Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Hell o again, writing that reminds me of the story about the church bulletin which mentioned that a meeting would be gin with a prayer. Anyway, on with the show.
They haven’t gone away (unfortunately)
The attempted killing of a senior PSNI detective in Omagh, and the very serious, critical, injuries he received, are an unpleasant reminder that paramilitaries have not left the stage in Northern Ireland, they are still waiting in the wings. This was presumably a very targeted murder attempt in that he had probably been the senior officer investigating some of the comrades of those who attempted the killing. He was not only an easy target – putting footballs away after being involved in regular training of young lads in football – but it was an attack on someone who was involved in youth work and sports training in his spare time.
Republican paramilitaries who reject the Good Friday Agreement may be small but they still have some capacity to hit hard, and if they had had ‘more luck’ in other operations then the injury or death count could be larger. Loyalist paramilitaries however have a larger ‘on the ground’ presence in some Protestant working class areas, and a larger involvement in illegal activities such as drug supply and dealing. Twenty-five years after the GFA they are still a feature of life.
While various programmes have tried to help paramilitaries move on, and most have, the reality is that paramilitarism is still a feature in Northern Ireland, and the return of paramilitarism on a greater scale an even bigger threat if the wind blew the wrong way. It strikes me that part of what provides self justification for them is the way that past violence on ‘their’ side (republican, loyalist and state) is justified. But another reason is the lack of understanding of the possibilities of nonviolent struggle – which is where us peace activists come in. However it is uphill all the way when so much effort is put into inculcating violence and the military on a larger scale – e.g. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral was basically one massive military event.
It is not just in Northern Ireland, obviously, that this applies. And the small voice of the advocates of nonviolent change and struggle is usually drowned out by a myriad of other voices which are both more numerous, better placed and better funded. But we will keep trying to have our spake even if there is a gale force wind taking our voices away from those who matter.
Twenty years after the Iraq war
Doesn’t time fly when you are having fun-damental questions about the nature of western society, anyway it is now two decades since the USA and Britain invaded Iraq, and two decades since a considerable part of the world, in the big demos of February 2003, told them not to do it. So is peace protest a lost cause? Not necessarily. Protests did put down a marker, raise consciousness about the illegitimacy of the war, and hopefully make our great leaders think twice about doing it again. Of course the whole debacle of the war itself, and aftermath, also emphasised its ill judged nature and it ruined what reputation Tony Blair had (he decided to back the USA, no questions asked)..
However the margin between ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in stopping a war can be very small. Milan Rai, who is editor of Peace News in Britain,, has an easily accessible article in the February-March 2023 issue of Peace News, available at https://peacenews.info/node/10508/how-we-nearly-stopped-war He has also written books about the Iraq war – before and after, including Regime Unchanged (Pluto, 2003) which discusses the issues in the article in greater detail.
In this article he details the wobbliness of the British government coming up to the war, and the fact that parliament was given a vote only because of the public pressure through demonstrations and the like. Had UN weapons inspectors been allowed to do their job (as opposed to being ordered out by the USA when going to war) this might have held up the whole affair and shown conclusively that Iraq did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction (the Weapons of Mass Distraction on the other hand included a ‘dodgy dossier’ from the British government claiming the unclaimable on this matter). The work of the weapons inspectors might have taken a few months – but the USA wanted war and it was not going to wait.
Milan Rai goes on to contrast the lobbying which went on of Turkish parliamentarians against the war, successfully, compared to the lack of lobbying of Labour MPs in Britain, most of whom voted for the war. “In the run-up to the British parliamentary vote on 18 March, the British anti-war movement did not mount the same kind of national lobbying effort as had taken place in Turkey. Neither the Stop the War Coalition, dominated by the Socialist Workers Party, nor the direct action wing of the anti-war movement, largely anarchist, believed in lobbying, and no other anti-war body took the lead. Stop the War concentrated on conventional marches and rallies. Much of the direct action movement was focused on protests at military bases; some of the rest focused on ‘Day X’, what to do when the war started. All of these were valuable activities. What was missing was a push to have a parliamentary vote on the war, and then to lobby MPs intensively. As it was, a majority of Labour MPs voted for war.”
Had Britain not jumped on the war bandwagon the USA’s position would have been much more difficult in terms of perceived legitimacy (I say ‘perceived’ because the war had no legitimacy at legal or strategic levels). But the above contrast between Turkey and Britain also leads us to the conclusion that no nonviolent tactics should ever be excluded from the panoply of what we might use. Lobbying, if done in sufficient numbers and with sufficient strength, can work.
Wars are relatively easy to get into and very difficult to get out of. This, tragically, applies to Russia and Ukraine today.
What springs to mind
Spring isn’t quite sprung yet but our snowdrops are nearly over, daffodils/narcissae are coming into flower or in full flower, and the days are noticeably longer. The spring is a great season anywhere but in Ireland April, coming up soon, is on average the driest month so a really great time to be out and about and ‘doing things’ in the great outdoors – mind you February has been a lot drier than usual too.
During Covid there has been a rediscovery of aspects of our own backyards, literally and metaphorically. Ireland doesn’t have the summer sun and heat of many countries to the east and south but if you are moving (walking, running, hiking, cycling, swimming etc) once you get going, if you are suitably equipped, then that should not interfere with your enjoyment. Ireland is green for a reason and that reason drops out of the sky in the shape of rain.
Spring is the season of new growth and all of us can be a part of that, almost whatever the circumstances. Window boxes and tubs can have a surprising variety of flowers or some salad vegetables growing. You can even grow sprouting seeds, highly nutritious, without any soil or compost. If you have space but don’t want a garden you have to do too much work in then a fruit tree or too can do wonders in terms of an enjoyable crop. And a wild garden may be home to a myriad of creatures and, with a little bit of thought, be another wonder with perhaps just a path (manufactured or cut) to have easy access..
My only plea in all this is to think organic and avoid adding to the chemicals which are far too present around us already. Going organic can on occasions mean more work but it is also more rewarding and nature will thank you. Something called the internet can assist you in finding out more and places like the Organic Centre in the north-west (see news section this issue) is a valuable resource.
A long time ago, like the 1960s and 70s, to ‘dig’ something could be to get it, to appreciate it. It was slang emanating from the USA, possibly coming from even further back, the 1930s and 1940s. ‘Dig’ has several meanings but one theory is that this sense of ‘dig’ comes from the Irish ‘an dtuigeann tú’, and wouldn’t you know that we would get in there somewhere. Whether you are into digging or no digging gardening and horticulture you can cooperate with nature in whatever way you fancy and ‘dig it’. It may even put a spring in your step and it certainly won’t soil your reputation; to have green fingers is always an accolade. [Any more puns like that and I’ll be digging a hole to climb into, or take a dig at you – Ed].
Nukes are puke
Ireland, thankfully, avoided an inappropriate nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point at the end of the 1970s (it wasn’t a ‘sore point’ with activists when Dessie O’Malley’s successor as responsible minister dropped the plans). You can learn more about the anti-nuclear power movement then from an edited version of a thesis by Simon Dalby on the INNATE website at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/pamphlets/ and on the INNATE photo site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157607158367565
However every so often there is a letter in the Irish Times, and the issue raised elsewhere, of a small new-tech nuclear plant being The Answer to Ireland’s quest for ‘green energy’ and power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. If things were only as simple as that. Firstly, nuclear power is far from green and there are no known ways to keep waste safe for tens of thousands of years – think of the time from when Jesus was around and take that forward by a large multiple – no one is quite sure how long with the nuclear industry talking about 10,000 years but others clearly saying much much longer. Bequeathing such waste to our descendents seems totally callous and irresponsible. Secondly, while modern plants may be safer than heretofore, the unexpected still happens; think Fukoshima (or even think Chernobyl in the Russia-Ukraine war) – we don’t know what could happen. Thirdly, new nuclear plants are notoriously slow to be built and by the time Ireland would have one coming on stream we would have had to have green energy properly sorted earlier.
But this whole matter was dealt with recently by John Fitzgerald, a very competent but not exactly radical economic analyst in the Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/2023/02/10/nuclear-power-is-not-the-right-solution-to-irelands-energy-needs/ and the title says it all – “Nuclear power plants are simply too big to be viable in Ireland”. It is a perceptive and analytical piece although lacking mention of ‘the unexpected’, as mentioned above.
Anyway, Fitzgerald states “As the Department of Finance noted 40 years ago, nuclear generators come at a minimum scale, which is huge relative to the size of the Irish electricity market. In order to guard against the risk of a breakdown in such a single large plant, we would need to maintain equivalent generation capacity as a backup, which would be very costly. Nuclear plants are simply too big to be viable in our small electricity market……..Having invested massively in wind power, we need backup that can be readily powered up when the wind doesn’t blow and powered down again. Nuclear generators lack that flexibility – they are always on. So nuclear is a poor fit for Ireland’s energy needs.”
Of course Ireland does need generating capacity not dependent on wind or sun and that can be provided by a variety of sources including different forms of tidal power. These need developed rapidly, along with storage including pumped water and batteries. And we are, to begin with, arguably the best suited location in Europe for wind power to begin with. You would like to think that such an article as that by John Fitzgerald might mean the end of letters advocating nuclear power but some people just love a high tech, ‘simple’ solution, except it isn’t a solution at all.
That’s me for March and I’ll see you again in a month’s time, until then take care of yourself, others and the planet, Billy.