Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
Gender equality, how are ye
It caught my eye on the BBC NI website on 27/11/23: three stories in a row about the treatment of women and girls. Under the heading of ‘Latest updates’ were three stories in a row, “Childminder’s husband jailed for abusing children”, “Upskirting and cyber-flashing laws come into effect”, and “Medic admits sterilising woman without her consent”.
The first story was about a former senior civil servant from Co Down who sexually abused two young girls (age unspecified) in his wife’s childminding care. The second story might be considered ‘good news’ in that new laws came in to effect on upskirting, downblousing and cyber-flashing with perpetrators potentially facing up to two years in prison and up to 10 years on the Sex Offenders Register. But the question underlying this is – why was this new law necessary? The NI Assembly (remember it?) had backed this law in spring of 2022 before the Assembly disappeared in a puff of smoke, with the bill, now law, being introduced by Naomi Long. And the final story was about a male consultant gynaecologist in a regional hospital in the North who admitted sterilising a woman without her permission and without medical need.
These are three stories covering different aspects of the treatment of women and girls in our society, all concerning aspects of what I would consider violence against them. These things happened to happen in the North but could be anywhere. You could come up with many other examples from different aspects of life and society. It doesn’t look very much like equality for women and girls, does it.
The death of long time British peace activist Bill Hetherington removes another of the ‘old’ faces from the peace movement there. He was 89 years old. While associated most with the PPU/Peace Pledge Union (where, incredibly, he was on their Council for fifty years) it is hard to think of a substantial peace initiative in past decades, in Britain or internationally, that he was not involved with. He was well informed on, and involved with, Northern Irish and Irish matters and, if I recall correctly, had some Irish blood in him. He was involved with the BWNIC campaign to withdraw British troops from the North and subsequently was on trial in 1975 for his involvement in that (and was imprisoned for a while, accused of breaking bail conditions) – were the BWNIC 14 encouraging British soldiers to disaffect? Maybe they were but fortunately were found not guilty.
An appreciation of his life as a peace activist can be found at https://www.ppu.org.uk/news/peace-movement-mourns-lifelong-pacifist-campaigner-bill-hetherington and there is a great photo of him there, looking a bit like an old seafarer – and he certainly had to negotiate lots of choppy waters in his time.
The INNATE coordinator remembers fondly the socio-political walking tour of Dublin that he (Rob Fairmichael) conducted for a group from the 2002 WRI/War Resisters’ International Triennial conference. This ran, or rather perambulated, from the Garden of Remembrance to the Dáil; he would give a short take on the relevance of the building, memorial or topography involved….and then Bill would, as was his wont, extend it “with the due parts of legal and constitutional history in detail” as the Triennial newsletter related. There is a photo of just such a scene at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/3269226483/in/album-72157613605954884/ Small of stature, Bill Hetherington was a big presence. For me he was one of those people who I didn’t have much contact with on an ongoing basis but knew were contributing hugely to work for peace – I definitely feel sad that he is no longer around.
Shannon ‘not being used’ – but Varadkar is…..
Ah yes, the main supplier of lethal equipment and just as lethal money to Israel is of course the good oul USA. It was kind of Leo Varadkar to tell us https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2023/11/19/shannon-airport-not-being-used-by-us-to-supply-military-equipment-to-israel-varadkar/ that Shannon Air/Warport is not being used by the USA to move military supplies to Israel. He has the USA’s word on that.
But since the Irish state never inspects what is coming through on US military or military-contracted planes he really doesn’t have a clue. And while the US army has no boots on the ground directly fighting in Gaza – I am sure there are lots of military advisors somewhere – he might think that is OK. But any support to a military aggressor or supporter of aggression is plain and simply wrong. And despite the atrocities committed by Hamas in southern Israel on 7th October I think we can be quite clear that Israel is an aggressor in its assault on civilians in Gaza. And, in general (and for generals), armies need soldiers so transporting soldiers through Shannon is every bit as nefarious as transporting weapons.
The Irish state is complicit in supporting US military aggression. [full stop]
Useful little piece by Conor Gallagher in the Irish Times of 16th November https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2023/11/16/ireland-faces-embarrassment-as-just-35-troops-volunteer-for-eu-battlegroup/ and follow up on 23/11/23. The first story was that “Ireland faces embarrassment as just 35 troops volunteer for EU Battlegroup”, less than a fifth of those needed from Ireland for a German-led ‘rapid response’ battlegroup being formed in January. It would be good to think that this was Irish soldiers voting with their feet not to get involved. The Irish Times reported that “It will act in support of UN-authorised missions and will also be deployed to aid humanitarian crises and support existing peacekeeping missions that face heightened difficulties” but given the plan to remove the Triple Lock on deployment of Irish troops overseas, and developing EU militarism, it is a further move towards Irish military integration with other military powers.
However this article and the follow up indicated that reluctance to sign up may be mainly due to uncertainty about additional financial allowances for being part of the battlegroup (interesting term that, they don’t even use a euphemism – which they are so good at – such as ‘peacekeeping group’). It is expected that the government will introduce financial incentives to get the 182 soldiers they need (however, it being an army, if needed soldiers could be ‘volunteered’). However amazingly Ireland already withdrew from participation in military peacekeeping in the UNDOF operation in the Golan Heights to get involved in this battlegroup which will be training for most of the next year and on standby for 2025.
Is it a new mint flavoured confectionery in rounded star shape? Or a rather unpleasant tasting confection currently out of production? The varmints in Starmint, the House on the Hill, are still not meeting thanks to a DUPlicitous party. Please note I am not saying other political parties are not or cannot be duplicitous, it is just as clear as day that the DUP turned what they saw as electoral survival into a principle. And there are principles involved for unionists who have been sold down the river, again, by a British government intent on its own nationalist project and their desire for survival.
But unionists are not the only people in Northern Ireland, or indeed in the United Kingdom to which they have allegiance. And while they stick to their principles the whole of Norn Iron is going down the tubes in relation to most things – including health and social services, poverty, community groups and the services they provide, and education (how can anyone hope to pull out of such a downward spiral when education funding is cut so badly?). The economy is just ticking over with remarkably low unemployment but also lots and lots of low pay. And Chris H-H as Shockretary of State compounds the problem by using, and adding to, the suffering of ordinary people as a weapon to try to get the DUP back in residence in the House on the Hill. I was thus wondering whether Chris Heaton-Harris deserves the title of (Vindictive to a) Tee-Shock. Meanwhile Troubles victims have been terribly short-changed again.
What a mess. While the new year was being signed up in the last while as a possible point for a return departure, the stars do not seem to be aligned [is Sammy a star?] for, or rather within, the DUP who may struggle on with an assembly boycott while the North falls apart at the seems (sic). Perhaps political bravery could win out but I suspect what is in store is that is not mint to be in NOrthern Ireland. I hope I am wrong, I would be delighted to be proven thus.
It’s official, sort of. The Irish – and in Ireland generally culturally Catholic – way of death is superior, certainly compared with another western European island. It is something many of us have known for a long time, and Kevin Toolis’ book “My father’s wake” is on the topic, but research has now proven it (usual caveats…) that active social engagement and collective remembering after the death of a loved one can help you. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-67462985 “The Ulster University study, which involved more than 2,000 people, looked at prolonged grief disorder (PGD). It described the disorder as an enduring yearning for the deceased persisting for more than six months. About 10.9% of grieving people in Ireland featured in the research fulfilled the disorder’s criteria, compared to 15.3% in the UK.” The study does go on to say “cultural differences with regard to death may be an explanatory factor” in relation to waking and so on.
So not only is the West a-wake but much of the rest of the island too. You may not be able to wish ‘slainte’ to the deceased but being able to do it to and with their kin, even with a cup of tea, can assist in coming to terms with the death. There is no simple answer or time limit to, or remedy for, grief when you lose your nearest and dearest. But waking can help and waking up to that fact is important so it is never lost.
Recently we have come on for a cold spell (blame the witch/wizard/warlock though I thought the last of these was Micheál Martin’s alternative to the Triple Lock….) but I have bright red salvia still in full bloom in the gordon, however the current cold may knock them on the head – being in a city and only a few k’s from the sea we escape some frosts manifested elsewhere.
But Christmas and New Year festivities and break are coming up fast and so I wish you an enjoyable and restful time (when you get there!) and, as always, a Preposterous New Year – the new year will be well established when I join you again. One piece of good cheer is that a song about Norn Iron trade union and peace activist May Blood is to be released just before Christmas https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/music/news/song-about-work-of-ni-peacemaker-for-christmas-release-a-lot-of-people-dont-really-know-who-she-is/a2133175073.html
Let’s hope, and work that, 2024 is more peaceful than the current year – Billy.