Welcome again to a few thoughts for the month as 2017 gradually slides over the horizon.....
A stone unturned gathers no truth
I went to see the Alex Gibney film “No stone unturned” about the Loughinisland massacre of six men in a bar in the Co Down village in 1994 by the UVF. Those killed were watching an Ireland world cup game against Italy (which Ireland won...). It’s very powerful and impossible to summarise in a relatively short space. But it does take the story further than what was previously in the public domain, including identifying the main suspects by name.
The hand of the state is everywhere in the film, and if anyone tried to say ‘there was no state collusion’ in Northern Ireland in the Troubles all it would take to disprove that notion would be one section of this film. From the fact that the RUC had prior warning of the attack (although that is a bit complex), the weapons that were used, through the informer who was part of the killer gang, the police losing vital evidence – possibly some through incompetence, more likely again through a cover up of collusion – and an appallingly sloppy and neglectful investigation, it is all there. And there are other strange facts, like a wife ‘shopping’ her paramilitary husband, possibly seeking revenge because of an affair he had, but in the end there was nothing, apart from a Police Ombudsman judgement of collusion in 2016. One conclusion from the latter was “it notes what seemed to be a practice by some police officers of placing more value on collecting information and protecting their sources than on preventing and detecting crime.” policeombudsman.org What price six men’s lives?
At times the police were handed everything almost on the proverbial plate. But they either dropped the plate or let the contents slip away. Why? Well, either they were protecting an informer and/or there was some bigger part to the picture that we don’t know. Having an informer in your murder gang seems not to have been a ‘get out of jail free’ card so much as a ‘never go to jail in the first place’ card.
And what did they – state agencies - get for this? An English journalist well versed on Norn Iron and the case who contributes to this documentary film has no idea. The people of Loughinisland, however, got more pain, anguish and heartache. They were promised no stone would be left unturned in getting the perpetrators to justice, including in the patrician tones of the then secretary of state, Patrick Mayhew, when visiting Loughinisland. But as the wife of a man murdered in the massacre said, the stones weren’t even lifted let along turned.
The war of the poppies
Students of English history may know about the War of the Roses. But ‘the war of the poppies’ continues, and there were a few skirmishes this ‘remembrance season’ – thankfully over for nearly another year. I say ‘thankfully’ not because I don’t want to remember all those killed in conflict and war but living in Northern Ireland I find this period oppressive for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, red poppies are only remembering British military war dead (not civilians and not people of other nationalities or wars elsewhere) which makes me singularly uncomfortable.
Secondly, there is considerable pressure – emanating from the top and the media – within Britain and unionist circles in Northern Ireland to conform. This is most pronounced in British television media where there is a diktat to wear a poppy. It is reminiscent of communist era Russia, or post-9/11 USA, where if you don’t have the correct badge on your lapel, well, you are obviously An Enemy and Not To Be Trusted.
I welcome the fact that Catholics in the North and people in the Republic can now remember ancestors who fought in the British army in the First, and to some extent the Second, World War. But this change in relation to the First World War has come at a price, and that is largely an uncritical approach to the militarism and imperialism of the time – and the link, used by the British establishment to the fullest extent possible, between the ‘heroism’ of those who died with the ‘heroism’ of the British military today.
Yes, remember the dead on all sides, celebrate their lives, but don’t pretend their deaths were glorious (they were usually horrible and often literally tortuous) and nothing but a complete disaster of mammoth proportions, for them, their families and friends, and for the societies involved. And we need to always bear in mind that the First World War was the result of imperial rivalries with any concern for justice or rights way, way down the list (a bit like using the ‘liberation’ of women as a justification for wars this century, fat chance). Furthermore, the Second World War was a direct result of the First.
Leo Varadkar wore a ‘shamrock poppy’ in the Dáil, an Irishised version of the red poppy from the Irish branch of the Royal British Legion. But it is still only remembering people who fought for the British even if any money raised would be spent in Ireland. So it is still the same thing and the ‘sham’rock does not justify it. This is aside altogether from the fact that ‘the remembrance season’ is used to sell the current role of the British military. But then Fine Gael is the party who would be most keen to ditch Irish neutrality, what is left of it, if they had the chance (Fianna Fáil and Labour would not be too far behind).
In other aspects of ‘the war of the poppies’, broadcaster Christine Lampard, who is from Norn Iron, wore a white poppy on ITV in Britain sparking a twitterstorm. One comment was "I think this is disgusting as it is supposed to be red so everyone should wear red. My grandad was in that war so red it is."
Meanwhile, in an illustration that many people in the UK are sensible on such things, Janet Street-Porter reported www.independent.co.uk that a third of British young people (18-24 years old) are reluctant to wear a poppy, some because they consider it glorifies war, and three quarters of those unwilling to wear one say they object to being compelled to do something against their wishes. If a third of young people in Britain don’t want to wear one, what on (this small patch of) earth was Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar doing sporting one in the parliament of a state which has been independent of the UK for nearly a century?
What’s in an acronym?
It’s a sign of the times, and a relatively happy one for Ireland, that British newspapers can be talking about “the IRA” and it’s not the Irish Republican Army. Admittedly it is used in context, with the name spelt out in full earlier, in this case it’s the “Internet Research Agency”, a Russian ‘troll factory’ (but who con-trolls the trolls – well, the Kremlin in the final analysis). This ‘IRA’ churns out tweets at a phenomenal rate from its St Petersburg base – including pro-Trump or anti-Clinton in the last US presidential election, pro-Brexit, or simply trying to divide people and muddy waters in countries where Russia wants to interfere, e.g. stirring up anti-Islamic feeling in Britain. No, please note, we are not saying ‘the west’ doesn’t do similar activities in relation to Russia, it assuredly does, and though the methods are not necessarily the same, the game is still to influence events in ‘your’ favour.
But where would we be without the invention of the acronym? If we try to get in touch with our TD, MLA or MP we are acronyming. Even INNATE is, we would say, an appropriate acronym. But the same initials can be initially confusing; ‘ICC’ for example can signify ‘Irish Council of Churches’ (headquartered in Belfast), the Islamic Cultural Centre (Clonskeagh, Dublin), the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the International Chamber of Commerce, or the International Cricket Council. Talking knowledgeably about ‘the ICC’ could thus indicate you are a Christian ecumenist, an Irish Muslim, an international lawyer or a war criminal, a globetrotting businessperson, or a fan of the sport of cricket – though if it is any except the last then it is not cricket. So you may want to make it clear which one you are talking about. Me, I’m not having any of that acronym stuff, NIMBY anyway. Though, OMG, I note that ‘acronym’ is not an acronym, not even for Awful Contrived Really Ordinary Names Yearn (for) Meaning.
Nuclear warfare role for ‘Belfast’
That is, HMS Belfast, a new Type 26 frigate due to join the Royal Navy in the 2020s. ”It will be used to protect the UK's nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.” (Belfast Telegraph 27/9/17) Oh right then, so ‘Belfast’, a city well known for its sectarian violence, will be the name of a ship which will protect the UK’s role to commit mass murder on a horrendous and unimaginable scale through Trident and post-Trident nuclear capability. Wonderful. British ‘Offence’ (‘Defence’) minister Michael Fallon said “She and her sister ships will form the backbone of our Navy well into the 2060s, keeping us safe by protecting the country's nuclear deterrent and new aircraft carriers.”
Of course I have always wanted to live in a city associated with mass murder and destruction - and Belfast’s violent name from the Troubles has been fading so maybe this announcement is timely. Or maybe the UK would just be using the threat of nuclear devastation and the total waste of money that goes with that, along with the UK’s pretence to still be a Big Boy (boys and their toys), while destabilising peace worldwide in encouraging others to Join the Club of holders of nuclear weapons (think North Korea). So not only will Belfast be the location of the biggest arms manufacturer on the island of Ireland, Thales, who make missiles for sale to anyone including dodgy regimes all around the world, but it will be the name on a new British navy ship helping protect the UK’s illegal nuclear weapons. Clearly I am thrilled beyond belief. Frigate anyway.
Well, this being the December issue I get a rest in January when there is only a news supplement to Nonviolent News, not a full issue. Christmas is coming, and as Christmas musak and decorations in shops, and elsewhere, indicate, it has been coming for a long time. I hope you get the break you deserve to recharge the ould batteries (and charge some new ones if you have children’s toys that need them). If you want a seasonal thought on peace at Christmas, see the INNATE poster As is my wont at this time of year, I would like to take the opportunity to wish you a Happy Christmas and a Preposterous New Year, and I’ll see you again soon, yours, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).