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The Peace building and Conflict Resolution Centre (PbCRC) at the Maze/Long Kesh has received planning permission to go ahead, with a building design by Daniel Libeskind. But the bigger issues are wider ones about the nature of the Centre and how it will relate to other people in the field.
There is plenty of learning to be had from the Northern Ireland situation and the Troubles. This is learning for society locally and often for others but there is the danger that people take the lessons they want and discard others. What lessons were learnt for Iraq or Afghanistan from Northern Ireland? The answer might be little, either internally or externally (e.g. by the British government).
If the PbCRC increases the capacity for learning on a broad front then it can be judged a success. If it merely vacuums up activities and academic study that might currently happen elsewhere, in the universities or otherwise, then there is the question of what is the point. To succeed as an academic venue it needs resources and materials, even in an electronic age. If it can extend learning then it has a valuable role; if this includes learning at the different levels of academic, non-academic, schools, citizens, international visitors, and NGOs in the field, then it may prove to be a valuable addition to what currently exists. The extent to which it can possibly be a ‘one stop shop’ for learning about the conflict remains to be seen however; work at various other levels needs to continue, including locally, and it is impossible to replicate all this at one centre.
There are many needs in relation to learning from the conflict in Northern Ireland. One need is connecting from academic research and that level to people at a community level, and vice versa. This includes those people who are ex-combatants. This interface could be a very valuable one but it is often a void; the reason can be a financial one rather than, or as well as, an unwillingness or inability by academic bodies to interact, not to mention the difference in language and constructs. If the PbCRC provided resources (financial or peoplepower) to existing bodies to assist in this field then that would be very useful.
But the PbCRC should also be a two-way street. Northern Ireland, and what we can learn from the Troubles, does not have the answer to life, the universe and all. There should be learning from other situations for here, and this should include learning from the work and practice of peace movements both at home and abroad (who are often ignored anyway). Again there tend to be poor connections between much theory and practice. Northern Ireland may be the most studied conflict in the universe but there are still many needs in relation to what is done with the research. Some conflict situations have moved on faster than Northern Ireland has; every situation has its own internal logic but we should not assume that everything could or should only happen in one way.
Opinion in the media in Northern Ireland on the PbCRC has tended to focus on the fact that it is to be based at the Maze Long Kesh. For some unionists this is equivalent to it being a republican ‘shrine’ where so many republican prisoners did time and in particular where ten men died on hunger strike. Some have made the case that if there is going to be such a centre it should be in an urban location, e.g. Belfast’s Crumlin Road, rather than in a rural location some miles from Lisburn.
The DUP has, however, bought into it, perhaps for a variety of reasons including a possible quid pro quo for Sinn Féin and because it will mean jobs, and jobs in a unionist area. There is a danger here that the Centre could reflect the version of the Troubles espoused by the new establishment in Northern Ireland – which, given the outcomes of the carve up of power is likely to be a fudge. On the other hand there is also strong symbolism in basing such a centre at what has been a key focal point geographically of the Troubles; and while this may have had had greater symbolism for republicans (especially because of the hunger strikes), it was also where loyalists were imprisoned. The biggest advantage in having the Centre at the Maze Long Kesh is that this was a central location of struggles in the Troubles.
While a city location (Derry or Belfast) might have made more sense because of the availability of everyday amenities, the project is where it is (Maze Long Kesh – this was in the whole genesis of the project) where it will sit alongside the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society’s showground, moved from Balmoral in Belfast, but no sports stadium, and great plans which may or may not materialise. The PbCRC and conserved buildings will be only 30 acres out of the 347 acre site. While very accessible by car off the motorway, the rural location does present an additional challenge but that in itself will not make the project sink or swim. How the whole site will develop – and some wildly optimistic figures have been quoted for job creation there – also remains to be seen beyond the RUAS’s presence. Until there is a hotel there any conferences taking place will have be bussed in and bussed out, and even then there may be limits on capacity.
The Peace building and Conflict Resolution Centre will be housed in an interesting, well-designed centre (though this is not a judgement about the suitability of the design for its purpose), sitting close to an H-Block and the prison hospital which have been preserved; the rest of the Maze Long Kesh prison and area has been demolished (some older hangers also survive as the previous incarnation of the site as a Second World War base will be included). The finance for building the PbCRC is additional money which would not have gone to other ‘peace building’ activities but what will happen in relation to running expenses is another issue which some people have raised, expecting it to be a considerable cost to Northern Ireland’s finances in the years to come.
There are probably very different expectations of the Centre, and continued resistance to it as such in some places. Some of the expectations will clash as further details get to be worked out, though there is a certain amount of goodwill towards it from people ‘in the field’. Any presence as an interpretive centre has to build from scratch – beyond the few physical remains. How NGOs can and should be involved will have to be defined carefully so that they feel they are not being ‘sucked in’ or liable to be sucked in but can cooperate when it is productive for them to do so. Who will be willing to invest heavily in time there also remains to be seen. And who will the centre ‘belong to’ – OFMDFM and thus the two biggest political parties in the North?
There are thus some very big questions around. While there has been considerable consultation going into the general proposals, the wider public at large have not been brought in to what is happening which is a major omission; now is the time for full information to be given to everyone. Indeed, how the PbCRC will actually function is an unknown beyond that it will engage in education, research and telling stories.
If it works then it will be an investment in the future by dealing with the past. But it will have to work hard to make the connections, to show everyone across the board that it means business, and to deliver considerable ‘added value’ to what already exists. If it fails then it will be a white elephant in an historic location. If it succeeds it will be through the learning which it facilitates and the assistance which it provides in helping people in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, to study and work through issues and thereby help them to deal more effectively with conflict.
However the rest of us will continue to struggle to do and fund the work that needs done. Yeats’ poem about Ireland getting her freedom and a worker still breaking stones can be altered to say that Northern Ireland may get her Peace building and Conflict Resolution Centre but the rest of us will still be working away in stony ground, and the existence of the Centre may not make that any less stony.
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15 years online
As the masthead on our homepage proclaims, INNATE has now been 15 years online. It began with the 2 page printed issue of Nonviolent News being put online.....and then more and more material was added. And we want to add more again. It is all fully word searchable or tagged so you should be able to easily find that half remembered reference that you vaguely remember.
A problem today is that we can be bombarded with so much information that what we might actually want to see gets lost. The aim of Nonviolent News, and part of the wider purpose of INNATE, is to share information in an accessible form to assist networking and cooperation. Reinventing the wheel is rather counterproductive but cooperating to refine our wheel design, together, may yield results, or even more simply you can share your wheels or design with me, or me with you.
As always we welcome information to include. We still produce the paper edition of Nonviolent News, it is still two pages, but considerable additional material appears in the e-mail and web editions – these latter two usually have identical content. We also have a linked photo site. Please talk to us if you think you may have news or material we could use; with online content the size, big or small, is no problem, and we can also link to other online material.
Our heartfelt thanks go to our faithful webmaster, Mark, who has been with us from the beginning of our digital adventure, and indeed it was he who proposed the venture online at the start. Like all work done for INNATE it is done voluntarily. Our thanks also go to Marco who now assists the process.
We look forward to continuing to develop our online presence, an important part of the work of INNATE. We don’t aim to have a global presence but, being online with material people want, this leads to significant information dissemination around the globe – our web stats programme shows that – and, indeed, to frequent queries from places far away from these shores (though, like many websites, we have been banned in China for years).
If you’re Irish, or any other nationality or culture, you are very welcome to come into our parlour, we hope there is a welcome there for you.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
The Old Testament story about a Garden of Eden and a life without challenges, dilemmas, fears and strife has no basis in fact. As with all fauna, or as Gary Snyder poetically puts it, “the creeping people and the standing people, and the flying people and the swimming people” we have since our inception had to meet the daily demands of physical survival.
No matter how bountiful the land, mild the climate or accommodating our neighbours unless we planned, acquired knowledge and skills, cooperated and undertook the strenuous physical tasks of hunting, fishing, farming and travelling we would never have survived.
The basis of survival is energy which is sourced from our inter-dependent relationship with the biosphere. In the age of smart phones and other technological conveniences we have become oblivious to this. We need to educate about the umbilical link between consumer goods and scarce resources and the fact that we cannot evolve and prosper independently of nature.
Before industrialisation our energy needs were minuscule and largely obtained from benign renewable sources. We canoed along rivers, sailed across the seas, used oxen, horse and camel to ride, haul and plough. We built Newgrange and the Egyptian pyramids with human labour. Today we rely on carbon fuels to meet our every need; fuels which are a major cause of ill-health and adverse climate change.
According to WWF, 99% of Northern Ireland’s primary energy needs, valued at approximately £2.3 billion a year, come from imported fossil fuels. 96% of the energy needs of the Republic of Ireland are met from imported fossil fuels at a cost of 6 billion Euros. In their report, Point of No Return, (2013) Green peace state:
“The world is quickly reaching a point of no return for preventing the worst impacts of climate change. Continuing on the current course will make it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent widespread and catastrophic impacts of climate change. The costs will be substantial: billions spent to deal with the destruction of extreme weather events, untold human suffering, and the deaths of tens and millions from the impacts as soon as 2030.”
Although most Year 7 pupils are aware of the environmental consequences of our reliance on carbon fuels, plans are afoot for 14 massive coal, oil and gas projects in different parts of the world. Research carried out for Greenpeace indicates that this will “significantly push emissions over what climate scientists have identified as the “carbon budget”, the amount of additional CO2 that must not be exceeded if we are to keep climate change from spiralling out of control.” (www.greenpeace.org.uk)
The research carried out by Greenpeace in regard to the global situation, and WWF Northern Ireland in regard to the island of Ireland, conclusively shows that the technology and money exist to make the shift from a carbon economy to one based on renewable energy. What is lacking is the political will. The political will, however, is not, as George Monbiot points out in The Guardian, 23 April, in the hands of the electorate or the elected but in the hands of the large corporations and billionaires who lobby governments to legislate in favour of their interests. Monbiot writes:
“any clash between generating profit and protecting the natural world is resolved in favour of business. ... Nature is worthy of protection when it is profitable to business. The moment it ceases to be, it loses its social value and can be trashed.”
The greed of the few means there will be no paradigm shift in energy provision. The carbon economy and its belief system, that nonhumans and ecosystems have no intrinsic value, will reign supreme with dire consequences for all.
Hope for humanity and other species lies in those occasional seismic shifts in thinking when attitudes and values change to meet the needs of a new reality. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl who challenged the Taliban and survived an attempt on her life offers us an approach to follow regardless of change in the prevailing orthodoxies. This is to assert with resolution and dignity that there is an environmentally sustainable alternative to the carbon economy.