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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 133: October 2005

Also in this editorial

Arms are for linking
Decommissioning of weapons by the IRA is an amazing signal and symbol that the peace process in Northern Ireland has actually travelled somewhere, even if destinations are still in short supply. While Ian Paisley, the DUP and some other unionists were playing hard to please, there was an acceptance by most that the business had been done. Without decommissioning, unionists were never going to say ‘yay’ to devolved government, and even with it the period of ‘quarantine’ that they will look for is still open to question.

It is natural that unionists are asking questions about the process, particularly when this is something that ‘should’ have happened in 1998. But except for those in the Paisleyite camp who wanted sackcloth and ashes there is some realisation that in the nature of things, everything was not going to happen exactly as unionists wanted. Even if Ian Paisley had appointed one of the independent witnesses he would still have been no wiser as to whether all IRA weaponry had been destroyed. Certainly it is possible some arms fell into the hands of non-ceasefire republicans but given the control that the leaders of Sinn Féin and the IRA have tried to exercise in this matter, it would be ludicrous to suggest that it was policy at any level to allow this to happen. Maybe some members close to, or going over to, the dissidents will have passed on weapons. But de Chastelain seems sure that the IRA’s arsenal has been dismantled, and Fr Alex Reid and Rev Harold Good, as independent witnesses, agreed with this completely. The Ulster Unionist line of waiting to see the outcome of forthcoming Independent Monitoring Commission rulings seems a sensible one from their position.

Presumably over time, momentum will build for the DUP to engage with Sinn Féin and indeed all parties on the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. While loyalist paramilitary parties are not in a political position where decommissioning can be demanded as the price for admission to government, there is still the need now to push loyalist paramilitaries to come clean on what future they see for themselves. Most recent ‘Troubles’ killings have been coming from this source; with the IRA disarmed, what reasonable reasons can they give for continuing?

With IRA arms out of the way, a very significant amount of total arms in paramilitary hands have been destroyed and the majority of arms in the hands of ‘any kind’ of republicans. Decommissioning of mindsets is one next task – a rather more difficult task than encasing disarmed weapons in concrete - in fact, it’s more like digging minds out from concrete to set them free.

It’s a riot

The extent of working class and general Protestant alienation in Northern Ireland was well revealed in the rioting and blocking of roads which took place in Belfast and elsewhere early in September following a very minor rerouting of an Orange parade. It was obvious that this was not just about the rerouting of a parade. Some in the Protestant community made the point that Protestants were learning the lesson from Catholics that violence was effective in making a point to authorities and getting an argument across; this is rather inaccurate as unfortunately some in the Protestant community had already discovered this methodology thirty-five years ago, arguably before the Catholic community in the context of the recent Troubles.

So what was recent rioting about? Political alienation, yes. Economic deprivation, yes. Powerlessness, yes. The vast majority of loyalist parades go through as planned and only an extremely small percentage are restricted and yet once again we had the ‘extrapolation scenario’ from the Orange march in question; it was no longer a question of losing a hundred or so yards of a march but of the whole struggle in Northern Ireland becoming wrapped up in that hundred yards. As Ian Paisley once encapsulated the Drumcree struggle, it became not a battle for Drumcree but a battle for Ulster. Loyalist identity became identified with (and trapped in) one small battle of conflicting rights – and it was a question of conflicting rights as it had already become defined as a win/lose scenario for Catholics and Protestants. And it seems that some in the Protestant community have difficulty in moving from ancient superiority to something like equality.

There was also undoubtedly loyalist paramilitary involvement in the rioting. With no carrot of government before them, and no foot in any political door, it is difficult for loyalist paramilitaries to move on. The peace process may have had difficulty with republicans and their refusal, until the move by the IRA recently, to disarm. But the peace process has almost completely lost hold of loyalist paramilitaries who have been hanging in there by a very frayed thread. Their participation in politics has been a chastening experience as they have not received the votes from the Protestant community which would have given them an opportunity to move strongly into the political arena in the way Sinn Féin has done. The negative nature of their existence has been highlighted by continued internecine killings.

Loyalist and DUP figures have demanded increased economic support for Protestant areas on the back of this recent rioting (the Glenbryn situation over Holy Cross school ended with an economic package for the local area). It is true that British government action on economic and social deprivation has not been what might have been envisioned in the Good Friday Agreement. But the figures and indices still clearly show (see e.g. ‘Daily Ireland’ 3rd October 2005) Catholic deprivation as worse than Protestant. Of course there is Protestant economic, social and educational deprivation; the archetypal Shankill is witness to that. And that does require action. But what the figures show more generally is the extent to which investment goes to already ‘successful’ areas, ignoring areas of deprivation, be they Catholic or Protestant. It can be strongly and convincingly argued that areas of social need deserve greater resources, irrespective of religious background, but targeting exclusively ‘Protestant’ social need or ‘Catholic’ social need in isolation is a recipe for sectarian disaster and strife in the long term.

The Protestant community may have been sold the Good Friday Agreement in the short term but not in the medium term over the last seven years. The idea that the ‘Union’ is currently at risk, or that Protestants (i.e. the Protestant working class) are discriminated against in a way that Catholics (and the Catholic working class) are not, is sheer fantasy. Regarding the ‘Union’, the level of cooperation between North and South is something that might parallel cooperation between different Scandinavian countries but has anyone recently accused one Scandinavian country of trying to take over another? And while it may have been painful for many Protestants to see prisoners (of all shades) released, and the RUC rebranded the PSNI, most Protestants do not see the massive change in Sinn Féin being willing not only to sit in a partitionist parliament at Stormont but also to be part of the government in Northern Ireland.

Yes, Protestant leaders need to fight their corner to get the resources that working class Protestant areas deserve but they also have a task to share the news that Northern Ireland remains a variety of British state at a time when devolution has loosened the political definition of what it means to be British. And, despite Sinn Féin bluster and anyone else’s wishes on the matter, this is likely to remain the case for a very considerable time.

Rossport 5 State 94

The release of the ‘Rossport 5’ after 94 days imprisonment says a considerable amount about the power of corporations in today’s Ireland versus the power of the community. On the other hand, it can also be said that the fact they were eventually released, after considerable and sustained public and political pressure, shows that it is possible to mobilise public opinion against the worst excesses of said corporations and state apathy.

The high-pressure Corrib gas field pipeline going 9 kilometres overland to a refinery in Co Mayo is a potential time-bomb, and the many safety issues received scant attention including both the kind of pipe used and safe distances from the pipeline to dwellings. You would want an extremely long back yard (a good proportion of a kilometre) before you would feel in any way safe with such a development beside you; it was no wonder the local community has been rejecting the pipeline which was courtesy of Shell, Statoil and Marathon. And the state, which should have been the guardian of the people, acted as the guardian of the corporations - including over planning issues - until it was eventually pressured into taking its obligations seriously (including illegalities by the consortium) and it has now instituted mediation. This could have happened before the imprisonment of the Rossport 5 for contempt of a High Court order restraining them from denying the consortium access to land.

The non-violent resistance of the local community is to be admired. Their safety is our safety, and it is unprecedented to run such a pipeline overland and in the vicinity of housing. Another issue altogether is whether the consortium involved is paying a fair price to the state and the people (which is a matter of state legislation and practice). And yet another is that with a precious carbon resource like gas there should be no rush to production.

It is great to see the commitment and energy which has gone into this non-violent campaign of resistance to multinationals riding roughshod over a local community while the state sat idly by. It shows that Ireland has not yet been completely eaten up by the Celtic Tiger.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

Spooky or what
In the last week of August many shops had full Halloween displays in their windows, and this past week I noticed Christmas cakes, cards and decorations for sale. This out of season promotion of goods not only corrupts our traditional sense of the times of the year but also perpetuates the consumer culture. As we are susceptible to social pressures, and are easily induced by the illusions presented to us, it is likely that a great many people will buy Christmas decorations that they don't need and in a weekend of household cleaning throw them into the Council skip on the pretext of getting rid of clutter. On this point Leo Hickman informs us in The Guardian, 20 Sept 2005, that 80% of what we buy is discarded within six months, and that collectively UK homes throw away 26m tonnes of 'waste' a year.

What I find particularly disturbing about encouraging people to buy what they don't need is that Hurricane Katrina, and now Rita, whose intensity scientists think was probably intensified by global warming, appears not to have had a subduing affect on consumerism. The rationale in Ireland might be imbedded in island thinking, which is to say that we often consider that what happens in other parts of the world does not concern us. This is to misunderstand the dynamics of the biosphere in which all things are connected. Climate change is a result of our reliance on fossil fuels, and in time will likely have a catastrophic impact on us. Tim O'Brien informs us in The Irish Times, 24 Sept 2005, that among the changes we can expect from a change in the climate are water shortages on the east coast, changes in agricultural production, more intense storms, flooding and health risks from tropical diseases. The rise in sea levels will likely cause flooding in many of our costal towns and cities, including Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Belfast.

The international economic order will also be affected with serious consequences for our whole way of life that we are clearly not prepared for. Perhaps the economic and social disruption caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will bring about a paradigm shift in the United States on how they conduct their relationship with nonhuman nature, and this will be taken up elsewhere, the pebble in the pond affect. As Bill McKibben, author of the classic “The End of Nature” (1989) recently said, there will be no change in consumer habits until people " felt fear in their guts."

Joseph Rotblat – A man of Vision
1908 – 2005

By Mairead Corrigan Maguire

Joseph Rotblat died on 3lst August, 2005 peacefully in hospital, in London. He was 96 years young. I will miss him very much, but take consolation from the fact that I had the blessing in my life of having spent some time with Joseph, and listened to him share his experiences, passion, and vision for a world without war and nuclear weapons.

He was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1908. His love of science lead him into the scientific world of atomic research and he worked as a scientist, first in the UK at the University of Liverpool and then at Los Alamos, New Mexico, helping to create an atomic weapon. When he discovered in late 1944 that Germany would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, he believed there was no reason to continue working on creating a US bomb. He then left the Manhattan Project on moral grounds.

As General Secretary of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and later President of Pugwash Conferences, he dedicated his life to the abolition of nuclear weapons. In 1995 Joseph and the Pugwash Conferences were joint recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Joseph believed receiving the Nobel Peace prize carried with it the responsibility to work for peace, and he did so every moment of his life, with a passion and with joy.

Two years ago he has a stroke, and I went to visit him in a London Hospital as he lay recovering. I was accompanied by his great friend and co-worker for Nuclear Disarmament, Bruce Kent. Joseph looked so ill and frail I though surely he would not leave the hospital at all. But when he started talking to us I am awe-struck at the energy and passion he exuded. He asked me if I was going to the Gorbachev Conference in Rome in two weeks time, and said he wanted to get out to go to the Conference, as he had two speeches prepared to give. He said he had to get out of hospital soon, as there was so much peace work to be done! Six months later he travelled to Denver, Colorado, to deliver a two hour lecture to several hundred teenagers! The following year, (2004) when met again in Rome, I asked Joseph what kept him working for Disarmament, with so much enthusiasm and joy. He said it was important for people to have goals and he had two goals in life. “My short-term goal” he said “is the abolition of nuclear weapons, and my long-term goal is the abolition of war”.

Joseph never saw his goals fulfilled, but he did fulfil the most important goal any human being can attain. He evolved and was transformed during his earthly journey, into a truthful, joyous, compassionate, gentle, kind, human being. He was truly an inspiring and wise man for our time…. As for his goals of nuclear disarmament and a world without war, I believe we can best pay tribute to our brother Joseph, by continuing to work to make his dreams come true and build a world safe for the human family.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Nobel Peace Laureate )

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