SIGNS OF HOPE and causes for optimism are still to be found amid the bleak picture often presented on the daily news. Despite the realities of war, climate change and hunger, we can find hope and inspiration in those who continue to resist, to struggle, to challenge, and even to celebrate.
Imbolc, the ancient Irish festival that marks the beginning of spring, is almost upon us. It represents a time of new beginnings after the long, dark winter. In Irish tradition, people celebrated this time on February 1st, and honoured Brigid, who was noted in legend as a strong and fearless leader that carried a torch for peace, truth and justice.
And while it is increasingly fashionable to commemorate participants in the ‘Great Wars’, it is appropriate and important that we remember and celebrate the courageous spirit of peacemakers who carry that torch today. That’s why, around this time each year since 1993, Afri has gathered hundreds of people in Kildare under the banner of Féile Bríde to explore these issues and celebrate those who work for the betterment of people and planet.
A peaceful act of civil disobedience
One such strong and fearless person is Margaretta D’Arcy, who is serving a three month sentence in Limerick prison for the crime of opposing war and Ireland’s participation in it. Margaretta is a 79-year-old artist and campaigner with cancer and Parkinson’s disease who relies on a zimmer frame. She refuses to accept as normal the fact that over two million US soldiers have passed through Shannon airport on their way to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Margaretta, a founding member of Aosdana, is not a criminal, but someone who seeks to highlight the fact that war criminals regularly pass through Shannon and that the full apparatus of the State is used to protect them. This is something that has been highlighted in the past by President Michael D Higgins, who attended Shannon airport protests before being elected President.
It has also been a focus for Amnesty International Ireland. Amnesty has repeatedly called for aircraft inspections at Shannon in light of revelations that Guantanamo bound torture and rendition flights have passed through what is supposed to be a sovereign and neutral nation. Margaretta, in her peaceful act of civil disobedience, was seeking to highlight our own government’s failure to uphold both Irish and international law.
This is why former UN assistant secretary-general Denis Halliday has appealed to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, saying Margaretta D’Arcy’s refusal to sign a bond not to return to Shannon is based on her belief in the Nuremberg Principle of 1945 whereby “individual citizens of any country have international duties and responsibilities that transcend national and domestic obligations of obedience to local law.”
The reality of what is happening in our name
Every now and then we are awakened by people like Margaretta to the reality of what is happening in our name – the slaughter of tens of thousands of people. We even know the manner in which that slaughter takes place, thanks to people like the soldier formerly known as Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. Manning’s grandparents on both sides were from Ireland but Chelsea’s only contact with Ireland was stopping off in Shannon en route to ‘the theatre of war’.
Unlike many in Ireland, Manning’s conscience remained alive when confronted with the horrors that were being perpetrated in the name of war. This led to Manning releasing classified information to the public, including a video documenting the slaughter of innocent people by US military personnel. Manning was imprisoned for 35 years for exposing this horror, while those who perpetrated the war crime were not even asked to account for their actions.
The scenes of innocents, including children, being gunned down by laughing soldiers makes even more reprehensible the sentiments of Shannon Airport Authority’s Rose Hynes that ‘military traffic has been in the DNA of Shannon for many years. It is something that is important, it’s lucrative and we are certainly going to go after it as much as possible’. Statements like this can lead us to ask what we value as a people, if we are really independent and neutral, and why do we jail peacemakers when proven war criminals and fraudsters walk free.
Example, courage and foresight
Peacemakers like Margaretta D’Arcy and Chelsea Manning are to be celebrated and honoured for their example, courage and foresight. Like Gandhi, Luther King and Rosa Parks, they understand that in the absence of responsible government, sometimes it is up to people to challenge the status quo and uphold the greater moral law. They, therefore, represent signs and symbols of hope to carry us through the darkness of winter to the light and new life of spring.
After all we’ve been through as a country, maybe the time has come for a new era of people power, an ‘Irish Spring’, where we all raise our voices in demanding a better world.
Joe Murray is coordinator of Afri, an Irish organisation that works for peace, justice, human rights and sustainability. Afri’s patron is Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Afri’s annual Féile Bríde event takes place in the Osborne Centre in Kildare Town on Saturday February 8th. From now until the end of February anyone who makes an online donation of €10 or more to Afri will receive a special Brigid’s peace cross. You can find out more about Afri at www. Afri.ie. You can follow them on Twitter here and Facebook here