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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Number 197: March 2012

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Putting supergrasses out to grass

Some commentators have expressed the sense of déjà vu, a return to the 1980s, with a radical right-wing government in the UK, tension between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands/Malvinas islands – and a supergrass trial in Belfast. Thankfully the case in the last example has been thrown out and we will explain why we welcome this ruling.

The trial in question was conducted under the no jury Diplock system and took 21 weeks. The case was against 13 men, including loyalist leader Mark Haddock (himself a police informer who is in jail) based on the ‘supergrass’ evidence of brothers Robert and Ian Stewart who were giving evidence on behalf of the state in return for considerably reduced time in jail. Of the 13, nine were accused of the murder of UDA chief Tommy English in 2000 during an inter-loyalist feud between the UDA and the UVF. It became quite clear that, whether they were telling the truth or not on any particular matter, the Stewarts were not reliable witnesses and neither their background, lifestyle, nor sentence reductions was conducive to them being believed and justice being done; the judge described them as “ruthless criminals and unflinching terrorists” and “unreliable and ravaged with alcohol and drugs”.

The one person found guilty of an offence in the trial, perverting the course of justice and possessing a sledgehammer, an item likely to be of use to terrorists, was not found guilty on testimony from the Stewart brothers. However the judge stated his judgement reflected the unreliability of the Stewart brothers rather than the practice of relying on the evidence of criminals who have become witnesses for the state. While it might be thought difficult, rationally speaking, to see that proceedings will be taken against paramilitaries in similar circumstances in the near future, certainly unless there was substantial corroborating evidence, the director of public prosecutions has spoken otherwise. He has defended the 2005 SOCPA system and indicated that such supergrass trials will continue.

The murky world of the relationship between paramilitaries, informers and their security force handlers, and their various deeds, is just one unsavoury aspect of the Troubles that Northern Ireland has passed through, and it had much resonance for this trial. It had already been established, by the Police Ombudsman’s Office (in the time of Nuala O’Loan) that Mark Haddock and his UVF unit were protected by their police handlers during their murdering reign of terror.

There are, and have been, all sorts of trade offs between justice, truth and moving on or reconciliation, including with the partial amnesty incorporated in the Good Friday Agreement. More generally there is a great difficulty in getting justice through the criminal system on paramilitary-perpetrated killings, shootings, beatings and bombings. But supergrass evidence already became discredited in the 1980s and to return to using it in the 21st century would be to inflict a body blow to developing a justice system worthy of the name, and introduce an uncertain and unreliable method which will come to grief at some point or other. Justice needs to be seen to be done as well being done; using supergrasses may achieve neither.

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Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Our Environment and Making the Effort
The list of global environmental woes is longer than a Catholic Rosary. If we ignore them civilization as we know it will almost certainly collapse. The case of our reliance on fresh water underscores this point.

California produces one-third of all the food consumed in the United States, including at least half of its fruit. Its productivity is dependent on a major aquifer beneath California’s Central Valley. A report in The New Scientist, 11 February 2012 informs us that if the unregulated nature of farming continues the aquifer will be depleted in less than 90 years. The disruptive effects of this would ripple across the world as the United States used its military and economic power to obtain food from wherever it is produced. This would inevitably lead to death from starvation especially those who live on less than a dollar a day, which presently stands at 1.1 billion. Major aquifers are overused in other countries; in time will result in water shortages and food scarcity leading in turn to civil disorder and cross-border wars.

Aside from the devastation capitalism wrecks on the environment it is a failed model as measured by global poverty and gross economic inequalities even in the so-called advanced economies. A recent BBC Panorama programme showed shocking scenes of people in the United States living in tents and underground drains. Some 47 million people in the United States live in conditions close to those in what was once called the Third World. In the UK the number of young people who are unemployed has reached one million, there is a contraction of public services at a time when the number suffering from depression and social isolation is rising. In the Republic of Ireland the only career option for many is to emigrate.

What accounts for us not mending the leaking roof of how we live our lives? It is certainly not a lack of technical knowledge or not understanding the essentials of how ecosystems work. We know how to save water and energy in our homes, that it is better to cycle than use the car for short journeys, that we should car-share and use public transport, buy local produce such as potatoes from Comber rather than Cyprus, and buy reused from charity shops rather than new. We know we should vote for candidates who will work for the passing of local, national and international laws that protect the environment and the vulnerable, yet at election time we vote on tribal, religious and class grounds and allow ourselves to be deluded by the promise of short-term gains.

There are some plausible explanations for this. One is that our empathy and compassion has a limited circumference and durability. When a disaster is brought to our attention, such as that in Haiti, we respond with help, and then quickly forget. As we don’t know the names of the victims, never looked them in the eye, or heard them talk it is easy to forget about them. We prefer convenience to inconvenience, which accounts for why we will buy unethically produced commodities rather than suffer the inconvenience of finding out where the equivalent fair trade ones are sold. We are creatures of habit, afraid of new ideas, slow to change and thus continue with our environmentally harmful and inequitable way of living.

We like to imagine we are sophisticated, employ a healthy level of scepticism, evaluate, yet we are entombed in a chrysalis of illusions and unlike the moth and butterfly are unable to transform from within. As the Victorian theologian Oswald Chambers said “most of the suffering in human life comes because we refuse to be disillusioned.” (Alastair McIntosh, 2008, p.192.) Like a woman giving birth we have to make the effort and become the change we want to see. Unless we mend our leaking roof a storm will surely come and blow our house down.

- - - - - - -

Report on Dr. Jessica Ernst’s Presentation on Fracking in Alberta, Canada

Belcoo Community Centre, Co. Fermanagh, 22nd February 2012
Report by Laurence Speight

Jessica Ernst has worked for 30 years as a scientist in the fossil fuel industry. In February she visited Ireland to inform concerned communities about her experience of fracking in her rural community in Alberta, Canada.
A year ago most people in Ireland would have thought that fracking was a swear word. Fracking is in fact a hydraulic process in which water, sand and chemical additives are injected into bedrock at high pressure to release trapped methane. In an age of steadily rising oil prices the gas is welcomed by companies, consumers and governments around the world. The United States has come to depend on it.

Considerable amounts of gas are thought to exist in various locations in Ireland including the Allen Basin which covers Counties Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo, Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh. According to The Irish Times, 11 June 2011, there is an estimated 9.4 trillion cubic metres of gas in the area. This is the equivalent of 1.5 billion barrels of oil, which in June 2011 would have been worth E120 billion. The Canadian company Tamboran has been granted a licence to carry our explorations for shale gas in County Fermanagh.

Jessica Ernst on a week-long visit to Ireland stood in front of approximately 300 people in Belcoo Community Centre to share her experience of fracking in Canada. She informed her listeners of the following:

  • Fracking is a boom and bust industry. Most jobs created would be temporary and low paid.
  • Local economic benefits have to be balanced by economic losses in tourism and agriculture.
  • Damage to roads caused by heavy industrial traffic would be paid for by rate payers
  • Water is at risk of contamination by methane gas and industrial chemicals.
  • Biodiversity including fish stocks would be under threat from water contamination.
  • Banks are unlikely to give mortgages for land in which fracking has taken place.
  • As the fracking companies lease land they don’t have any liabilities. These are borne by the land owner.
  • The fracking companies in Alberta have shown little regard for the safety of local citizens.
  • The Alberta regulatory authorities changed pollution safety levels to accommodate the fracking companies.
  • The Canadian fracking companies and authorities were not transparent.
  • In Northern Ireland tax revenues would go to the UK Exchequer.
  • Because of the lack of infrastructure in Fermanagh the gas would most likely be exported.
  • Fracking can divide communities between the few who financially benefit and the many who don’t.

Jessica Ernst’s message to the people of the Allen Basin is be sceptical of what the fracking companies tell them. In her experience they will explore, extract, deceive, destroy, divide and then leave.

Jessica Ernst has suffered from poisoned water on her land and spends 80 hours a week, non-paid, on an evidence-based campaign against fracking in Alberta. When she finished her presentation she received a standing ovation.

It is worth noting the following from a report on Fracking in New Scientist, 28 January 2012: “So far, evidence that fracking poses serious risks to human health or the environment – beyond the pollution associated with fossil fuel extraction – is scant. But studies are few and hard to interpret.”

The Fermanagh anti-fracking website is:

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