Irishness north of a border. Without that then changing demographics are likely to do their work for a united Ireland. It is clear that some unionists already grasp this but not a majority, and the default position is still nearer ‘what we have, we hold’.

If a united Ireland is coming then how unionists’ British identity and culture can be protected is a key issue. We would argue strongly that this can be done culturally without the Irish state becoming a pale reflection of the neighbouring island, and nor should it entail NATO membership. With freedom of travel between Ireland and Britain, in a united Ireland anyone from Ireland who wanted could, as now, join the British armed forces.

Nationalist commentators – including those in Ireland’s Future – are right that ‘reconciliation’ should not be a precondition of unification but then reconciliation should be a key element in any political moves, full stop. Independent work for reconciliation should continue but be a consideration in all political moves, unionist, nationalist, or other, and the two or three governments involved.

Decisions about the future of Ireland are complex, despite unionist or nationalist simplicities. Clarity is of the essence. The people of Ireland, both sides of the border, deserve honest analysis so that the best decisions can be made for the long term future.

The EU gets even more bellicose

Bellicosity’ is perhaps an old-fashioned word, and comes from the Latin word for war or warlike, ‘bellum’, and perhaps ‘warlike’ is more prosaic English. But, whatever word you prefer, the EU is gearing up for a fight with Russia, and unspecified others, along with supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia. The mind boggles. The EU, along with its NATO allies the USA and UK, and Russia are all nuclear armed. It is crazy to continue to push forward with confrontation and a new cold war arms race which no one can win. Donald Tusk talks about a “pre-war era”. A senior NATO official recently told EU ambassadors in Dublin that it was a matter of ‘when’ that Russia would invade the EU, not ‘if’.

Rapprochement and conflict resolution or even conflict transformation are difficult but are not even being thought about. And Russia under Putin is not easy to deal with. Those favouring armament and a military approach talk about Munich and British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s mistaken deal with Hitler in 1938. But this is not 1938 or 1939 and Putin may be a murdering quasi-dictator but he is not Hitler and has a more rational approach to what he feels he can get away with. Putting more money in the armaments basket simply leads to the other side doing more of the same. ‘The West’, EU and NATO ignored Russian security concerns when they decided to take NATO membership up to Russia’s boundaries.

It takes two sides to have an arms race. Those who lose are initially the poor when money is diverted to pay the arms merchants and armies. And if the weapons and armies are used in anger then everyone loses big time.

How can we engage non-violently with a somewhat belligerent ‘other side’ without either giving in to unreasonable demands or seeming weak and vulnerable? And what about ‘our’ side’s warmaking (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya)? Why are Europeans not thinking in ‘win/win’ terms, difficult as that may be? What common goals could be decided on that would convince all sides that win/win solutions are possible? What are Russia’s legitimate security concerns? How can Russia be turned from an ‘enemy’ into a friend, as it seemed it might become after the fall of communism? And what went wrong there? Putin may be in power for more than a decade from now but how do we assist a less nationalist and more open Russia to emerge during and after his rule? These are some of the questions which need to be asked but are blatantly not being aired.

Of course it may feel different if you are sitting beside Russia’s borders than if you are falling off the western edge of Europe like Ireland. But it is precisely the ongoing NATO expansion to Russia’s borders which was the occasion for Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine. It may be counter-intuitive to those with a militarist mindset but building up your armed capacity does not necessarily make you safer, it may simply make your perceived enemy more anxious and trigger-happy, and you more likely to use the weapons you do have. Think of what led up to the First World War and where that ended up.

Neutrality has been disparaged by the NATO powers that be and their fellow travellers in Ireland. So it is good to see a congress happening in Columbia on neutrality as a way to aid international stability. There are so many possibilities for neutrality which those in control of the Irish state seem not to see; the sky (plus the earth and the sea) is the limit. We need to build up the visibility and perceived viability of neutrality as a rational and effective means to work towards international and global peace.

In ending this piece it is worth quoting the entirety of a recent statement from MIR in Italy on developments in the EU:

The Movimento Internazionale della Riconciliazione – a historic Italian pacifist organisation affiliated to the I.F.O.R. – expresses its dismay and concern at the attempt to transform the European Council into a ‘war council’, with the expansion of the EU’s military commitment, not only in terms of war production but also by ventilating a worrying ‘readiness strategy’, which envisages an emergency plan to ‘prepare citizens for conflict’.

“The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, did not hesitate to dust off the old Roman motto ‘If you want peace prepare for war’, hoping that Europe would produce more ammunition and weapons and increase its defence spending,” said Ermete Ferraro, president of the M.I.R., “Moreover, pandering to the invitation coming from the very summit of the E.U. executive, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel clearly hypothesised the transition to a ‘war economy’, preparing citizens for a defence perspective in a blatantly warmongering key”.

M.I.R. Italy considers these statements to be very severe, as they do nothing but exacerbate the current armed conflicts, sidelining the European Union on a ground that betrays its own founding principles. Indeed, Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty (2012) states that ‘The Union shall aim to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples’, and Article 5 states that: “(The EU) contributes to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights […] and to the strict observance and development of international law, in particular respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter”.

“These principles cannot be reconciled with openly bellicose policies, in which solidarity is understood as sending arms to a country at war,” commented Ferraro. “Therefore, together with the other pacifist organisations, we strongly denounce these dangerous positions and reaffirm the ethical but also constitutional principle of repudiation of war as a mean of resolving international disputes, reaffirming instead the need to develop an unarmed, civil and non-violent defence method”.

Editorials: Northern Ireland – SAD – and a fight at the end of the tunnel

The expected return to Stormont following the DUP decision to come back into the fold is indeed welcome news. However there is so much to sort out in Northern Ireland that even with a fair wind at their back it will not be plain sailing for the NI Assembly and Executive. Analysts have said that dealing with the pollution problem in Lough Neagh, that is with a proper plan in place, could still take a couple of decades. Getting Northern Ireland and its public services into reasonable shape could be looking at a similar time frame, at least a decade – and that is with all going well.

Most of the details of the deal done have emerged but how it will work out in practice is another question too as there seem to be various possible incompatibilities. The extent to which it mirrors the deal Theresa May offered, keeping the UK in alignment with EU regulations, is not yet clear; it would be highly ironic to end up with that, supported by the DUP, years after the DUP helped plunge Northern Ireland and the whole UK into chaos in rejecting it. Some of the changes are window dressing and simple renaming but the fact of the matter is that there was very little room for manoeuvre given previous decisions made through the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit. However the exclusion of other parties from DUP negotiations with the British government is not a good model of democracy. Nevertheless the DUP can argue that it has got a good deal, though the extent to which it meets their much vaunted ”seven tests” is highly debatable, or indeed whether it has changed anything in the Windsor Framework.

And a huge number of problems arise. The biggest underlying problem is of course the start-stop nature of the Northern Ireland Assembly itself. If the two largest parties retain their veto power over whether the Assembly is ‘up’ or ‘down’ then the last two years are unlikely to be the last hiatus. Each ‘Fresh Start’ is not necessarily that, and another stumbling block could cause more ‘down time’. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/22924768430/in/photolist-AVMqY7 Persuading the DUP and Sinn Féin to drop their veto power and allow the Assembly to continue without one of them in the Executive is a major move and not an easy one to achieve. All the other old issues of division remain in place.

Having a Sinn Féin First Minister in Michelle O’Neill is a new departure, and although the Deputy First Minister is equally powerful, it is deeply symbolic of the demographic shift in Northern Ireland. It does also seem a good illustration of unionist commitment to cooperation and democracy at this point. However decision making in the Assembly has often been very poor and inclusive voting systems, such as those espoused by the de Borda Institute, www.deborda.org could make a big difference. Sinn Féin could also do with reining back triumphalist statements which could inflame matters; Mary Lou McDonald indicating that a united Ireland was within “touching distance” was unwise as it gives succour to loyalist opposition to a deal. Her statement was more qualified than this reference might indicate; she was speaking, she said, “in historic terms” (which could conceivably refer to time periods of centuries) and while she was talking about “a new Ireland” it is clear that this is a euphemism for ‘a united Ireland’ of some sort. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/republic-of-ireland/first-sinn-fein-first-minister-shows-irish-unity-is-within-touching-distance/a147204909.html

SAD can be an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depressive condition brought about by seasonal factors and associated by many with lack of light in winter, and the start of the year can be very dreary. SAD could also be an appropriate acronym for Sectarian Affective Disorder whereby the situation in Northern Ireland is continually held hostage by sectarian approaches to politics. By ‘sectarian’ in this context we are not meaning it in its full brutal and vindictive form but more in a sociological sense that people’s, and political parties’, approaches tend to be conditioned and imprisoned to a considerable extent by the main background of their supporters, cultural Catholic or cultural Protestant, political nationalist or political unionist. By this measurement, Northern Ireland is just as ‘SAD’ now as it was before the DUP agreed to go back into the Assembly.

We don’t want to rehash the history of Ireland, plantation, partition or Brexit here. But there are numerous problems which have proved to make thorough and lasting solutions impossible. While most unionists will now be backing Stormont, many unionists feel the nature of their British citizenship has been changed by the Northern Ireland Protocol and then the Windsor Framework. To some extent they are right. A slight economic barrier in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland has been erected which was not there during EU membership. The fact of easier access to the EU market from the North does not for them trump the fact that they felt ‘trapped’ by the EU regulations in still being in the ‘single market’ and thus ruled by ‘foreign laws’ (laws which are evolving but by which the whole of the UK was bound during its EU membership).

Being treated differently to the rest of the UK is considered anathema to many unionists – at least when it is not to their liking. But Ireland before partition and Northern Ireland since 1921 have usually had trade barriers or differentiations with Britain so that is actually nothing new. https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/henry-patterson-legalistic-attempts-to-restore-article-6-of-the-act-of-union-would-be-a-disaster-4495902

Most analysts feel that the DUP, having backed a hard Brexit, were only persuaded to oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol, and subsequently the Windsor Framework, by practical politics – losing support to the harder line TUV. This is correct. But principles and practicalities can go together and there are principles involved for most unionists. However the practical result of DUP opposition to the settlement in withdrawing from Stormont meant that the ship of state in the North has been virtually rudderless for two years with very considerable effects for workers, planning, poverty, communities and so on. This was not in the interest of anyone in the North.

Nationalists also feel aggrieved in that Brexit took place when an arithmetic majority in the North supported staying in the EU. For them this may not have adversely affected their view of the constitutional situation but it certainly was detrimental, in their view, to the status quo agreed in the Good Friday Agreement where common EU membership was assumed for Britain and Ireland. Their feeling is that Brexit has been used to emphasise ‘Britishness’ and get one up on them; the DUP is perceived as having held the whole of society hostage in a situation where they do not realise the compromises which nationalists face every day in a British state.

The British approach to all this was not very helpful with Chris Heaton-Harris seeming, or even being, somewhat ineffectual in the role of Secretary of State. Holding out the prospect of the much needed money but it being dependent on a return to Stormont by the DUP was regarded as insulting by those in need, and by the DUP, for different reasons. To withhold cash from those in need is reprehensible. And the DUP regarded it as moral blackmail. The money could and should have been made available irrespective of decisions by the DUP holding the North to ransom. Whether the hard ball played by Heaton-Harris made any difference to the DUP’s decision to return is a debatable question.

The extent to which there will be defections from the DUP over the return to Stormont remains to be seen. Jeffrey Donaldson himself was a defector from the Ulster Unionist Party after the Good Friday Agreement. However a further division in unionism is not in the interest of peace and stability in the North. The TUV, while ably represented by Jim Allister, has remained a one man band because it is not transfer friendly in the PR-STV system; any defectors there from the DUP would face an uncertain future electorally, and it is difficult to see the likes of Ian Paisley jeopardising his cosy position.

Things may settle down further under a Labour government in Britain if it builds closer relations with the EU. But that is some time away.

The situation in Northern Ireland remains SAD, and while spring is just around a couple of corners, and there is lots of light at the end of this particular tunnel, there are also likely to be lots of fights at the end of the tunnel. Devolved power in Northern Ireland is a very partial success, and even when it is meeting the Assembly and Executive have not been very effective decision makers.

To change the metaphor away from tunnels, Northern Ireland may be exiting one particular cul de sac. However there is no clear direction set and the vehicle it is travelling in is liable to break down, and it is creaky at the best of times. There isn’t even a map available or an agreed destination. This is certainly not the end of history and the ride ahead will continue to be bumpy.

Drumcree before ‘Drumcree’

Drumcree Faith and Justice Group and monitoring Orange parades on the Garvaghy Road, Portadown, late 1980s+

by Rob Fairmichael

Introduction – The general situation

In “Track III Actions – Transforming protracted political conflicts from the bottom-up” (Ed. Helena Desivilya Syna and Geoffrey Corry, pub. De Gruyter, 2023) Brendan McAllister gives a detailed account of the Drumcree parading dispute in Portadown from 1995 and his involvement with attempts at mediation then and in ensuing years. Brendan had become director of what is now Mediation Northern Ireland in 1992; sadly he died in December 2022. The publication of his article challenged me to write something about “Drumcree before ‘Drumcree’”, i.e. before the name of that locality became common on news media around the world. This is both to provide some context and because there is a story, or stories, well worth telling.

In 1995 the Drumcree situation of an Orange parade going through a Catholic area ‘blew up’ and in Rev Ian Paisley’s words it became not just a battle for Drumcree but a battle for Ulster. Pitched battles were fought in fields close to Drumcree church and loyalists from around Northern Ireland joined in, one way or another, seeing the denial of ‘their’ perceived right to march down the Garvaghy road as a direct attack on their culture. Once there is that much identification with a struggle, and engagement with it, there is little chance of a mediative settlement (as Brendan McAllister’s account shows). And it was a costly ‘blow up’ in terms of tension, violence, and the loss of life associated with it.

Some unionists and loyalists saw the emergence of parade disputes as a major issue around 1995 (not just Portadown but the Lower Ormeau in Belfast and Dunloy, Co Antrim, for example) as manufactured mischief by republicans and Catholics looking for issues to hit Protestants with after the ceasefires of 1994. But political parades have always been problematic in the north of Ireland both before and after partition. The emergence of parades issues at this time was simply that previously Catholics had felt relatively powerless to raise the issues concerned, particularly pre-ceasefires.

The loyalist perception of the ‘right’ to march where desired comes from a previous era when the state itself was unionist-loyalist in orientation, in the period 1921-1972, and Orangeism would have been fully facilitated by the state (though it would also have drawn on unionism before the foundation of Northern Ireland). In practice the loyal/marching orders mainly restricted marches to Protestant and mixed areas so the vast majority of marches were uncontroversial.

Orangeism is a form of cultural and political expression albeit made publicly in the form of military-style parading and effectively the marking of territory. But it is also, within part of the Protestant community – and it is exclusive in this way – a bonding exercise and the Twelfth (12th July) is, for those involved, a great celebration and gala occasion. For supporters it is also a family fun day, or morning, watching the parades, and for young bandsmen, and some bandswomen, an opportunity to impress their friends, female and male. The Twelfth is quite a spectacle along with the bonfires the night before.

However the more general issue regarding parades in contested areas is one of clashing human rights; the Orange or loyalist right to express political views and culture versus the Catholic or nationalist right not to be intimidated. Some would see Orangeism and Orange parades as religious and if so there would be issues of religious freedom involved too but I consider the religious dimension of Orangeism to be very minor compared to it being culturally Protestant. Incidentally, the service at Drumcree Church the Sunday before the Twelfth, this precedes the parade or attempted parade down the Garvaghy Road, is a very distinctively Orange service (processing, hymns, sermon) and not remotely a typical Church of Ireland Sunday service.

Regarding the right not to be intimidated I include not just physical intimidation, or the threat of it, but also the possibility of people being made to feel as unconsulted second class citizens with no control over their own area. There are many different forms of powerlessness and that is one of them.

While the state developed a new strategy in 1998, giving over decisions on parades to a Parades Commission where previously it was the police, the answer to clashing rights is of course dialogue. The ‘Derry model’ shows one way this can be done with considerable success. It was the willingness of the Apprentice Boys of Derry to talk to local people in that city – even if there were caveats – which unlocked the impasse there and which enabled relatively trouble free parades. The ‘Derry model’ is covered by Michael Doherty in the above mentioned book with notable features being a) the involvement of the business community b) the willingness of the Apprentice Boys of Derry (loyalist parading organisation) to talk to both the Parades Commission and local residents at least in a forum context, and c) this took place in a majority nationalist area. The business community in Portadown did not have the same impetus to be involved as that in Derry where business was badly affected by parades trouble.

Orangemen in Portadown were unwilling to talk directly to Garvaghy Road local residents because of the involvement of republicans or former combatants there, and there would also be an element that they considered they should not be obliged to do so. They felt they had the right to parade while their being denied marching down the Garvaghy Road was also attacked by some, falsely, as a denial of their right to worship at Drumcree Church of Ireland.

1995 was not the beginning of the ‘Drumcree dispute’ or indeed of parading controversy in Portadown – this went back to the 19th century. But in the 1970s and earlier 1980s the flashpoint in Portadown had been the route of the parade through Obins Street closer to the centre of town – which is another story in itself and the site of considerable violence; this route was then banned in the mid-1980s. It would seem that at this stage the police might have had an opportunity to refuse future parades down the Garvaghy Road, but they did not take that option, and the conflict continued and subsequently exploded in a way which eclipsed even the violent riots at Obins Street.

The complete story of parading in Portadown is a long, complicated and frequently violent one which there is no time or space to explore here; information is available on the CAIN website and elsewhere. Parades in general had been so troublesome or trouble-producing in the 19th century that the British government had banned them for two periods (1832-1845 and 1850-1872); trouble associated with parades was nothing new.

In this piece I wanted to share some of my limited knowledge of the period immediately before Drumcree became ‘Drumcree’. While I have tried to check the facts of or from my involvement, and ‘run it past’ someone involved, I have not done any extensive research in writing this. I was involved in support for the Drumcree Faith and Justice group and did some nonviolence training with them and attended various meetings.

Drumcree and DFJ

The parade down the Garvaghy Road was experienced by most Catholics in the area as treating them as second class citizens and as something imposed on them. In 1986 the local Drumcree Faith and Justice group (DFJ) on the Garvaghy Road, in the Catholic area, organised a ‘tea party’ during the parade coming through the area as they paraded home from Drumcree Church of Ireland. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/46711654212/in/photolist-2eaKrou-2m1iLas-2m1sRev

The ‘tea party’ was a symbol of nonviolent resistance to the parade. But it was also proposing an alternative to IRA violence by offering resistance in a way that challenged, but also respected, opponents. This was perhaps the more important element in the demonstration, in that locals saw it as a challenge to IRA ideology.

The DFJ also stressed that there were about 40 Orange parades in Portadown in the course of a year, so the Order could not argue that its identity was not respected. Further, they said since nationalists were a minority greater weight needed to be given to their identity when there were disputes.

It should be stated that while the DFJ might have been most associated with resistance to the Orange parade coming through, they were a group committed to nonviolence and involved in other peace, cross-community and community development work. They even directly challenged republican violence and control, in one case when republicans were expelling some local men, by surveying local residents on the issue, showing there was tiny support for such action – undertaking this was bravery of the first magnitude. Here is what they wrote about it themselves:

In May 1990 the group confronted the North Armagh Brigade of the IRA who expelled three local men from Northern Ireland, apparently on the grounds of “antisocial” behaviour. Members of the Group did a door to door survey in Churchill Park of how local residents responded to this threat. Out of 162 houses approached, 4 supported the IRA position, 8 abstained, 122 condemned the IRA action, and the rest were not at home. The Group subsequently publicised the results of the survey in the press and on radio and got wide coverage. This was a difficult action for the Group to take, but they were determined not to give in to this kind of oppression from the IRA”. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/31758301747/in/album-72157717096321767/

They also put an advertisement in the ‘Portadown Times’ following a large IRA bomb in the town in 1993. This asked “As Catholic Citizens of Portadown we ask: Why Wreck Our Town?”. Again, this was a direct challenge to the IRA and its violence.

Many unionists and Orangemen felt, indeed feel, that they have the right to walk the “Queen’s Highway”, that anywhere in Northern Ireland should be open to them. The phrase is not so much used now and in any case it would currently be the “King’s Highway”. However most Orange parades only take place in Protestant, neutral or mixed areas where they are generally welcomed or tolerated. While those of an Orange or loyalist persuasion might feel this right to march is principally for loyal citizens, and not for Catholics, the DFJ were involved in an action which showed that in Northern Ireland there is no such thing as a neutral “Queen’s Highway”.

Marking the 5th anniversary of the founding of DFJ, in 1989 they tested the waters for parading by applying for permission to parade up to the centre of town and back again. Loyalist paramilitaries issued a threat. The police (who still made decisions on parades at this stage, before the Parades Commission) banned the parade leaving the Catholic area. QED there was indeed no such thing as a neutral “Queen’s Highway”, a point which ironically the loyalist paramilitaries had helped to make by issuing the threat. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53283767509/in/dateposted/

And at that time such threats were very real. The DFJ was associated with a small Jesuit community in a local house. Some loyalists and Protestants had an idea of the Jesuits which was probably mistaken in the 17th century let alone the late 20th. A story was shared during a local meeting with renowned nonviolent activists Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr in 1998; a reformed loyalist paramilitary told that, subsequent to the Jesuit community house being established, he was part of a team sent to kill them – he said the Jesuits were spared because the paramilitaries could not find the house…..

After a couple of years of the tea party as a symbol of resistance, the DFJ subsequently took to sit down protests about the parade coming through. See photos from 1989 (and a short general album about DFJ) at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157717096321767/with/50659770223/

DFJ did communicate directly with police in a friendly but direct fashion during the events of Drumcree Sunday. On one occasion they succeeded in getting the police to withdraw police dogs out of sight of residents for fear that this would antagonise them if people thought that police were intending to use them.

There was one instance where for DFJ paying the piper was not necessarily calling the tune – literally. One year (1989) DFJ had a local band playing on a flatbed trailer as an attempt to provide a positive atmosphere on the Garvaghy Road as the parade came through. However as the parade approached, and totally contrary to why they were engaged, the band struck up “A nation once again”! That’s what I remember though another person present recorded it as “We shall overcome”.

It is worth telling about a detail of a meeting I attended, possibly in 1990, organised by DFJ but including some other people. An issue under discussion was the fact that the police were turning back young Catholic men from going up the centre of the town; while the police were responding to the real risk of sectarian trouble and fighting between Protestant and Catholic young men, their response was in itself sectarian (turning back Catholics and presumably only Catholics) and contrary to their human rights (freedom of movement).

There was a prominent local Catholic citizen present at this meeting, from outside the immediate area and not involved with DFJ. He asked why these young men were going up the centre of the town anyway as “it isn’t ours” (i.e. it was mainly Protestant). I was gobsmacked. He wasn’t from the area that young people were being denied freedom of movement but he seemed to be accepting an apartheid-type situation not just for Portadown but, extrapolating, for the whole of Northern Ireland. This is just one, perhaps surprising, detail at the time of acceptance of sectarianism in what was, and is, a very divided town.

INNATE monitoring

From 1989 until 1993 INNATE was involved in providing monitors during the Drumcree parade. While INNATE was invited to do so by DFJ, and in that sense supportive of them, INNATE was quite clear that it was there to observe everyone and as far as possible to feed back to the different parties what had happened and what could have been done differently – including to DFJ. INNATE developed its own model of monitoring/observing and did some work in encouraging others to use this methodology in conflict situations (the INNATE report is available in Dawn Train No.11, 1992, available at https://innatenonviolence.org/dawntrain/index.shtml).

INNATE was the first body to use monitoring in parades and potential conflict situations in Northern Ireland as the Troubles were winding down (there had been considerable monitoring type activity early in the Troubles – see e.g. article by John Watson, Dawn Train No.10, also at https://innatenonviolence.org/dawntrain/index.shtml). It was presumably nothing to do with INNATE but by the mid-1990s there could be up to half a dozen different monitoring groups at a contentious parade.

Brendan McAllister himself was an INNATE monitor on the Garvaghy Road in 1991 and 1992 – he is the guy sitting in the middle wearing a tie in a photo at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/3281825083/in/album-72157607571533994/. His first time monitoring with INNATE in Portadown was his first time monitoring – something which he developed extensively, with a different model to INNATE, in his mediation role – you can see some photos including Brendan himself in a photo album on monitoring and accompaniment at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157629555375796. He played a significant role in preventing escalation to violence that first day he monitored in Portadown. A policeman in a police line across a road was engaged in verbal interaction with a citizen in front of it; the situation was escalating and the likely outcome would have been the man being arrested and quite possibly subsequent violence.

However a colleague of the policeman engaged in the interaction was seen talking to him, it was presumed informing him that there was at least one independent monitor (Brendan McAllister, identifiable in that role by an armband) nearby looking at the situation; the policeman concerned calmed down, and escalation was avoided. This account is based on the report back by Brendan at the INNATE debrief immediately after the parade. The RUC was not renowned for discipline in this sort of situation at the time and it seems having a visible monitor or observer present promoted best behaviour and prevented significant deterioration and the risk of violence.

INNATE observers/monitors came from a variety of backgrounds including peace activists, Protestant and Catholic, some people who had a human rights involvement, and some international volunteers. One of the last managed the difficult task of writing an account of the DFJ tea party, sit down, the Orange parade and police activity in a humorous manner while also making serious points. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53283768339/in/dateposted/ Another monitor, a Quaker (of which there were several involved as INNATE monitors), was originally from the Portadown area and recognised by some loyalists; he was threatened in no uncertain terms – i.e. a very deliberate threat to his physical wellbeing – not to come back and monitor again. He was viewed by these people as a turncoat or traitor in the Northern Ireland sectarian response that if you are seen as doing something for ‘them’ you are doing it against ‘us’.

In a subsequent year to when INNATE provided monitors, I presume 1994, I was engaged to assist local stewards on the Garvaghy Road in preparing for being present for the Orange parade through the area but that is another (long) story. However the relevant point is that a significant number of local residents, not just DFJ people, as part of the residents’ coalition were trying to prevent violence ensuing on their side of the metaphorical fence because of the Orange parade. A much smaller number of military minded republicans would probably have been quite happy if trouble ensued.

For a brief comparison between mediation, stewarding and monitoring there is a leaflet produced from an INCORE project in 1999; see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/20334307318/in/album-72157629555375796/ and entry beside it. The contact information in this is out of date but it is interesting to compare the different approaches and the overlaps between them. The approach developed by Mediation Northern Ireland with Brendan McAllister and others, mentioned above, was to monitor and feed back information up a chain which could be used for mediation, in current time or subsequently. The cross-interface phone networks set up in Belfast when mobile phones were still a novelty was another approach; this enabled community workers or activists ‘on the other side’ to be advised about what was happening across the divide, or indeed coming from their side, so they could take appropriate action immediately to help defuse situations.

In 1991 as part of its follow up to monitoring the Drumcree Sunday parade, INNATE decided to make representations to the Belfast News Letter regarding their report on the parade; this labelled all those present looking on at the parade from the Catholic Garvaghy Road as republican, i.e. Sinn Féin/IRA supporters (showing a prejudiced view and/or ignorance about the area). This would not only have been manifestly untrue but also dangerous since labelling people in this way, particularly pre-ceasefire, was making them targets.

The letter sent to the News Letter was clearly headed and underlined so as to be unmissable, before the text of the letter, “This letter is not intended for publication.” They published it. They refused to apologise until a complaint went to the Press Council. INNATE’s letter included criticism of the police on the day in question which INNATE would not have been made publicly (comments were made directly and privately to the RUC on their performance).

The News Letter said the letter was typed onto their computer system by an editorial assistant and simply marked ‘Letters’ (without the ‘not for publication’ part). The only compensation they offered was that INNATE could offer a suggestion for the topic of an editorial which they would write! A reasonable gesture might have been a free advertisement. However there was one humorous outcome; in response to the mistakenly published letter which had been signed by myself (and it probably was a genuine mistake although very sloppy journalism or office management), another letter was published criticising “Mr Fairmichael and his INANE organisation….”!

Conclusions

In this period there was great variation from year to year in the feeling associated with the Drumcree parade depending on both local events (local killings and who did them as well as other factors) and the broader political situation. However one feature remained constant; once the parade was over there was relief (this was pre-1995) and no compulsion to deal with the issues, aside from residents, and when the summer loomed again the next year it was felt to be ‘too late’. Thus it was always ‘the wrong time’ for an initiative to solve the issue.

But the moral of this story is that a ‘little local issue’ – expressed in inverted commas because it was actually a big deal locally – when left to fester could blow up to be “a battle for Ulster”. The situation remains unresolved today though active and general unionist backing for the Orange cause at Drumcree waned after the killing of three young Catholic children in the one family in Ballymoney, in an attack seen as associated with it, in 1998.

Before 1995, before it did become ‘Drumcree’, a concerted initiative by the police and/or a respected civil society group outside the area might have had some chance of success in reaching at least an implicit agreement – if the Orange Order could have been persuaded it was in their interests to engage (which it would have been, and still is, to negotiate ‘safe passage’ down the Garvaghy Road). They would need to have been offered a way to talk or negotiate, directly or indirectly, which they could accept, like the Apprentice Boys in Derry subsequently. But it does also need stated that focused mediation work was only beginning in Northern Ireland at this stage. When Brendan McAllister was able to be involved it was already too late despite determined effort, after it became an international issue and a shibboleth in Northern Ireland.

In conclusion about the Drumcree parade at the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s, I joke that our work was so successful that the word ‘Drumcree’ was never heard again…. The lack of success at this time, and the subsequent explosion in the situation, was certainly not due to the Drumcree Faith and Justice Group who were an impressive and brave group of local people seeking to make a positive contribution to their own area and to Portadown as a whole on a broad range of issues. Unfortunately the Drumcree parading situation joined the long list of unresolved matters in Northern Ireland though inclusive talking of some kind could still bring about a ‘result’ – a win-win one – for everyone.

Editorials: Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, Consultative Forum on International Security

Hamas-Israel war

Violence begets violence begets violence……

The easiest way to respond to the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict is, like so many situations of conflict in the world, the dualistic way; one side good, the other side bad (horrible, brutal, vicious, vindictive and so on). This is the easiest response because it does not necessitate us asking the hard questions which we need to ask about the situation, whatever it is. The dualistic model is also not the nonviolent way.

But it is essential to understand the different forms of violence which can be present in a situation, and potentially the asymmetric nature of a conflict. In Israel/Palestine when Hamas attacks Israel and kills someone, Israel retaliates – and the normal death ratio in such a violent exchange would be 10 Palestinians killed for 1 Israeli; at least this ratio is to be expected if the current conflict continues. There are many different forms of physical violence and there are many forms of structural violence. Most people in the world were rightly horrified by the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians in southern Israel on 7th October; children, adults and young adult party goers were all a target in mass killing.

But is the world also horrified by the denial of a Palestinian state by Israel with apartheid-style laws in the West Bank and Gaza as arguably the largest prison camp in the world and without control of borders, water, or fuel and no opportunity to develop to meet the needs of its people? The attack on Israel was born out of hopelessness as much as anything else (that is not to say that Hamas did not have a strategy, hyperviolent though it was). Is the world horrified by Israel’s destruction of Gaza and massive death toll on Palestinian civilians and children? The refusal by the USA and UK to call for a ceasefire is a despicable act supporting Israel’s vengeance. Israel claims it is acting within the laws of war but there is very little evidence of this – and the ‘laws of war’ are in any case broken more than they are obeyed.

Israel and Israeli citizens deserve to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. But how is this possible if you have taken the land and property of your neighbours and control many aspects of their lives? It is clearly impossible. Breaking out of the cycle of violence and oppression is really difficult; there was a time with the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995 that it looked like it might be possible. But Israel has been determined to establish (illegal in international law) ‘facts on the ground’ of Israeli settlement in the West Bank and that and other intransigence has led to today’s situation.

Some Israeli settlers in the West Bank, backed by the army, are gradually trying to push Palestinians and Bedouin back and in many cases out. This is not only a gross injustice but it is also a major stumbling block to a long term settlement. There are nearly half a million Israelis in the area of the West Bank fully controlled by Israel, all of this illegal in international law. Palestinians need all the land that is designated theirs to have a viable state. Some religious Jews insist that because their ancestors controlled land a couple of thousand years ago that it is ‘theirs’; if we were to use the same measurement then Ireland could claim a significant part of western Scotland, which is a nonsense. Palestinians have been there a very long time too, some of their origins go back to time immemorial in the area, but searching online for ‘land ownership map Palestine Israel’ shows just some of the injustice at their loss of territory since the end of the Second World War.

Possibly because of Ireland’s history of being colonised and controlled, Ireland is seen as the EU country most supportive of the Palestinians but pro-Palestinian action has been limited. On the other hand, ‘the West’, to a considerable degree because of guilt about the Nazi genocide of Jews – and lack of support for them from others – bends over backwards to support Israel (just look at statements by Biden, Sunak or von der Leyen). Of course the West should have a guilty conscience over the treatment of Jews – and not just because of the Holocaust/Shoah, as well as being active in preventing antisemitism today. But that should not prevent people looking at what is or would be justice in Israel-Palestine, and taking into account the Nakba the Palestinians suffered.

There is an old Wizard of Id cartoon where the the prisoner, ’the spook’, says how long he has to be in prison before being released. His jailer reveals that this is exactly the same time as he retires; prisoner and jailer are bound together in a mutual time trap. It is a bit like that for Israel and Palestine. And Israel is Gaza’s jailer, and the inflicter of an apartheid system on the Palestinians of the West Bank. As the placard held by a Jewish person said, “Jews will not be free until Palestine is free”.

There are different ways of dealing with ‘enemies’. You can try and kill them all, genocide (of which the Nazi extermination of Jews is one terrible example), or you can try to disempower them and control them, but this will make them more angry, and more your enemy. The positive alternative is to turn them into friends. Israel and Palestine is a small space but if it is not shared equitably then there can be no peace. Israel has not seriously tried, in a sustained way, to turn Palestinians into friends, It can be done but violence from both sides makes rapprochement extremely difficult. And uncritical support (financial and military) from the USA and others in ‘the West’ makes Israel feel it can continue to pursue the path of control of Palestinians (and currently the destruction of Gaza) which it has been engaged in. It should also be noted that Israel’s sophisticated military and intelligence system did not prevent the Hamas attack; it was a failed defence.

Many different people and organisations have spoken out on the conflict. The statement of the War Resisters’ International (WRI) can be found at https://wri-irg.org/en/story/2023/war-crime-against-humanity-stop-violence-immediately-israel-palestine and it includes the following: “War is sometimes fought with bombs and bullets. Sometimes it is fought by restricting access to the resources that allow people to meet their basic needs, and for humanity to flourish. As antimilitarists, we can and will always reject and condemn both the immediate, deliberate and organised violence that grabs headlines and shocks the world, and simultaneously recognise that the violence that has occurred in Israel-Palestine since Saturday 7th October is rooted in a decades long, asymmetrical, grinding conflict.”

Israel may well, if it kills enough Palestinians and destroys most of Gaza, ‘kill’ Hamas. But it will have stirred up sufficient further hatred to create Hamas Mark 2, and created a vacuum for the people of Gaza. The desire to eradicate Hamas is thus totally false thinking on the part of Israel. The pattern of violence and cycles of violence will almost certainly continue. Hamas soldiers or fighters may be getting killed; so are an inordinate number of children and ordinary Palestinians.

Peace in Israel and Palestine cannot come without an adequate two state or secular one state solution. While either option remains pie in the sky then peace will be similarly placed. Stating this is not anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish; it is to speak the truth and advocate a situation where all the Israeli and Palestinian people can live in peace, which they very much deserve to do. They, both sides, have suffered too much.

Northern Ireland:

The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away……

The words of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song seem to be apposite regarding the possibility of the restoration of power-sharing government at Stormont. While both the Northern Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, and the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, have been making encouraging sounds about their talks (which no one else is party to), there is the very real possibility that things will go sliding away – again.

There are numerous problems involved. One issue is simply that the talks only involve the DUP in talking to the British government and others are excluded; this exclusiveness could lead to a deal which is unacceptable, wholly or partly, to others. But secondly, there is extremely little room for manoeuvre given that a) the current British government is not going to enter substantial further negotiations with the EU about either Northern Ireland or its overall trading relationship and b) The Good Friday Agreement, and the impartiality which it prescribes, prohibits many possible actions which the DUP might wish for to copperfasten ‘the Union’.

Donaldson did emphasise the importance of a devolved government at Stormont in his party’s annual conference and subsequently. While he might be willing to move, given the opportunity, there is the question of whether all his party colleagues would do so also, and whether DUP voters would follow suit. This is where the problem came in for the DUP before; potential voter defection to hardline unionist TUV meant the DUP did a quick about face to oppose the NI Protocol.

The promise of money (not all of which necessarily appeared) has been an important sweetener in getting Stormont back and running (or at least crawling) in the past. The equivalent of the ‘Welsh deal’ whereby Wales gets a substantial sum based on need, in addition to the ‘Barnett formula’ funding which metes out funding on a per capita basis within the constituent parts of the UK, could be part of what is offered or it might have to await Stormont negotiation after the restoration of government at Stormont – which would have Michelle O’Neill as First Minister. The funding, or prospect of funding, could be used by the DUP to try to show how much Northern Ireland is valued as part of the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland now there is hardly anyone who is not affected in some way by the absence of a government. To take just one example from recent times, who is going to sort out the pollution of Lough Neagh? It might not happen fast with a Stormont government but without one then it is rather unlikely, despite the proven need. Education, health, community services and any forward planning on anything, including on economic advancement, are badly affected.

Unionism of the DUP variety is caught on the horns of a dilemma; to continue the boycott of Stormont and allow things to crumble further – and thus be an advertisement for a united Ireland, or to return, this time with the DUP having the post of Deputy First Minister, without a clear victory and risk electoral armageddon. Most unionists want the NI Protocol/Windsor Agreement sorted to their satisfaction before a return to Stormont.

Whichever way the DUP turns it is on slippery ground and it is possible that a return to power sharing will continue to slip slide away. One tiny light at the end of the tunnel is that a Labour government, likely to appear in a year’s time in Britain, could do a deal with the EU which would make checks on goods coming to Northern Ireland redundant. The problem with this chink of light is that it would indicate a very long tunnel, perhaps a couple of years to get through. Let us hope that solid, open ground is reached before then.

Department of Foreign Affairs report

The expected on neutrality and ‘triple lock’

There are no surprises in Louise Richardson’s report as chair of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy which took place in June; the report came out in mid-October. It is cleverly written, knowing that (valid) criticism of the Forum meant the report could not push too far but still allowing Micheál Martin to claim that it justified ditching the ‘triple lock’ on deployment of Irish troops overseas. However, as the Swords to Ploughshares Ireland (StoP) report on the Forum (see news section) shows, the debate on the triple lock justified no such thing, despite her assertion in the report that “the preponderance of views, especially among the experts and practitioners, is that it is time for a reconsideration of the Triple Lock as it is no longer fit for purpose.”

There are a number of tendentious or incorrect assumptions or statements in the report. One is that public submissions made – yet to be published and not really part of the Forum process (as opposed to any further discussion) – may be biased as made by people committed in this area – of course they may but so might the chosen speakers be biased. She states “the submissions were not a random or representative sample of the population, rather the views of citizens engaged in these issues; therefore, it would be unwise to extrapolate from these views to the population-at-large.” However she makes no such assumptions about those presenting at the Forum (the ‘experts’) even though they were chosen by the Minister including a number of academics who have their posts paid for by the EU, and others had NATO links. This is basically someone on one side saying others, not on the same side, are ‘biased’. She may have read the submissions but there is no detail whatsoever in her report as to worthwhile ideas suggested (she does cover that most of these favoured the retention of neutrality).

In her introduction she says “The proceedings of the four days of meetings and 835 submissions are briefly summarized, synthesized, and analyzed.” She does no such thing and in 15 pages it would be impossible in any case. She does very briefly summarise the contributions made from the chosen speakers in the different panels but in this section there is no mention of contributions from the floor. Given the fact contributors were chosen by the Minister, this is a serious omission. She does refer subsequently, and inadequately, to some contributions by the public, in talking further on the particular issues dealt with – but to say this covers those comments fairly would be untrue. Given the bias in selection of speakers (look at the list online) it is untrue to say it was an “admirably open and transparent debate where unfettered debate was encouraged” – and in some cases issues raised from the floor were not even addressed by the panel.

She makes all sorts of assumptions and statements based on inadequate discussion and exploration in the Forum; only a few of these are explored here. One is that Ireland is falling behind “its peers” in military expenditure, with NATO setting 2% of GDP as a target, and that this needs to be addressed. But if Ireland is taking a different approach as a neutral country, as it should, then perhaps much more money, time and effort needs to be put into conflict resolution and mediation, not the military. And who says that the NATO advocated 2% is a reasonable benchmark?

Her grasp of recent Irish history is also lacking when she states that ”In recent years Irish governments have drawn a distinction between military and political neutrality and between military nonalignment and political nonalignment. This appears to be a uniquely Irish approach, but it is a fair description of the policies consistently followed since the outbreak of the last world war.” While the first part of this may be true, the last statement certainly does not apply to Frank Aiken and Fianna Fáil’s policies of fearless non-alignment in the ‘fifties and into the ‘sixties.

The basis of the Forum was that Irish security policies need reviewed particularly in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That has certainly altered things. But Irish neutrality has weathered many storms, including the cataclysmic events and invasions of the Second World War. There are new threats, including cybersecurity and related undersea cabling, but is the appropriate response necessarily a military one? And it is probably simplistic to state baldly that “our geographic location no longer provides the protection it once did” without extensive further exploration.

A concluding statement that the Forum was “not designed to make policy prescriptions” is not quite true in that a significant part of it being set up was to provide the Minister with a rationale for ditching the ‘triple lock’ – and anything else that could go. If you look at the sequence of events and the evolution from the Minister thinking about a possible citizens’ assembly to a hand-picked so-called Forum (‘so-called’ because it was not open), his thinking is clear. Micheál Martin may be satisfied that Louise Richardson’s report takes things as far as she can in the direction he wanted – popular protest and opinion set limits – but in a wider context it is all very unsatisfactory and inadequate.

Eco-Awareness: Maltreatment of our loughs is emblematic of how we treat the biosphere

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

It is a rare occasion that a Northern Ireland non-party political issue is aired on RTÉ 1’s evening news and even rarer on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One as well as their early morning programme Farming Today.

This happened recently and readers won’t be surprised to learn that the item brought to the attention of listeners and viewers is the deplorable biological state of Lough Neagh. As has been well documented it is polluted with blue-green algae as are Lough Ross in County Armagh and parts of Lough Erne.

The algae is a bacteria called cyanobacteria, is the result of human behaviour which includes the rise of the water temperature due to global warming, the dumping of sewage into the loughs, leaking septic tanks, the run-off of nitrogen and phosphorus from fields in the form of slurry and fertilizer and the presence of invasive zebra mussels which filter the water enabling sunlight to reach into their depths hastening the growth of the algae.

Unfortunately, it is not a case of problem understood, problem solved as is often the case with a mechanical breakdown; once a malfunction is understood it can be put right by a skilled technician.

One reason for the absence of effective eco-management of Lough Neagh is that it lies within the jurisdiction of five local councils, is overseen by five government departments and is managed by the Lough Neagh Partnership. It receives its funding from the five local councils. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is conflicted: it is simultaneously responsible for promoting the interests of a sector of the economy that helped cause the problem i.e., intensive agriculture, while at the same time it is responsible for tackling the problem by virtue of its environmental mandate.

Another complication is the legacy of colonialism. The bed, the eels and banks of the lough are not owned by the people of Northern Ireland but by the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury who inherited this ecosystem of approximately 153 sq miles at the age of 26. His family came into possession of it in 1857 when the 8th Earl married into the Chichester family who inherited it from Sir Arthur Chichester who was gifted it by King James1st in the mid-1660s.

On the basis of the precept that possession is not the same as justified ownership the question some will ask is what right did King James 1st have to dispose of the lough, a collective asset availed of by families bordering it for untold millennia and a moral entity in its own right? The question is relevant to restoring the health of Lough Neagh as Nichols Ashley-Cooper, the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, could return his inheritance to the people of Northern Ireland placing it in the trust of a single authority.

In doing this the Earl would be following a precedent set by museums who recognize that they have a moral obligation to return to Indigenous communities artefacts stolen from their ancestors. The Horniman Museum in London did this in November 2022 when it returned to Nigeria 72 bronze artefacts looted by British soldiers in 1897 from Benin City, now southwest Nigeria.

More recently Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of returning 9,300 sq miles of land to the Xokleng people who were evicted from it in the late 19th and early 20th century by colonialists who hailed mainly from Germany. In the view of the court the passage of time did not erase the rights of the Xokleng people to their ancestral lands. This is something the Earl of Shaftesbury should ponder in regard to his presumed entitlement to the bed, eels and banks of Lough Neagh.

Aside from the administrative complexities, the algae problem that afflicts the three loughs is emblematic of how we treat the entire biosphere. We act as if we are sitting at a table laden with food and water for innumerable shifts of people. Instead of leaving nourishment for these diners we gobble everything up leaving the table empty and in a disgusting mess.

I hypothesis that the reason why we behave like this is because we are shackled by the straps of our enculturation. A cardinal edict of this is that we are only responsible for ourselves and family, and to a lesser extent our neighbours and community, and that the people beyond the circumference of our vision in place and time, and the nonhuman beings and natural systems that sustain us are simply of no account.

We think of the natural world beyond our skin as things rather than living entities many of whom are thinking, feeling beings with preferences and foresight and part of a complex network of relationships. The Abrahamic religions have played no small part in people viewing nonhuman life in this way, after all, they are not held to be immortal like us and have no special status in the eyes of God.

Thus, while our moral code tells us that it is wrong to willfully harm someone in close proximity to us, we think that poisoning our ecosystem by pouring sewage into rivers and loughs, unnecessarily emitting global warming gases and buying merchandise composed of materials that have been mined by indentured labour as morally neutral. The ecological catastrophe taking place in our loughs, and the elimination of much of the biodiversity of our island, are a direct consequence of how we see our place in the living world and our sense of entitlement in regard to others including future generations.

Fortunately, we can extricate ourselves from our enculturation. One way is through what is called transformational learning as conceptualized by Jack Mezirow in the late 1970s. This involves critically reflecting on our received wisdoms, cultural imperatives, worldviews and assumptions; testing them to see if they accord with scientific evidence. It involves comparing, contrasting and exploring alternatives. It is a collaborative on-going process which takes place in a trusting, noncoercive setting. This can happen over a cup of tea, a pint, during a meal, a long walk or in a classroom.

An outcome of transformational learning that is focused on living in an ecologically sustainable way is recognizing that we live in an interconnected, interdependent, multi-generational, multi-species, sentient world. Our place within this cosmology is to do what we can, with justice issues in mind, to restore the bio-world to health. This life-long work is done for the sake of nonhuman nature and ourselves including those who will sit at the table after we are gone.

In summary, we need to change the prevailing view of our place in nonhuman nature if we are to find a sustainable resolution to our ecological problems including restoring our loughs and rivers to good health.

Photos by Larry Speight of the wake for Lough Neagh held on its shores on 17/9/23 can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53218375754/in/dateposted/ and accompanying pictures.

Editorials: Consultative Forum on International Security, Northern Ireland – a different inefficiency

Consultative Forum on International Security

Peace and neutrality activists don’t let the government away with it….

In their concluding remarks on the fourth and final day of the Consultative Forum on International Security, Micheál Martin, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Louise Richardson, Forum chair, were in congratulatory mode (to the country and themselves) for the liveliness of debate and even the involvement of people in the process through protest. To an uninformed observer these might seem urbane remarks however since the protests were due to the discriminatory way in which the whole enterprise was set up, this was rather hollow and putting a gloss on something which was less than satisfactory and of their own making. The previous establishment and government line was that protesters were trying to shut down debate; given the organisers’ own role in trying to control the agenda for debate, the opposite was the case.

Louise Richardson also said she knew of no other country where such a forum had taken place, implying how wonderful Irish democracy was. This was true about the uniqueness of the event. What she did not say however was that it was taking place because of political expediency on the part of the Minister. He wanted to remove – presumably still aims to remove – the triple lock (government, Dáil, UN) on the deployment of Irish troops overseas this autumn. The war in Ukraine gave an excuse to try to move things in the direction he wanted but he needed some ‘democratic’ credentials or ‘weaponised’ basis to do so – and thus set up what purported to be a ‘Forum’ (‘a public event for open discussion of ideas’) but was actually a long conference with speakers hand picked by the Minister and his staff to give the answers or direction he wanted. The whole process was not instigated out of the goodness of the Minister’s heart, and his desire for democracy, but for very particular political ends.

The Irish government has been trying to use the war in Ukraine, and Russian invasion, as a reason to change the ‘triple lock’. There is only one case where the triple lock may have prevented a peacekeeping deployment and that did not involve Russia. Of course the government and pro-government speakers did not mention the warmongering of the USA and the West, nor the breach of neutrality by giving Shannon for US military use, no questions asked. The background also included the lie that the Forum was not about neutrality as opposed to ‘security’ as if the two were unconnected, another part of the ‘get rid of neutrality by stealth’ strategy.

Micheál Martin has previously stated how much he learned and benefited from conciliation programme run by Quaker House Belfast (for info on the latter see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50654202881/in/album-72157717185737611/ ). This was in getting to meet, and know Northern unionists – and he does have a reputation among unionists as being someone who understands them. However it is really sad that he has not been able to extrapolate from this experience of dealing with conflict on the island of Ireland, demonstrating the importance of long term conciliation and mediation efforts, to thinking internationally. Instead he is going with militarisation and so-called military ‘solutions’. He was going to take what he could get from this ‘forum process’ and the hope must be that this will be severely constrained by the challenges both to the process and the content which took place.

Louise Richardson also didn’t say it was deliberately not a citizens’ assembly – a format which now has established form in Ireland in dealing with difficult and contentious issues – because it would have given the ‘wrong’ answers so far as the Minister was concerned.

Peace and neutrality groups were working hard to point out the illegitimacy of the exercise, and hold alternative forums where the speakers and issues they wanted included were not excluded. But an intervention by Michael D Higgins, pushing at the boundaries of what it is acceptable for an Irish president to say, questioned the drift towards NATO and also raised questions about the credentials of the chair (he later withdrew some of these remarks). That greatly helped make the issue a hot potato. However he would never have felt constrained to make those remarks had the enterprise not been an underhand one to begin with. His comments thus served the interests of democracy.

One illustrative ironic twist took place during a Forum session on cyber threats and disinformation. A couple of contributors from the floor both pointed to the Forum itself as an exercise in disinformation due to the built in bias in the programme and speakers. Perhaps this fits the old adage of ‘the medium is the message’. You can easily find the list of speakers on the Department website and some analysis of speakers’ backgrounds is in The Phoenix issue for 30h June.

That is not to say that some participants in the Forum did not make a useful and even positive contribution on the issues involved. Some panels were less imbalanced than others and some had reasonably comprehensive discussion of the issues. But the topics dealt with, and the speakers chosen, as well as the chair who will write the report, were all hand picked by the Minister and staff acting on his direction. At no point was it stated by the Minister or the Department that inclusion in the speakers list was by Department of Foreign Affairs invitation only (which was the case). An INNATE offer to contribute unique content, on nonviolent civilian defence and on extending neutrality as part of security, was brushed aside. (See https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53003786126/in/dateposted/ with INNATE being prevented from putting these leaflets out for those attending at Dublin Castle). So a ‘Forum’ it was not.

Proponents of peace and neutrality faced a dilemma, to protest (possibly through a boycott) and/or be involved. In general people protested and were involved; a boycott, especially given the bias in the media, was likely to lead to invisibility. But making a point, or raising a question – which might not be answered or answered poorly – from the floor is not in any sense being properly included, it is being tolerated and patronised – especially when Micheál Martin congratulated everyone, including protesters, for their commitment on the issue. He might genuinely feel that way but certainly this was not the feeling for those on the other side of the NATO fence (Ireland is still a fellow traveller with NATO through its euphemistically named ‘Partnership for Peace’). And being involved in any way, even protesting inside the Forum, could be seen as legitimising it in that the organisers could then say “Look how tolerant we are, we even allow protest” (no they didn’t, anything they allowed was under sufferance, and numerous people were ejected from the chamber).

So the question of the legitimacy of the whole enterprise entered some of the media (e.g. The Irish Independent of 23/6/23 but not The Irish Times whose paper edition the same day, after the first session in Cork, held not one photo of protests and only a brief mention of protests themselves). And as usual the mass media did not cover the fact there were different protests and people or groups involved (see e.g. the text of https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/52993125392/in/dateposted/ and compare that with mass media reports ).

While we must await the final report, written by Louise Richardson, there is no indication to date that she might not be the ‘safe pair of hands’ she would seem to be, the reason she was appointed by the Minister. The report should never, in any case, have been the responsibility of one person. While the question of the legitimacy of the whole enterprise has been raised successfully, it is still possible that the Minister will try to use the report as a means to get what he wants and the triple lock removed. This should be a real test of the integrity of deputies in the Dáil.

The Irish state should be looking at how neutrality could be extended as a real and vibrant force for peace in the world. That is the approach taken in INNATE’s written submission to the Forum, see https://tinyurl.com/3rurehhv The world already has far too many countries armed to the teeth and acting in a belligerent and self-interested manner. Ireland has the opportunity to be different but the establishment choice is to join even closer the big boys with their guns. The metaphorical guns in the above affair were held by the Minister; the peace and neutrality sector, through mobilising and its nonviolent action, succeeded in at least disarming some of those weapons of mass distraction.

The struggle is not over.

See also the news section for links to further information, the article by Dominic Carroll in this issue, and INNATE’s photo album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72177720309217408

Northern Ireland

Back to a different inefficiency

It is clear that Geoffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, wants to get back into Stormont and is drawing up his shopping lists. Here there is the danger that the British government, in giving the DUP and unionists the assurances they want about the place of Northern Ireland in the UK will actually breach the Good Friday Agreement. Meanwhile other prominent members of the party, such as Ian Paisley, are very much more reluctant, and that dynamic has to work itself out within the DUP itself.

In a cynical political move the British Secretary of State in the North, Chris Heaton-Harris, continues to make people suffer through swingeing cuts and the resultant instability in education, health, social service and community sectors as he weaponises the cuts to put pressure on the DUP to return to Stormont – of course that would be with a package which removes some of those cuts. People’s lives are thus a political football.

Assuming that Stormont does return in the autumn – and if it doesn’t there could be a lengthy period of direct rule by Britain – there are a myriad of issues on the table to be dealt with by Michelle (O’Neill), Geoffrey (Donaldson), the Executive and the whole Assembly. While we might hope for a good ‘run’ at and on the pressing issues of concern, if past history is anything to go by then ‘things’ will gradually run into the ground and another crisis emerge to stymie progress.

It is difficult to enumerate all the issues of concern in one editorial. There are systemic issues of governance and decision making. There are issues which are difficult to resolve (e.g. education) because of the nature of the sectarian division which then overlaps with divisions on a left/right, progressive/conservative axis. There is the sectarian division itself which creates difficulties in the provision of facilities and sometimes requires ‘double provision’ (one facility for mainly Protestants, and one for mainly Catholics). And there are big problems simply with the amount of money available from the British Exchequer, given that the home rule Assembly system is not responsible for taxation (but see below).

While it has been generally recognised that the system of decision making needs reformed, simply removing the necessity for the two largest parties on either side to be involved in the Executive will not eradicate the problems. If the largest party on one side can ‘pass’ (i.e. decline to be involved in the Executive) but others on the same side pick up the ball (and be in the Executive), that would largely eradicate the start-stop nature of the Assembly. But it would not deal with the difficulty which the parties have in arriving at good decision making.

This is where the decision making methodologies proposed and propounded by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org should come into play. In effect these have built in consideration for minority viewpoints and are the fairest way of trying to arrive at a workable consensus or decision that all can live with. They do require political parties to act in a different manner, however, and this is only likely to come about through pressure from the public. It might at least give an impetus to effective decision making in areas where there was been sustained failure in the past.

While Stormont, if the Assembly is up and running, cannot replicate taxation raised by the UK government, there is nothing to stop it raising taxes that are different, such as a land use tax (e.g. a tax on land and property which is not being used productively aside from that which is clearly set aside for ecological purposes). And due to the lack of economies of scale in an area of 1.9 million people, and issues of poverty and ill health, some stemming from the Troubles, the ‘Barnett formula’ of funding for UK regions needs further tweaked to give Northern Ireland a fairer share of the UK cake – Wales has already succeeded in doing that.

Whatever the constitutional future for Northern Ireland, there are urgent issues which need sorted now. The reform of Stormont could be a vital tool in turning around an area where the majority of young people want to leave, a fact illustrative of the many problems which beset individuals and society and of the existing malaise. The Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Agreement give Northern Ireland some economic advantages which it is next to impossible to harness without a home rule government in place.

Editorials: Consultative Forum on International Security, Change and no change in the North

Consultative Forum on International Security

One move short of a complete stitch up

The meetings of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy take place in Cork, Galway and Dublin later in June (see news section). As we have noted before, it is a ‘Consultative Forum’ (perhaps with the emphasis on the ‘Con’) rather than a citizens’ assembly (which had been mooted) because the government realised it would not get the result it wanted from the latter – i.e. it would deliver a strong pro-neutrality stance. Since citizens’ assemblies have been used by the government to look at different issues of importance this move is deeply cynical and anti-democratic.

While some of the heavy lifting of recent years against neutrality has been done by Simon Coveney of Fine Gael, it is highly ironic that the current attempt at decimation should be carried out by Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil. The latter party has traditionally been the one that was most for Irish independence and against imperialism and big power politics. But it is doubly ironic since Martin has spoken of how much he benefited from conciliation/communication work by Quaker House Belfast in getting to know and understand Northern unionists; it is clear he has not extrapolated from that to the need for such communication and understanding in the international sphere and this is truly sad, even tragic.

Incredibly, and this was a recent statement, before the deliberations of the Consultative Forum, Martin said there was an ‘emerging consensus’ for removing the ‘triple lock’ on deployment of Irish troops abroad; this let the cat out of the bag – insofar as it has been in any bag – on his intentions following the Forum Report. Yes, the United Nations needs reform, and particularly removing the veto power of permanent Security Council members, but simply removing the triple lock will allow the Irish government to send troops on NATO and EU military missions.

The government has decided the format and decided the content and speakers. While a few pro-neutrality speakers are likely to be included to avoid the impression of a complete whitewash it is clear that this is what it will be. In addition the chair, Louise Richardson, of Irish origin but now a citizen of the USA and, it would seem, supporter of that country’s policies, has been chosen as a safe pair of hands to deliver the result that the government wants. And after the report is delivered the government will move to remove the ‘triple lock’ on the deployment of Irish troops overseas. And following that, there is the question of what is left of Irish neutrality, it is already a fellow traveller with NATO (including NATO exercises and meetings happening in Ireland) and enthusiastic supporter of the EU arms industry and of an EU army.

It is unfortunate that the Irish public, still expressing support for Irish neutrality, is generally unaware of the perilous or threadbare state that has been reached. This is due not only to government machinations (taking small steps, one at a time, while denying neutrality was at risk) but also, very significantly, to the media which has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for NATO and for Irish involvement in EU militarisation; generally it has avoided carrying pro-neutrality arguments and views. There are a very few exceptions to this rule such as The Phoenix which has continually cast a critical eye on Irish foreign policy.

However one bright point seems to be that Irish people can think for themselves. PANA’s poll on a ceasefire in Ukraine (see news section) shows the people of the Republic are very strongly supportive of a ceasefire to allow negotiations to happen, and are certainly not bursting to support ongoing warfare as some political leaders might think. This may indicate that (as all recent opinion polls have shown) neutrality is alive and well in the hearts of the people of Ireland even if not in most of their political leaders and the establishment.

The extremely stupid equation seems to be accepted by most media that to be a ‘good European’ you need to be a supporter of EU policies such as militarisation. And once the EU does finally evolve to superpower status you can be sure that it will throw its weight around like all the superpowers before it; that is written in the militarist DNA. As happens with the USA, military interventions may be dressed up in flowery language about protecting peace or extending democracy, defending the rights of women, protecting borders and so on, but it will be good old great power imperialism underneath it all.

StoP/Swords to Ploughshares Ireland wrote an open letter to Louise Richardson, the chair of the Consultative Forum, challenging her to be impartial but the whole setup is so skewed that even in the event that she did the result would still be biased against the views of most citizens of the Republic. The concluding paragraph of this letter reads; “We consider that the current model of a ‘consultative forum’, dispersed and repeated over several days, with no wider public consultation, is inadequate for effective democratic consideration of such large and complex issues. We are seriously concerned that the voice of those who support Irish neutrality as a positive force for peace and who oppose our increased integration into EU and NATO military structures will be effectively excluded from the Forum. It is up to yourself and the conduct of the Consultative Forum—especially in its eventual Report—to achieve more than an outcome predetermined by the Government. We hope that you will rise to the occasion.”

If you can participate in the Forums and the protests and alternative events, please do. If you can respond to the online questionnaire, please do (one response to the question of what the greatest danger is to Irish security is to answer “NATO and EU militarisation”). If you can submit your views further, please do. Go to www.gov.ie/consultativeforum

We are one step away from a total stitch up. That final step or stitch is likely to come with Louise Richardson’s report. And, while this is a rather large and perhaps grandiose sounding statement, that might be considered the day that Ireland finally lost its soul and any hint of global solidarity.

Northern Ireland

Change but no change in the North

The reality of the situation in Northern Ireland has not changed one jot after the recent elections there. As expected following the last NI Assembly elections, Sinn Féin became the largest party in local government. However the DUP maintained its vote and share of seats, with Jim Allister’s TUV only marginally eating into its vote. The North is not any less divided than it was on constitutional issues or the Northern Ireland Protocol and ‘Windsor’ Agreement.

Of course it is expected that the DUP will seek to find a face-saving way to come back in to the Assembly and Executive, though this time with Jeffrey Donaldson holding the (equally powerful but symbolically less prestigious) post of Deputy First Minister to Michelle O’Neill’s position as First Minister. As usual in such circumstances money will be part of making it happen – and it might even materialise unlike some instances in the past; the DUP will claim success on this front. It would seem the woeful economic situation in the North with quite drastic cuts on top of an already appalling situation is being used by Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State, as a tool of leverage. But it is people in need of health and social services who suffer.

The danger is that the British government will give the DUP ‘assurances’ about the position of Northern Ireland in relation to its membership of the United Kingdom which it is not its to give. The Good Friday Agreement is quite clear about the responsibilities of both governments and when a referendum on unification should take place based on a judgement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which is a rather subjective arrangement.

Influential unionist figure Jamie Bryson has recently argued in the News Letter https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/letters/jamie-bryson-the-constitutional-future-of-northern-ireland-should-be-a-matter-for-all-of-the-uk-not-just-ni-4161966 that any decision on constitutional change should either be taken on an all-UK basis or having majorities in Northern Ireland, the Republic, and Britain. Stating that “A state has a right to protect its territorial integrity”, as he does in this piece, might sound fine but pays no attention to the realities of Irish history and the colonisation of Ireland by Britain. The problem about such possibilities is that they fly in the face of the Good Friday Agreement (and other, prior, statements or arrangements such as the Downing Street Declaration). The DUP is desperate to save face with some UK government declaration about the position of Northern Ireland in the UK; the problem is that such declarations may also be contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, and make the situation worse and more intractable in the long run.

Arriving at the Good Friday Agreement was a tortuous process and “50% +1” determining a ‘United Kingdom’ or a ‘United Ireland’ is a very crude mechanism, far from ideal, but it is what is there. However what we have argued for before is that not only should there be a clear picture of what a united Ireland might entail – and that is for the government and people of the Republic to offer – but there would be a clear ‘road map’ of a process that would take place following a “50% +1” vote in favour of a united Ireland, and that this should include extensive consultation with unionists, nationalists and ‘neithers’ in the North.

That process following such a vote would be key to having a peaceful transition. It should certainly not be rushed but how long it would take, and what stages there would be, should be carefully outlined. The possibility of a continuation of Stormont as a regional assembly has had some recognition of its possibility south of the border and it might be an important part of assuring Northern unionists and loyalists that the were not going to be consumed into, devoured by, the current Irish state (the bogey man of ‘Rome rule’ has long gone). And the people of the Republic have a lot of thinking to do as to how to make a new state work and be acceptable to Northerners of all kinds, nationalist as well as unionist.

We are, however, nowhere near the situation of a border poll, or, indeed, if it was called a majority voting for Irish unity. There may now be a majority of Catholics (cultural Catholics that is) in the North but they too need to be persuaded that an all-island state is the best for everyone, including themselves. The old jest about loyalty to the half crown (when last used in 1971 this was a coin with purchasing value of more than a pound today) rather than the Crown is a pointer that economic considerations cannot be dismissed on either side.

And a relatively recent poll by the Belfast Telegraph told that a considerable majority of the current ‘neithers’ (identifying as neither unionist nor nationalists) would at the moment opt for the status quo. This could of course change, and, if the Republic outlined a process which was fair in terms of transition, and the likelihood of fast economic advancement, it could change quite rapidly.

The task for unionists, from their point of view, should not be looking for declarations from the British government and so on but be to make Northern Ireland such an attractive place for cultural Catholics that they too did not want to ‘forsake the blue skies of freedom for the grey mists of an Irish Republic’. Some wiser unionists realise this, but not necessarily how to go about it, and unionism as a whole is far from being aware of it. It remains to be seen whether unionism can actually make a real effort to make cultural Catholics and nationalists feel right at home; it requires a significant change of mindset.

Meanwhile there will be the issue of making Stormont work since its dysfunctionality is an inherent feature of how it does or does not do business and how it tries to decide on things. We have previously supported decision making methodologies promoted by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org which are as inclusive as possible and advance the possibility of decisions actually being taken as opposed to impasses on various important issues including education. Whether and when the Assembly will make changes after it is back and running – as it may well be later in the year – remains to be seen.

The uncertainty regarding the economic future of things as they stand in the light of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the ‘facing both ways’ (UK and EU) nature of the economy, will take some time to be worked out. If Northern Ireland does prosper, and productivity per head is currently way below the Republic, it will be fascinating to see how this affects constitutional preferences. On the one hand fewer people in a prosperous North might wish to risk rocking the boat by joining with the Republic. However on the other hand if the North is no longer a major beneficiary of the British Exchequer, joining with the Republic becomes more possible economically even in the short term before any possible north-south development kicks in after a united Ireland.

In the longer term the UK is likely to seek a closer deal with the EU and that might mean, by the time any possibility of people voting for a united Ireland came around, that the North joining with the Republic would not risk the current advantage of ‘facing both ways’. However things are all to play for. The advantage of the ‘neithers’ having the casting vote is that it is up to both sides, unionist and nationalist, to be on their best behaviour and try to appeal to those outside of their ‘natural’ ethnic voting tribe. It is unlikely that all, or much, will be sweetness and light but that at least does give some hope that decision making may be made at least partly on logical and rational thought rather than simple tribal allegiance.

Editorials: Forever war, A notion once again

Perpetual, forever war

The analysis seems to be that Vladimir Putin is settling in for a long haul on the war in Ukraine, a ‘forever war’, see e.g https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/28/putin-prepares-russia-for-forever-war-with-west-as-ukraine-invasion-stalls?CMP=share_btn_link However, given his control of the media and the lack of any rights for citizens, this is not too bad an outcome for him. Of course he would have preferred a blitzkrieg which would have had his soldiers proudly promenading through Kyiv after a week or two – as many expected to do – but that did not happen. Instead, making an unvirtue of necessity, he can use the rhetoric of ‘national survival’ as a means to justify repression and uber-nationalism. As long as oil revenues don’t disappear he can certainly try to ride the storm, and his efforts at oil market diversification are bearing fruit, or should we say dollars, even if western sanctions are biting.

But Putin is a late comer to the concept of ‘forever war’, something which the USA and its NATO allies have been practising for years. What was ‘the war on terror’ if not a justification for ‘forever war’? One difference is that ‘in the west’ the mass sacrifice of soldiers is unacceptable and the alternative used is bombing the hell out of places and using remote warfare that does not require your own side to be lambs to the slaughter. Of course drone and missile use is now an integral part of warfare everywhere but the massive death toll of Russian (including Wagner) soldiers would not be contemplated in the west because there would be uproar and the upturning of governmental tables. Russia may have lost more than twice the total number of US soldiers killed in the whole of the Vietnam war, plus many seriously wounded.

Why are there 800 or more US military bases around the world? The US may see itself as the world’s policeman but that is a self justification for throwing its weight about. What were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq about? If they were about ‘democracy’ and ‘human and women’s rights’ then a very different course of action would have been followed, both in not going to war and, if they did, policies afterwards. And so far as 9/11 is concerned if they were going to attack anyone it should have been their repressive and violent ally, Saudi Arabia. US interests come first, and last, in its foreign policy, wars and warmaking.

The EU is part of this militarisation too. Its commitment to developing the arms trade, and funding of same, is a crying shame or should we say crime against humanity. Its work on the gradual evolution of an EU army is the development of an army for a superpower. It is increasingly becoming the European wing of NATO. It may all be dressed up in fancy language, and the threat of Russia currently used to justify it (but it was happening well, well before any Russian treat to Ukraine) but if NATO had not expanded into eastern Europe (as promised to Russia at the time of the fall of communism) then there almost certainly would not have been any Russian threat – or if the anti-communist NATO had itself disbanded. That and a policy of fair dos for Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine, through implementation of the Minsk agreements, would almost certainly have prevented the current war. And once the war started ‘the west’, including blustering Boris, vetoed any serious talks with Russia.

The more armaments are developed and the higher the expenditure on the military, the more insecure the world will be, and the risks of nuclear war have certainly not gone away, they have just been waiting in the wings. The needs of the world, for economic justice worldwide and the elimination of the armageddon of global warming, are so great that we are struggling for the wrong things. Insecurity grows from the barrel of a gun. A secure world is where there is economic justice and climate security (insofar as we can possibly achieve that now); we need human security not military insecurity.

Instead we are offered the chimera of forever war. It is not dissimilar to a version of George Orwell’s 1984. And that is a terrible place to exist. Maybe enough of us do love the Big Brother of US, NATO, EU and Russian militarism (respectively) to enable the MADness (‘Mutually Assured Destruction’) to continue. But some of us will resist and point to a better future without the military monoliths, their threats to humanity and their current assault on economic and ecological progress through eating scarce financial and other resources and adding considerably to global warming.

Northern Ireland

“A notion once again”

Northern Ireland is still a very unsettled place, that should be obvious. Even the concept of what is democracy continues to be up for grabs; harder line unionists see the Northern Ireland Protocol as an assault on their Britishness while most of the rest (an arithmetic majority) want the return of devolved government to deal with the dire problems heaped up and getting worse. Educational and health outcome are rather better in the Republic than the North for example (see e.g. David McWilliams in The Irish Times 4/3/23).

Some Northern Ireland unionists still want to be the tail wagging the UK dog. That position passed once Boris Johnson won a stomping parliamentary majority using his bluster and lies and Tory dependence on the DUP bloc at Westminster was no more. It is clear from the relatively easy passage for Rishi Sunak of the so-called Windsor Framework that Northern Ireland issues and unionist angst and anger is about as important as the issue of how many angels can dance on a pin head – first of all it does not rate as an issue, and if it did then it is not considered important in the overall British context. This is difficult for unionists in a variety of ways because it is obvious that other British interests (e.g. getting Brexit done sufficiently to have reasonable relations with the EU) trump their concerns.

A poll in the Belfast Telegraph 10/3/23 showed 67% of people in the North back the Windsor Framework deal but only 16% of DUP voters – and 73% of DUP voters proclaim they are opposed to it. How Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP leadership will square that circle, with Jim Allister of the TUV breathing down their neck (just as the DUP breathed down the neck of the Ulster Unionist Party) remains to be seen. Now 54% of unionists as a whole are recorded as wanting the DUP to stay out of the Assembly and Executive until further changes are made or the deal is torn up. The DUP committee of senior party figures set up by Donaldson to consider what to do has reported but there is no smoke of any kind emanating yet on the matter. The DUP practised an ‘in, out and shake it all about’ approach after the Good Friday Agreement which served their interests well; they might try something similar again although there is arguably less wriggle room now.

Of course the return of the Assembly and Executive at Stormont would be the start of the next crisis, whatever that will be, because as night follows day the crises will continue. But the biggest crisis is simply the inability of the system to make decisions and plan in a reasonable manner; some of this may be inherent in the primary division in Northern Ireland but some is a result of the current consociational system in place. Obviously ending the ability of one party to block the system functioning would be progress but the use of more advanced and inclusive voting, such as the Modified Borda Count, could facilitate more effective, collective decisions.

A recent poll on the ‘middle ground’ of those who proclaim to be non-nationalists and non-unionists showed that in relation to the border a considerable majority would currently vote to stay part of the UK (53% would stay in the UK, only 19% opt for Irish unity, Belfast Telegraph 4/3/23). All this means that it is currently not so so much the possibility of ‘a nation once again’ in the near future as only a notion (of a nation) once again. If it is this ‘middle ground’ who will decide the constitutional status in the event of a referendum (given the relative balance between nationalists and unionists), unionists should take this to heart in the sense of relaxing a bit about the immediate future, while Sinn Féin pushing for a border poll is pointless posturing.

However this current balance within the ‘middle ground’ could change over the medium term particularly if the Republic had a coherent plan on unification and what it would mean which shows respect for all the people of the North, and an economic plan which showed how the current British exchequer subsidy to the North would be replaced. The Irish government’s refusal to even look at the topic might be for good reasons (avoiding stoking conflict in the North) but is unhelpful on a wider level since what would or could be in a united Ireland is subject to wildly fluctuating interpretations. At the moment people are comparing the reality they know with an indefinable non-entity.

It has also been very noticeable in recent weeks that loyalist paramilitarism and feuding haven’t gone away. While small republican paramilitary groups primarily pose a threat to the police and ‘security forces’ (though also to civilians as in what tragically happened to Lyra McKee), loyalist paramilitaries at the moment are mainly a threat to the communities where they exist and who they purport to serve, as well as themselves. In addition to dealing in drugs many deal in the dregs of Troubles sectarianism.

The intelligent unionist response would be to make Northern Ireland politics work and deliver for people, along with an acceptance that Northern Ireland is, was, and shall be different to the rest of the UK for a variety of reasons – not least that partition created a then unassailable majority and a humiliated minority (though there will be no unassailable majority, certainly in the near future, the majority-minority position is in the process of being reversed). Compromise and prosperity are the way for unionists to try to continue the link with Britain now that they are no longer a political majority. Whether the Act of Union has been compromised (and as has been previously pointed out in these pages, said Act was only passed through massive corruption) may be important to some unionists but to no one else.

It is of course possible that the DUP will re-enter Stormont after the May local government elections are safely out of the way, and see how they can still make their points on the Northern Ireland Protocol. While the Assembly restarting should be welcomed it will be a rather stale and not a fresh start (and the previous ‘Fresh Start’ restart was not a fresh start either!). Stormont is symbolically placed on a hill, a grandiose building as the parliament for a relatively small statelet; the hill which Northern Ireland has to climb to get out of all its current malaises is far, far higher.

Editorials: The art and skill of compromise / Northern Ireland – Calling it on the Protocol

Ukraine, the world, negotiation and compromise

The art and skill of compromise

What can we compromise, how do we compromise, and do we end up ‘compromised’? These are important questions for anyone (which equals everyone) ever involved in conflict. And conflict is part of life so knowing when to compromise is one of the most essential skills that we can learn. Negotiation is pointless without the possibility of compromise.

The first thing to say is that being able to compromise, without reneging on our core values, is part of being strong. Compromise is often portrayed simply as weakness (which is where the term ‘compromised’ comes from) whereas you have to be strong to make a principled compromise through recognising the other party’s arguments and position, and being willing to move on. Of course a ‘giving in’ compromise can come from weakness, that you simply cave in to another’s demands, but that is not what we are talking about here.

Intransigence is when one or more parties to a conflict refuse to consider negotiation and compromise, or have extreme or unrealistic demands and expectations. This can come from perceived strength but it can also come from weakness – before the Falklands/Calvinism war of 1982 neither Britain nor Argentine were willing to submit their claim to international arbitration because they were both so unsure of their claim to the islands.. You need to feel strong in yourself to engage in negotiation which can lead to compromise. And in such circumstances ‘weakness’ can turn into ‘false strength’ (in the case of the Falklands/Malvinas war).

To be able to negotiate and compromise properly you need a realistic assessment of the situation in general and the interests and positions of the other party or parties. You also need to be acting ‘in good faith’ and be persuaded that others are dong the same. That is why, in the EU-UK negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol, having the NI Protocol Bill in the UK Parliament is so ludicrous. It is a prime example of British exceptionalism because it is effectively saying “We’ll negotiate a deal with you but if we subsequently decide there is something we don’t like we will unilaterally change it”. That is absolute nonsense, and bad faith; an agreement involves at least two sides, not one side deciding by itself.. Some in the British Conservative Party think that something like the NI Protocol Bill makes them look strong when in fact it only serves to make them look really stupid. It is one way to lose friends and win enemies.

As with any mediation, a negotiated settlement should be in accord with human rights and justice. These may be open to very different interpretations but it should still be clear. And if there are competing human rights (as with many marching disputes in Northern Ireland) both sides rights need to be taken into account.

In Northern Ireland, for example, it is also necessary to distinguish between identity, and the freedom to express that identity (again subject to the human rights of others) and the position of the state. Few people in the world are lucky enough to belong to a state where they always agree with the positions and policies held by that state. The identity of someone as a nationalist or a unionist in the North should be respected but that does not mean that the state can or should mirror their own political viewpoint. Nationalists have had to live with that fact for years; it does not seem that unionists are yet willing to consider this despite ‘unionism’ no longer being in a majority position. However you should never have to compromise on your identity as opposed to the possibility of compromising on your position..This is also relevant to Ukraine, another divided society.

Being aware of the difference between interests and positions is also important, and not making red lines which will interfere with negotiations later on. Of course you will want to consider what your red lines are but publicising them and saying publicly “Less than this we will no accept” is unwise (as with a very public seven red lines which the DUP publicised in relation to the NI Protocol). Such red lines are unwise because if the other side makes you an offer which is in your interests but you have publicised lines you will not cross, it either makes you look weak if you cross those lines, or it means no successful negotiation is possible. This is a case where trying to look hard, by publicising your red lines, makes meaningful negotiation harder.

It is rare for any side to get all it wants in a negotiation but aiming for a win-win result is desirable. What is the minimum that my opponent needs to settle? Can it be given to them? And are there things which are in their longer term interests which could be part of a settlement and help to move things on? Are they willing to give me some of what I want and maybe need?

Negotiation skills can be taught but it is also an area where both experience and tactical common sense are needed. In the middle of negotiation, everything can seem in a mess and confusion can reign. Holding your nerve and trusting in the process to take you there are important. And, when it comes to the crunch, you need to decide whether you can stand over the prospective deal or whether the fall back, non-negotiated situation is better (and if there is not a negotiated settlement whether there is anything you can do to make the situation more acceptable for yourself).

In the last editorial we spelled out some leeway for possible negotiations with Russia to end the war and their onslaught on Ukraine – and questioned why Ireland should not be actively exploring such possibilities. Part of successful negotiation – and making it stick – is allowing everyone to save face. This may seem unpalatable but it is definitely essential. If Vladimir Putin is not overthrown in Russia, how are you going to get Russia to cut a deal? And even if the unlikely happened and he was overthrown, would his successor be any better? It may seem unjust to allow Putin to save face in any deal, but can there be a deal without this (barring Russian victory in Ukraine)? No.

There are many ways negotiation can take place – formally, informally, simply between the two or more parties, involving a mediator, shuttle diplomacy, or quite possibly a mixture of different models. Imagination and creativity are key. ‘Megaphone diplomacy’, where two sides shout at each other, is not negotiation but self-justification. Unfortunately in regard to the Russian war on Ukraine things are stuck at megaphone diplomacy and it takes courage and imagination to move beyond that.

It is not often that we quote Winston Churchill but in 1954 (in a saying often misquoted and a bit uncertain) he said “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war”. If an arch-militarist can say that it seems strange that the west is intent in showing its support to Ukraine through the supply of weapons, which kill and cause killing in response, and not at all in exploring how the war could be brought to an end by meeting some of Russia’s interests which are reasonable (e.g. no Ukrainian membership of NATO) and imaginative face saving.

Even more ironic than the above is the fact it would seem that Winston Churchill’s successor as British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was instrumental in scuttling early negotiations which looked like they could be fruitful. https://jacobin.com/2023/02/ukraine-russia-war-naftali-bennett-negotiations-peace According to former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, there was a good chance of a breakthrough in negotiations early on but this was blocked by ‘the west’ – and Johnson said the west wouldn’t recognise any peace deal Zelensky signed with Putin. If this is true then Boris Johnson has a lake of blood on his hands.

The west’ has thus acted irresponsibly in a variety of ways; preventing a possible agreement early on in the war, pushing NATO eastwards when in 1989 they had promised not to, refusing to consider a neutral Ukraine, and not pushing for the implementation of the Minsk accords. All these facts, and the west’s handling of the 2014 Maidan revolution in which a democratically-elected government was overthrown, even if it was violent and corrupt, were part of what led to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. There is no excuse for that invasion and resultant bloodbath and Putin bares the primary blame along with his right-wing ‘Greater Russia’ ideology. But it is clear the west had contributed significantly to what has happened,

We can fully understand why Ukraine chose to resist the unjustifiable Russian invasion militarily. That does not mean it was the wisest choice or that other countries should simply back that stance up with weapons which are adding fuel to the fire. The fire needs put out, not stoked. Compromise is possible without anyone being compromised but for that to happen there has to be a belief that things can be made different through negotiation. And negotiation has to be brought about but where there is a will there is likely a way. And carrots are more likely to be successful in this than sticks (i.e. incentives rather than threatened penalties).

We are sad that a supposedly neutral country such as Ireland has had such a lack of imagination as to what is possible and has been unquestioning of the EU and NATO military responses..The Irish constitution commits the state to the pacific settlement of international disputes; the Irish government has shown no inclination or effort in that direction, a shameful dereliction of its duty.

Northern Ireland:

Calling it on the Protocol:

Brake even point?

What is fair to all sides in the North in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol? This is a big question which raises many other big questions, not least as to whether this deal could not have been arrived at a year or two ago if the UK had engaged properly with the EU; the claim by unionists and the DUP that they have caused the changes made is somewhat spurious or at best less than half true.

On the other hand we have previously stated that unionists deserve to have their views on the Protocol properly considered and this has now happened. But despite their prominence in Northern Ireland and in relation to the issue, the DUP is a small fish in the UK pond. For them there has been a perceived loss of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, as well as issues to do with the economic effect, particularly in terms of imports from Britain to the North..However it would seem the EU has been fairly generous – and both the EU and UK possibly clever (e.g. with the ‘Stormont brake’) – in the changes made. The UK government has, in its opinion, more important matters to settle than doing precisely what NI unionists want.

How can we put this into context? With difficulty, given the complexity and history. Brexit, which was enthusiastically supported by the DUP and most unionists, has had, as with many such moves, unintended consequences, one of which was the NI Protocol; the adage to “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

It is true that Northern Ireland continuing in the EU single market does represent a slight diminution of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland in relation to the economic sphere – but it is also true that business, despite wanting certain issues ironed out (some of which will be dealt with under the new agreement), have generally welcomed the advantage for Northern Ireland in easier trade with the EU. It is also appropriate that there there should be Northern Irish input regarding the regulation of such matters; it is regulation, not taxation, without representation. Whether the ‘Stormont brake’ in being able to reject EU legislation could prove a hostage to fortune, it was an astute move since it can only be implemented with the Northern Ireland Assembly functioning – though the final say is with the UK government, not Stormont. How meaningful this is and whether this overcomes any democratic deficit on the issue is questionable – but then Northern Ireland is not a sovereign state, its top level government is in London.

There are wider issues however. An arithmetic majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. A majority in the North have wanted issues in relation to the NI Protocol ironed out but not the Protocol to be abandoned. Most people want Stormont back to decide on the critical issues facing the North (and issues to do with the health service are literally critical) – getting more effective decision making in the Assembly is another issue and another day’s work. Unionists are no longer in a majority in Northern Ireland – but then neither are nationalists and there are questions here about the rights of ‘equals’ or ‘minorities’.

What ‘sovereignty’ means in today’s world is also a moot point. At one stage when the cattle trade was threatened by disease in Britain, Rev Ian Paisley declared that the people in Northern Ireland were British but the cattle were Irish! That is flexibility in relation to economic interests – and if the North prospered through easier access to the EU that could make people less likely to vote for a united Ireland. Voters list health and the economy as their primary concerns with only 22% in a recent poll putting the NI Protocol top. Referring to the Act of Union (between Britain and Ireland) being broken two hundred and twenty years later is important to some unionists but is not going to impress others, particularly when said Act only came about through massive bribery and corruption, ’buying out’ the Irish parliamntarians of the time.

There are points which can be made on both sides but the sovereign government of the UK entered into a binding agreement with the EU and, eventually, has renegotiated details of the Northern Ireland Protocol which nevertheless remains in place.. The fact that Boris Johnson had no intention of implementing whatever he didn’t like is irrelevant. The EU was slow to attempt to address problems but is well disposed towards Northern Ireland and it would seem has been as generous as it can be in the so-called Windsor Framework (the name seemingly an attempt to dress up the altered Protocol agreement in fancy clothes).

The British government has been torn between pragmatists who wanted to get the matter settled and Brexit irredentists who wanted to push the English nationalist boat out. Presuming Sunak gets it through the House of Commons in London with few Tory rebels opposing then he will have pulled off a considerable feat.

The DUP and Jeffrey Donaldson are in no rush to judgement on the new agreement – although at this stage it is not looking very like they will give approval. They will have a tight call but given they only changed their stance on the Protocol to outright opposition when it was clear they were losing support to Jim Allister and the TUV, it is fair to assume that the bottom line for them is whether they risk doing the same if they back the new proposals. However some DUP figures have already protested, e.g. Ian Paisley stating that the British government should not have ditched their ‘bargaining chip’ of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which would have given the British government the ‘right’ to ditch whatever they didn’t like in the agreement – which, particularly as it was a binding international agreement between the EU and UK, shows how little he knows about negotiation. Ian Paisley has also clearly stated that the new deal does not meet the DUP’s ‘Seven tests’ (which, as stated in the other editorial, they DUP were unwise to publicise).

If the DUP continues to boycott the Assembly at Stormont that is their prerogative but a wiser course of action would be to go back in but continue opposition to what is unwelcome to them from within. They could at least then start to deal with the urgent issues piling up – and Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, just with some differences. It has always been a place apart, the only part of the UK with ‘home rule’ for a century, and the only part of the UK having a land border with another jurisdiction. And DUP support for a hard Brexit, and rejection of Theresa May’s proposals keeping all of the UK in the single market, was a substantial reason for the whole issue being such a mess – and Northern Ireland being treated differently to Britain to begin with.

And if the DUP decide to continue their Stormont boycott then direct rule over Northern Ireland from Britain could be the order of the day for a decade or more. That is not a great birthday present for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (which has always been shaky anyway) and it would represent not just a failure of politics but an encouragement to those who think militarily rather than in terms of democratic politics. It is hard to see what more the EU could give without the EU and UK going back to the drawing board on their relationship – and especially after the debacle of the last number of years that is not going to happen.

The longer this debacle goes on, and the DUP stays out, the weaker unionism will be since there there are far more young cultural Catholics than cultural Protestants with an ongoing decline in the number of the latter. The largest unionist party throwing its rattle out of the pram does no one, not even themselves, any favours. Seeing Michelle O’Neill donning the mantle of First Minister would also be a bitter ill for unionists but if they are democrats then it is one they should swallow – and get on with the job, including representing their constituency.

If ‘Stormont’ does return then this is highly unlikely to be the last major crisis or cessation. The “other day’s work” referred to above is to sort out a more effective decision making system for the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better but getting agreement on reform will be difficult – and much more than “a day’s work”.

Readings in Nonviolence: Peacebuilding and community development

Review

Peacebuilding, Conflict and Community Development

ed. John Eversley, Sinéad Gormally and Avila Kilmurray

243 pages, £26.99.

Rethinking Community Development, Policy Press, 2022

Reviewed by Rob Fairmichael

The contribution of the community sector and community development to society can be analysed and even quantified, with some difficulty, but it is clear that a healthy civil society at all levels is part of maximising well being. There are many questions arising about what should be done by communities and what should be done by the state, and the relationship between the two. In any case the state may not have the financial resources, or even desire, to do much that is positive. Everything gets rather more complicated in divided societies and situations of conflict, especially as the state may be a big – or the largest – part of the problem for people at community level.

Work in the community can be constrained by authoritarian controls or by the level of conflict in violent societies. On the other hand, in very violent situations some aspects of community action and development may be the best or only possible arena of work when other more political or wider involvements are impossible. Addressing general human needs and issues arising from the conflict can be of vital societal importance; this was certainly the case in Northern Ireland during the Troubles – and it can be strongly argued that work at community level was an important factor in the level of violence not escalating further.

That is all where this book comes in. It is a thorough work with nine case studies sandwiched between chapters written by the editors (and a chapter on ‘everyday peace’). It is a mixture of more academic and practical analysis and the case studies – Colombia, the Caucasus, Nigeria, Eastern Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nepal, Palestine, Northern Ireland, and Myanmar Rohingya – are very varied both geographically and what is covered. The book is not always easy reading but it repays a bit of concentration and packs in a lot – and their initial chapter, an introduction to the whole issue, is a very compact, competent and comprehensive summary which can be recommended as a primer on the topic.

It may be familiar to some activists but the editors give definitions of peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding (page 7) along with many other terms and concepts. They have a table (page 17) detailing community development interventions at different stages of conflict; this could be usefully compared with Emily Stanton’s outlining of peacemaking interventions that took place in the Belfast/Northern Ireland context https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/43899692560/ Some of the latter were at different levels though mainly ‘in the community’. The root transformation of conflict is, of course, dealt with. (page 9)

However, referring to Emily Stanton’s book (“Theorising civil society peacebuilding…”, 2021) the editors say that their book “illustrates the observation that knowledge of what to do may come from theoretical knowledge (also called propositional knowledge or episteme); practical knowledge of the art or craft of how to do things (techne); or practical knowledge from experience (sometimes called embodied or tacit knowledge or phronesis) which is often the same as indigenous knowledge…” (page 211). Wisdom takes different forms.

The buzz phrase at the Belfast launch of the book was ‘everyday peacemaking’ which is a phrase dealt with in the first chapter after the introduction. ‘Everyday peacemaking’ can be positive, neutral, or manipulated by powerholders but the authors of the chapter say “Everyday peace is presented in the literature as the means by which ordinary individuals and groups navigate everyday life in deeply divided societies, in ways that first avoid or minimise both awkward situations and conflict triggers, and (only) then consider active steps to engage with the other…….However, everyday peace can grow….to evolve into wider peace formation, and become a foundation upon which social cohesion can be (re)built…..” (page 26)

People living in Northern Ireland can be experts in everyday peace. I still frequently retell a story from twenty years ago about the skill of one person in avoiding a possibly awkward sectarian situation. I am deliberately not going into details here but I was in the company of a West Belfast Catholic atheist when we were speaking to a member of the Protestant community that we had just met whose political and social views we did not know. As the good West Belfast Catholic atheist would not tell a lie, about where an event took place, he deliberately used a rhetorical question which might have led the Protestant to believe that the venue was a neutral one rather than in a Catholic area, and might be less inclined to ask. It was done with the best intentions – to avoid awkwardness and possible ill feeling – but it was still a kind of deceit. The skill with which it was done left me gobsmacked, as someone from outside Northern Ireland though living there for a couple of decades at that stage.

The chapter on Northern Ireland by Monina O’Prey is a very comprehensive look at, and analysis of, community action and development through the Troubles and ends with a look at programme for dealing with communities with weak infrastructure. It also has some key learning points from the whole experience (p.187). It is not referred to but it bears repeating that the British government insist on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (and succeeding resolutions) on the involvement of women in peacebuilding and peace processes, and awareness of their needs, to be at the forefront internationally in all instances – but not in its own backyard of Northern Ireland. This is of course is as ironic and exceptionalist as you can get.

We are also talking about what are likely to be long term processes, and work at one stage coming to fruition some time later through conscientised activists and capacity building. In writing about the work in Sri Lanka (page 112) the authors of the chapter speak of how the women leaders during the war continue today: “It is those very same women who worked during the war that continue to maintain solidarities in the post-war context. NGOs have closed down. Funding has dried up. There is hardly any international presence in the east any more. It is those activist women leaders across Muslim and Tamil communities that have again taken on the role of articulating rights, justice and peace….” and dealing with crises. For human community infrastructure to remain when a funding circus moves on is a massive achievement.

The words ‘nonviolent’ and ‘nonviolence’ make occasional appearances in the book but it is all relevant to those concerned with building societies which not only seek to get beyond violence but move to inclusion and social justice.

The issues concerned are complex, and the book’s contents deal with a range of different issues in a wide range of countries including the involvement of youth, women, dealing with state violence, human rights, even storytelling in the Palestinian context as a vehicle for community development. This all points to the importance of appropriate and imaginative interventions and the fact that one size only fits one situation and certainly not all. However activists in any conflicted situation will find many resonances in the different areas of the world which are covered in the book.

The chapter on working on Myanmar Rohingya issues ends on a very upbeat note in what has been, and continues to be, a dire situation. A programme of relationship building between Rakhine and Rohingya villages actually led to the Rakhine villagers advocating on behalf of the Rohingya about regaining their access to education which was “a significant act of solidarity and highlights the important and transformational outcomes that can occur as a result of micro-solidarities and actions accumulating over time.” (page 205) And that remarkable and upbeat note is a good point to end this review apart from stating that so-called ‘normal’ societies can also have elements of the conflict and divisions covered in the many examples in this book . So this work may repay reading for activists in a wide variety of societies, not just those which are labelled as conflicted – although the latter are estimated at up to a third of the world’s population (page 2).