Villagers: Letters to the Editor 2006-03-23

John Waters - Taking freedom for granted

Desmond Traynor (16-22 March) accuses John Waters of expressing his views in a " rant". People in glasshouses should not throw stones. His own self-centred, self justificatory contribution, in which he delivers himself of the opinion that " politicians don't matter", makes John Waters look reasonable by comparison. For Desmond Traynor the " petty bickerings of party politics" are not worthy of interest. What should we do then? Put in a dictator for life like Hitler or Stalin and let them run the show? Then Desmond Traynor will not have to waste his time or his interest on any or all of the current, tiresome political discourse. One of the many problems with that situation is that he might not be allowed to express any opinions in the public media since they might be considered by the non-elected authorities to be " petty bickerings" and not worthy of publication.

Anthony Leavy, Dublin 13

Traveller discrimination - Government neglecting Travellers

It was with great interest I read Scott Millar's and Emma Browne's articles on the travelling community in last weeks Village. Both made me think strongly about Ireland today and how our government is neglecting and discriminating against our indigenous people.

With all the talk nowadays of multiculturalism and more recently the " multicoloured shamrock", I believe it's fundamentally wrong that our existing cultural and ethnic diversity, namely the travellers, are so badly treated. They face exclusion in the areas of education, health, accommodation and the provision of vital services. Much of this is backed up in the recent US report on Ireland's human rights record.

It is people in power like Mary Hanafin who do nothing to help the situation. I am utterly disgusted at her failure to establish the Statutory Committee on Educational Disadvantage which is holding up the Traveller Education Strategy 2005. Education is a right for all and the future generation are our greatest assets. Travellers are part of this too. I suggest Mary Hanafin educates herslf on the travellers' distinctive culture,history, traditions,language and reality of life on the roadside.

Often people condemn this ethnic group, easily forgetting their lack of adequate sanitation and refuse collections. Moreover, travellers on official halting sites pay rent to local authorities even when these very sites and essential services are substandard.

I see education as the key. Teachers too have a role to play here. I feel it's about time some of them started playing that role by encouraging young travellers to reach their full potential or even giving up a month of their long summer holidays to spend with this valuable community. It seems unfair they get little mention during the St Patricks Day festivities instead we celebrate all the foreign people that have come to Ireland. I totally agree with this but we shouldn't forget our natives either.

While the Equal Status Act and Employment Equality Act are a step in the right direction,regarding education I don't think Minister Hanafin is capable of getting things moving or waking up the sleeping teacher profession until she wakes up herself. Maybe a couple of weeks in a caravan would change her laziness.

Wayne Tobin and Isabel Friel, Bray, Co Wicklow

Michael McDowell - Respect being lost

Last week you published a letter from me regarding the language Michael McDowell used in the Dáil. Four times in that letter I used the words " Mr McDowell" and four times you changed that to " McDowell". I think those changes made my letter sound more aggressive. The changes you made disappointed me, especially since I had asked in my letter " were we losing our sense of gentleness and respect for others".

SEÁN Ó RIAIN, Gairdíní Bhaile na Lobhar, Co Bhaile Átha Cliath

1916 - 1916 debate 'stimulating'

Recent correspondence about 1916 in the Village has not only been stimulating; it has also begun to make the Irish Times opinion pages look like An Phoblacht in comparison. Maurice O'Connell's assertion (March 16-22) that " There never was any constitutional opposition to the Act of Union" seems a trifle implausible, but I will not dwell on that, because Pierce Martin's Empire Loyalism (in the same issue) really puts Kevin Myers in the halfpenny place. The 1798 rebels were cannon fodder for an ambitious Henry Grattan – Lord above! We are not only to lose Pearse and Connolly from popular affections, but Grattan as well! Why not start commemorating the orange Yeomanry and be done with it?

Pierce's description of John Redmond as a " democratic and pluralist visionary" who looked to a " democratised empire" is a little too kind to that statesman. To put the same thing in quite another way, it is clear that by 1914 Redmond had " gone native" in Westminster terms and had ceased to be a Parnellite in any recognisable sense. His backing of the British war effort with no demand for immediate implementation of home rule, even in the 26 counties, in return, was a catastrophic piece of naive bad judgement which his dead chief would never have made, and which deservedly opened the way for new political forces.

Richard Barrett, Dublin 6

1916 - British Empire reigns

Rather than dismiss Pierce Martin as a mere ranting ideologue, I would urge readers to persist in trying to understand the pathology underlying his unreasoning invective and indiscriminate condemnations, as he strains at the gnat of the Irish independence movement of 1916-23 while swallowing the camel of the Somme, which in a single hour consumed more lives in an unjust cause than the Irish freedom struggle cost in its seven years.

Pierce Martin conjoins the Irish independence movement in a trinity of historical infamy, along with the French and American Revolutions. It is quite unfair to the Americans to place them in such bad company. The American Revolution was really a civil war among the British, in which each of the contending parties had genocidal policies towards the native inhabitants of America.

Pierce makes a case for the British Empire, saying that it was made and preserved by Irish soldiers. It is certainly true that after conquering Ireland and India and reducing them to starvation, hordes of the beggars fought Britain's unremitting wars for her. India lost one third of its population in the ten years following its conquest by Britain in the 18th century; up to 33 million starved between 1876 and 1908 as native agriculture was wrecked by Britain in favour of globalisation; in Bengal nearly 4 million died in 1943 because of British policy. Pierce says I should lay off the British Empire and castigate some other one. Fair enough, if I can find some evidence of French, Spanish or Russian conquest of Ireland!

Pierce says that in its latter phase, the British Empire " objectively existed at the more civilised end of human history". OK, so the North American, Australian and Tasmanian genocides were pretty well complete by 1900. But who invented the concentration camp? The conditions in British camps during the Boer war, where thousands of women and children died of disease and malnutrition, are relatively well known. But who now remembers the Indian famine-relief-cum-slave-labour camps, where suave British ubermenschen conducted experiments to determine how few calories an Indian coolie could be fed and still perform hard labour? It is on record that the rations in these death-camps amounted to less than those at Buchenwald.

Fast-forward to the 1950s to see how white settlers and British troops suppressed the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya. Thrown off their land and deprived of political rights, the Kikuyu started to organise against colonial rule. The British responded by driving up to 320,000 of them into concentration camps. Most of the remainder – over a million – were held in " enclosed villages". The soldiers were told they could shoot anyone they liked provided they were black. The evidence shows that over 100,000 Kikuyu were either killed by the British or died of disease and starvation in the camps. The hanging of 1090 suspected rebels is documented.

The brutal suppression of the Mau Mau and the detention of thousands of Kenyan peasants in concentration camps are hardly remembered. But maybe it is all in the past? Do we need to remind ourselves of more recent atrocities such as the British-American double-act in the razing of Fallujah?

It all began in Offaly and Laois, which were the scene of the first act of violent conquest, expropriation, ethnic cleansing and colonising activities of the modern English State in what became known as the British Empire; when the native O'Connors, O'Moores, O'Dempseys, O'Dunnes and others were killed or driven out by the army of Queen Mary in 1556, and the area planted with English settlers. The Catholic Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary") and her husband Philip of Spain had Queen's County (Laois) and King's County (Offaly) named after them, along with the towns of Maryborough (now Portlaoise) and Philipstown (now Daingean).

Why is Britain always right, and her enemies always evil? If we can understand this, perhaps we can find the key to Pierce Martin's blindness to the facts of history.

Britain's assumption of the power and authority to determine Right and Wrong in the world by violence and conquest is predicated on the assumption of the unique virtue of a Chosen People. This goes back at least as far as Cromwell and Milton.

Milton's Paradise Lost speaks of " God's special Providence for England … His chosen People". Listen to Tony Blair's speeches and you will hear the same message. Over the centuries the language has changed, but the mind-set is still the same.

This is the pathology that makes it possible for Britain and its apologists to accept – without shame or remorse - world conquest, genocide of several continents, and centuries of practically unremitting warfare in other peoples' countries. This is what Pierce Martin and his kind want us to sign up for, and why they are obsessively beating the air over the 1916 Rising which initiated the unravelling of the Empire.

Pat Muldowney, Derry

1916 - Democrats attacking democracy

It is difficult to discern whether Chris Andrews in his homily on " leadership, volunteerism, and self-sacrifice," ( Village 16-22 March ) is extremely naive, or insufferably arrogant. He is obviously big into self-sacrifice; he uses the phrase seven times in his lecture on the virtues of leadership and the symbiotic relationship between 1916 and civic minded duty.

The thought that conspiracy to murder and betrayal of one's country in time of war may be the antithesis of civic duty seems to have eluded him, as it did his grandfather, CS Andrews, when he, as a mere youth of 15, " volunteered" to shoulder a gun in 1916, for the express purpose of removing apostates of Irish freedom, (namely anyone who disagreed with him) in the name of course of Irish national democracy.

Chris Andrews is illustrative of our neo-nationalist bourgeoisie elite, especially those schooled in a familial mythical heroic nationalist tradition. He is incapable of revising what exactly his grandfather did to this country, in alliance with fellow assassins, in the rhetorical name of national democracy.

Any examination of political trends in 19th century Europe will demonstrate that those who claimed to be democrats ultimately espoused radical democracy; however progressively sounding this may seem, the very idea of democracy itself became to them a pure abstraction; no more than a flimsy shop front concealing stale goods on the inside.

The IRB were part of this European revolutionary movement, as were the Mensheviks, and the notorious Bolsheviks. The insurrectionists in 1916, and later the IRA lead by Collins were God fearing Bolsheviks of mainly a right wing persuasion, and like their Russian cousins were radical democrats and implacably oppossed to constitutional democracy, just as the IRB had been in the 1850s (unless of course their political progress or survival depended upon the appearance of them embracing it).

It is deeply ironic that those who professed such a passionate love of democracy were among its greatest enemies and only too happy to attack it. This was what Chris Andrews' grandfather did from 1916 to 1923. His example and that of his comrades in arms is not the kind of " leadership, volunteerism, and self-sacrifice" that any grandson can be proud of!

Pierce Martin, Celbridge, Co Kildare

1916 - Rising created democracy

Maurice O'Connell is to be commended for not being among the " slavering running dogs of British imperialism" (Village, 16-22 March). It is a pity then that he tends to employ the same rhetoric.

I agree with his statement that mandates do not expire " when people look into their hearts". They do expire, however, as and when provided by law, and the law as it stood provided for a general election in 1915. By that criterion, the War Cabinet formed in that year had no mandate, and any act performed under its authority was by definition undemocratic. The Home Rule Act may have existed on the Statute Books, but there was, by that time, no reason to believe that it would be implemented. Lloyd George had already indicated as much when he let slip that partition was on the cards. Redmond's political incompetence is well illustrated by his failure to secure even assurances of an independent tariff policy for Ireland, which raised the question of how this " Home Rule" would differ from the status quo. This was to the understandable fury of John Dillon, who knew that the Nationalist party was in danger of ruin from Redmond's incompetence, and the increasing disillusionment even of the Catholic Church, the majority of whose clergy were in favour of the war until Home Rule began to be exposed simply as a pretext for obtaining cannon-fodder for Britain's War. For more detail about the Catholic Church's changing attitude to the War and Home Rule, as well as much other interesting information on the subject, see Jerome aan de Weil's book The Catholic Church in Ireland 1914-1918: War and Politics

My statement that " the Rising was not a mandate for anything" was a description of fact. It is a pity O'Connell does not name the groups who supposedly cite the Rising as their justification for taking " unilateral violent action". If this refers to the Northern conflict, then anyone who has had to live through it could reassure O'Connell that the Rising had nothing to do with it. The motive force for that conflict was the 1922 partition of Ireland and the systematic misgovernment which was instituted in the new statelet. A slogan of the Civil Rights campaign was " British Rights for British Citizens". The refusal of Westminster to contemplate a political arrangement which would grant these rights was the reason for what followed, not gory 1916-shaped albatrosses. As for the Civil War, the reasons for that can be found in the Treaty which was forced on the Irish people under the threat of obliteration by Britain.

If the Rising was undemocratic, was the blood-sacrifice of the Somme in return for a mere promise of Home Rule democratic? Have any British policies with regard to Ireland paid the slightest attention to niceties such as the will of its inhabitants? No. So, the Rising was not voted for. But neither was the Great War. Or the Black and Tan War. Or for that matter the Iraq war: Blair did not think it necessary to lay that minor matter before Parliament. Those who engage in tortured ruminations about the morality of a minor act of insurrection with a small number casualties (by comparison with the contemporaneous destructive slaughter in Europe) would do well to ponder such elementary issues.

But there are in reality no grounds for a comparison. The Rising led to the foundation of a stable democracy, with a Constitution which enshrines the principles of " inclusion and social justice" that O'Connell claims it somehow prevented. The Great War led to chaos, death and misery for tens of millions, and political instability which persists in making the world the unfriendly place it is today for the majority of its inhabitants.

I am delighted to hear of the existence, not just of tens of thousands of people, but tens of thousands of families, of " nationalists and Irish Irelanders". Such quantities would fill many an omnibus. It is a wonder then that no political party has yet appeared to further the interests of such untold multitudes. Maybe O'Connell would contemplate starting one: the " Irish Irelanders" certainly has a ring to it, and success seems assured if there are so many votes to be had.

But more seriously, it is not clear how O'Connell expects today's children to forget about the Rising, when they are being urged constantly to engage in self-flagellation over it. Given the resurgence of imperialism in the world, there is no reason for them to do either

Andrew McGrath, Dublin 7

Seal Hunting -Seal hunting season in Canada soon

In just a few weeks, the largest slaughter of marine mammals is set to begin on the ice off Canada's East Coast. Over 300,000 seals, mostly babies, will be bludgeoned or shot to death for their fur. But the income generated by the commercial seal hunt doesn't go as far as the Canadian government would like us to think; it accounts for less than one percent of Newfoundland's GDP – an average of only $1,000 per sealer. What's worse, the seals are slaughtered in the most inhumane fashion during the hunt – routinely clubbed or shot and left to suffer on the ice, then dragged over the side of boats with sharpened metal hooks. Some are even skinned alive. When Danny Williams, Premier of Labrador and Newfoundland, was given the chance to tell the truth about the hunt during a recent episode of " Larry King Live" on CNN, he chose instead to lay false claims about the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and their documentation of the hunt's cruelty. Claiming to speak on behalf of Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Williams said: " IFAW representatives, veterinarians and other experts have said the seal hunt is humane." The truth? There isn't a single reputable " expert" or " veterinary group" that has observed the seal hunt and called it humane. In fact, IFAW experts concluded the slaughter to be inherently cruel and horrific. Doesn't the public at least deserve to know the facts about how baby seals are being killed?

Paul Kinsella, Eire

STATEMENT: Say NO to war and occupation – US Military out of Shannon

As we approach the third anniversary of the US led invasion of Iraq, we appeal to the Irish Government to act urgently to end the slaughter in Iraq and to avert the threat of further slaughter in Iran and elsewhere.

The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq was an unlawful act of aggression, based on false claims about weapons of mass destruction. Between 37,000 and 120,000 lives have been lost as a result. Hundreds continue to die every week under the US occupation.

Horrific scenes of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, widespread allegations of torture in Guantanamo Bay, denial of human rights and indefinite detention of prisoners taken in combat, the deployment of new categories such as 'unlawful combatant' and the CIA 'renditions' programme, all suggest a deliberate and dangerous flouting of International law and human rights by the US in pursuit of the so-called 'war on terror'.

Widespread reports of executions and torture being carried out by militias and foreign mercenaries, linked to the US-backed Iraqi government indicate an almost complete collapse of human rights standards and protections in occupied Iraq. The social and economic infrastructure of Iraq has been utterly devastated by ten years of western sanctions and the war and occupation in 2003. The majority of Iraqis have been plunged into a situation of dire poverty, disease, unemployment and violence. Iraq's health and social services are devastated while its wealth and resources are plundered by the big multinationals. The illegal use of highly radioactive depleted uranium has poisoned the Iraqi environment for generations to come, increasing birth defects, stillbirths and cancer rates.

The US and its allies maintain the occupation of Iraq in the face of the overwhelming opposition of its people. Every opinion poll taken since 2003 shows that a majority of Iraqis (82 per cent in the last poll) want a withdrawal of US-led forces. The military occupation of Iraq and the sectarian political structures established by the occupying forces, either by design or error, are fanning the flames of violence and civil war.

US military aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq, its sabre-rattling against Iran and Syria and its unconditional support for the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine have increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks in western countries. In addition the simplistic linking of Islam with terrorism by sections of the western media is encouraging racism against Muslim communities across the western world.

The most serious threat to world peace today is US military aggression and its foreign and national security policy including the option to use nuclear weapons on a first strike basis against non-nuclear states. At over $500 billion last year US military and arms expenditure is encouraging a new global arms race. Such expenditure on war and weapons of mass destruction represents an obscenity in the face of global hunger, which could be fully alleviated with a fraction of this amount.

The Irish government is complicit in the criminal actions and warmongering of the US military and government in Iraq by allowing over 500,000 US troops through Shannon Airport since the beginning of 2003, an act in flagrant violation of Irish neutrality. In addition the government's decision to facilitate US aircraft involved in the CIA 'renditions' programme, and its refusal to search these aircraft, implicates Ireland in serious violations of International law and seriously questions its human rights obligations as a signatory of the Geneva and Hague Conventions.

We, the undersigned, call on the Government of Ireland to end its collusion with US military aggression, and breaches of international law and human rights, by taking the following steps:

› Immediately end the use of Irish airports and airspace by the US military and CIA as long as the US is occupying. Iraq or engaged in acts of military aggression against any other state.

› Publicly call for the setting of a firm timetable for the withdrawal of the US led occupation forces from Iraq.

› Publicly call for an International tribunal to investigate US and Coalition war crimes and abuses of human rights in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

› Publicly call for an end to US threats of military aggression against Iran or any other state.

› Publicly offer sanctuary to any US military personnel refusing to participate in the US war effort in Iraq or Afghanistan.

› Publicly demand that the EU and US pressurise Israel to end its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.

? More: Irish Anti-War Movement