Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Reconciliation Ireland Part 6

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday October 7 2012

On April 27, the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), an intergovernmental regional security structure comprising 56 states including all EU countries, Russia, the US and Canada, held its annual conference in Dublin. Ireland had a good story to tell about how peace was achieved.

On the same day, a Catholic mother on the Creggan housing estate, took her 18-year-old son to an appointment with Republican Action Against Drugs, to be kneecapped for drug dealing.

My friend the Rev. Harold Good, together with Father Alec Reid, played a vital role in the Northern Ireland peace process. It was Harold who announced to the press that the IRA had decommissioned their arms. If the IRA had given up their arms, the ‘long war’ waged by the IRA was definitively over. Or was it?

The peace process itself was endangered on many occasions by bombings and shootings which, despite their great stature within the Republican movement, McGuinness and Adams were powerless to prevent. In 1997, Michael McKevitt, the then IRA QMG (Quartermaster General) , who was also a member of the 12-person Provisional IRA (PIRA) Executive, broke away from the Provisional IRA to form the Real IRA (RIRA). His wife, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands and a founder of the RIRA’s political wing, the 32 County Sovereignty movements, spoke out against the peace agreement: “Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state”.

The RIRA takes violent action against the British military and police and other targets in Northern Ireland, including civilians. The 1998 Omagh car bombing claimed 29 lives and injured hundreds. Dissident groups remain a threat today, fourteen years after the peace agreement. Another ‘new’ IRA was announced on July 26.
To RIRA it is Sinn Fein who are the dissidents for their apostasy in accepting a divided Ireland. In the May 2011 elections, not a single dissident won an Assembly seat, and their combined vote was less than one percent. Republican Sinn Fein (the RIRA’s “political” wing) spokesperson Cait Trainor told Channel 4: “We have a mandate stretching right back to 1798. We really don’t need the public to rubber stamp the republican movement.”
Dissidents have little hope of ‘winning’ in the sense of achieving a united Ireland by force. Meanwhile, they are content to disrupt the liberal consensus and show that the Good Friday settlement has not produced the peace that was promised.

Terrorists often inhabit a murky borderland with organized crime. Part of the RIRA plan is to gain legitimacy as a community police force by acting against drug dealers, thieves and those involved in anti-social behavior. This is hypocritical as they are heavily involved in crime.
In the Republic, police chief Martin Callinan rejected criticism of his officers for failing to intervene when shots were fired by masked paramilitaries at the funeral of murdered RIRA member Alan Ryan on Saturday September 15. Any rational assessment of Alan Ryan would assess him as a hoodlum and extortionist. The RIRA planned to turn him into their very own Bobby Sands.

RIRA godfathers exploited Ryan’s funeral as propaganda despite the fact that they had themselves recently admonished him for his erratic behavior. Ryan threatened tortured, bombed, shot and murdered. His security company was a front for a protection racket targeting legitimate business people and organized the murder of drug dealers for other drug dealers. A foreign hit man was paid €100,000 to terminate Ryan.

Another dissident plan is to agitate in contended situations, particularly during the marching season, to prompt over-reaction by the security forces. North Belfast is a complex patchwork of republican and loyalist districts. For three consecutive nights in early September, embittered loyalists clashed with police, resulting in injuries to more than 60 officers. A planned republican procession had attracted loyalist protesters. Tensions have simmered over trouble close to a Catholic church. North Belfast was the scene of serious rioting earlier this year when republicans attacked police following a loyalist parade through the Ardoyne on July 12. North Belfast resident and writer Daniel Jewesbury said: “There are some groups dedicated to taking offense, but there are some who are dedicated to giving it”.

Belfast-based journalist Jason Walsh writes: ”Sectarianism is built into the very fabric of the peace process that brought the war in Northern Ireland to an end… in elevating parity of esteem and respect for cultural difference above all else, it also turned demands for community respect into the political currency of the New Northern Ireland”. The fear is that this nurturing of difference will explode again into open war.

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Reconciliation in Ireland Part 5

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday September 23 2012

Peace comes dropping slow

There were too many twists and turns in the road to the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement to be covered satisfactorily in 800 words. Readers wanting to follow the detail should read Great Hatred, Little Room by Jonathan Powell for an inside view by a British government participant. Deaglán de Bréadún, of the Irish Times, followed the negotiations on a daily basis and interviewed key people. In his book The Far Side of Revenge. My favorite quotation in the book is from a republican asked about the decommissioning of IRA arms. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”.

Why did it end?
The 30-year war had reached a stalemate. Peter Taylor, in his book Brits, provides convincing evidence to show that British intelligence had improved to such an extent that the IRA were well aware that they could not possibly win. On their side, the British were savvy enough to know that they could not achieve a definitive military defeat of the IRA. Behind a facade of British refusal to talk with terrorists and the IRA refusal to contemplate anything short of a united Ireland, both sides were for a long time edging towards compromise.

The actors
De Bréadún provides pithy pen portraits of key participants. Of Bill Clinton, he says: “A needy man met a needy people”. He quotes George Mitchell: “No-one can really have a chance in a society dominated by fear, hatred and violence…a deadly ritual in which most of the victims are innocent”.
PMs Blair and Ahern grew in stature because of their dogged efforts on Northern Ireland before, respectively, Iraq and corruption destroyed their reputations.
Three Catholic Northern Ireland citizens were essential to the peace process. John Hume, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party sacrificed his health throughout his adult life representing the nationalist community’s aspirations for an end to discrimination. Although Hume was a fervent upholder of non-violence, he was courageous enough to maintain dialogue with the men of violence, chiefly through Gerry Adams.
De Bréadún writes of Gerry Adams, “He failed to match the stereotype of the fire-breathing subversive, choosing instead to act as a conduit for the grievances of the grassroots”.

While Adams dealt with the broad strategic sweep, Martin McGuinness proved to be a canny negotiator. According to a senior Dublin civil servant: “The boy revolutionary developed into a mature and skilful politician”. De Bréadún writes: “Mc Guinness got respect in his own right, thanks to his formidable history as an activist and his direct and commanding personality. If Adams was the architect of the republican project, McGuinness was the engineer”.

On the Unionist side David Trimble had been involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard in the early 1970s before he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. As the leader of the UUP he could not afford to be too “moderate”. The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party was constantly raising the “No surrender. No popery” ante and Trimble had to be seen to support triumphalist loyalist marches through Catholic areas.


Constructive ambiguity
Many regarded the peace process with scepticism concerned that it would bring men of violence into the heart of democracy. Symbolic issues like policing and decommissioning provided obstacles. To carry his party with him, Trimble had to insist that the IRA decommission its arms. McGuinness and Adams had great authority with the rank and file of the IRA but could not sell decommissioning as it would be seen as surrender without achieving the aim of a united Ireland.
To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993 after Clinton listened to Sinn Féin On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, and 2007 elections, the DUP and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. Paisley became First Minister and McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister.
The nationalists could say that their struggle had entered new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Adams’s Sinn Fein. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable nay-sayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.


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Reconciliation in Ireland – Part 4

At the time of the Easter Rising in 1916, the British government had more or less decided to grant Ireland Home Rule, but was hoping to get the little matter of the First World War out of the way first. The Ulster Volunteers, the first loyalist paramilitary group, was established under the leadership of Edward Carson. It evolved into the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913, receiving a large arms cache from Germany in April 1914. The unionists promised civil war if Home Rule became a reality: “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right”.

Irish rebels did not win independence for the whole island. The boundaries of the north and east were gerrymandered so that the six counties which formed the statelet of Northern Ireland would have an inbuilt protestant loyalist majority. Since then, who ruled Northern Ireland saw to it that Protestant loyalists got the best education and the best jobs; the Catholic minority suffered severe discrimination. In Derry, Catholics were in a majority but Protestants ran the city council. The boundaries were drawn to ensure that 14,000 Catholic voters ended up with eight councillors, while 9,000 Protestants had twelve.

Ferocious rioting
By the 1960s, Northern Ireland Catholics were emulating the Civil Rights movement in the USA. The IRA was a spent force. That did not prevent unionists from regarding the NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement) as an IRA front. The IRA had given up arms and been taken over by Marxists under the leadership of Cathal Goulding, who admitted that he didn’t have the human resource to obtain a united Ireland by force.  The IRA did not drive the Civil Rights movement. Its members acted as stewards on many marches but to prevent rather than promote violence.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary and its notorious auxiliaries, the B Specials, were almost exclusively Protestant and Loyalist. Demands for civil rights were seen as sedition. In the summer of 1969, the powder keg was ignited in Derry, the conflagration spread to Belfast and engulfed the whole province. The ferocious rioting that lasted for three days in Derry became known as the Battle of the Bogside. One of the young men involved was Martin McGuinness. London’s attention was captured; troops were sent in.

The first RUC officer to be killed was Constable Victor Arbuckle, shot by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force that was ironically protesting the disarming of the RUC. The bizarre twists and turns of the 30-year conflict are captured in three books by Peter Taylor – Loyalists, Brits, and Provos.

The civil rights movement rejuvenated the IRA. After a so-called “pogrom” in Belfast in August 1969, the graffito “IRA – I Ran Away” began appearing on walls. The Catholic population believed that Goulding’s IRA had deserted them. A group of dissidents emerged which evolved into the Provisional IRA. Initially, the group’s primary objective was to make sure that they would be trained and equipped to defend the Catholic areas of Belfast if loyalists were to attack them. It is ironic now to remember that the British army regarded the IRA as allies rather than enemies. To the IRA, the loyalists were the enemy not the British.
The loyalists insisted on their civil right to stage frequent triumphalist marches through Catholic areas. Both sides became inflamed with sectarian hatreds which the British could not cope with. The Brits became the enemy for loyalists as well as nationalist, victims of the history of plantation and partition.
Even when Ireland became a republic, the IRA continued to “fight” for a united Ireland. Ireland remains divided, though, raising the question, were those deaths worthwhile?

One can appreciate why intelligent young men like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness joined the IRA in 1969 in order to defend the Catholic population. Although initially welcomed by Catholics, the British Army soon alienated them by their actions. The IRA moved from defending Catholics to fighting for a united Ireland, but “fighting” meant setting off bombs that killed babies and other innocent parties.

United Ireland
When Bobby Sands died on hunger strike in 1981, the situation in Northern Ireland was that Catholics had suffered severe discrimination. This was being addressed in the face of recalcitrance from loyalists. However, Bobby Sands was not fighting for an end to discrimination but for a united Ireland. What peace has been achieved in Northern Ireland has come because both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are both members of the EU and much of the Good Friday Agreement was about setting up institutions which covered all Ireland. Although most Irish people are grateful for peace, Bobby Sands’s sister and her husband feel they have the right to interpret his ‘legacy’ by leading the Real IRA in killing innocent people. Some freedom fighters!

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Reconciliation in Ireland Part 3

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday August 26 2012


Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal to lampoon the ideas of William Petty. Swift suggests that impoverished Irish might profit by selling their surplus children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies.

Genocide by Famine?
In his book Three Famines, Thomas Keneally, the Australian novelist who wrote Schindler’s List, quotes a contemporary observer of the Irish famine: “Insane mothers began to eat their young children who died of famine before them; and still fleets of ships were sailing with every tide, carrying Irish cattle and corn to England”.



As a result of the famine that followed the potato blight of 1845, Ireland’s population fell by 25%.  One million people died of starvation and typhus. Millions emigrated over following decades. Some 2.6 million Irish entered overcrowded workhouses where more than 200,000 people died.
The 1911 Census showed that Ireland’s population had fallen to 4.4 million, about half of its peak population. The population of Ireland has never got back to pre-famine levels.


Enforced Monoculture


According to historian Cecil Woodham-Smith, “the unreliability of the potato crop was an accepted fact in Ireland.” In 1851, the Census of Ireland Commissioners recorded 24 failures of the potato crop going back to 1728 of varying severity. In the first two decades of the 18th century, the potato became a base food of the poor because it could be easily stored. The British rulers forced Irish peasants to subsist on a potato diet since a farmer could grow triple the amount of potatoes as grain on the same plot of land. A single acre of potatoes could support a family for a year.


Unnatural Causes of Famine


Under British rule, Irish Catholics were prohibited from entering the professions or even purchasing land. Instead, many rented small plots of land from absentee British Protestant landlords. Half of all landholdings were less than five acres in 1845.
The Earl of Lucan owned over 60,000 acres of land stolen from the indigenous population. Many absentee landlords lived in England where rent revenue was sent collected from impoverished tenants who were paid minimal wages to raise crops and livestock for export.




Rent collection was left in the hands of the landlords’ agents, Gombeen men. This assured the (usually Protestant) landlord of a regular income and relieved them of any responsibility. Gombeen man is a pejorative Hiberno – English term for a shady, “wheeler-dealer” or businessman on the make and take.  Mudalali might be a Sri Lankan equivalent.
The landlords regarded the land as a source of income from which to extract as much money as possible. This caused resentment among the tenants and their hostility encouraged the landlords to stay away, some visiting their property once or twice in a lifetime, or never.
A great mass of evictions came in 1847, although records were not kept until later. Police recorded a total of almost 250,000 persons as officially evicted between 1849 and 1854. Historian James S. Donnelly Jr. believes this to be an underestimate. If those pressured into ‘voluntary’ surrenders were included, the figure would almost certainly exceed half a million. There was little voluntary about tenants being  persuaded to accept a small sum of money to leave their homes, cheated into believing the workhouse would take them in. The Earl of Lucan was one of the worst evictors. He was quoted as saying “he would not breed paupers to pay priests”. After evicting over 2,000 tenants in Ballinrobe, he then used the cleared land for grazing.




Broadcaster and historian Robert Kee suggested that the Irish Famine of 1845 is ‘comparable’ in its force on ‘popular national consciousness to that of the ‘final solution on the Jews,’ and that it is not ‘infrequently’ thought that the Famine was something very like, ‘a form of genocide engineered by the English against the Irish people’.
However, Irish Historian Cormac Ó Gráda disagreed arguing that “genocide includes murderous intent and it must be said that not even the most bigoted and racist commentators of the day sought the extermination of the Irish.”  Ó Gráda thinks that a case of neglect is easier to sustain than that of genocide.


Voodoo Economics and God’s Will


Charles Edward Trevelyan was responsible for ‘relief’ but thought it heretical in terms of religion and economic philosophy. Trevelyan believed the famine had been sent by God “to teach the Irish a lesson. The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”

In his book Late Victorian Holocausts Mike Davis argues that cyclical weather shocks were survivable in the early 19th century but later, in the golden age of liberal capitalism, they were transmitted directly to the poor through the newly established system of global commodity markets. This was what made the failure of the Irish potato crop so disastrous. It was a man-made disaster.
John Mitchel, one of the leaders of the Young Ireland Movement, wrote the following in 1860: “The British account of the matter, then, is first, a fraud; second, a blasphemy. The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.”
Alex de Waal, author of Famine Crimes, writes: “western nations still preach the fundamentals of a single path to development through integration into the global market. Is not the ghost of Trevelyan stalking Africa?”

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Reconciliation in Ireland Part 2

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday August 22 2012.
Plantations and Genocide
In October 1641, Phelim O’Neill launched a rebellion, hoping to rectify grievances of Irish Catholic landowners. The resentment of the native Irish in Ulster boiled over into indiscriminate attacks on settlers, 4,000 of whom were killed; and 12,000 perished after being expelled from their homes. The atrocities committed by both sides further poisoned the relationship between the settler and native communities.


Cromwell Scourge of God
Cromwell with the New Model Army by 1652 had effectively re-conquered Ireland. Cromwell held all Irish Catholics responsible for the rebellion of 1641. The Irish Catholic land-owning class was utterly destroyed and Cromwell achieved the logical conclusion of the plantation process. Over 12,000 New Model Army veterans were given Irish land instead of wages. They were required to keep their weapons to act as a reserve militia in case of future rebellions.


Cromwell has his defenders among modern historians but a recent book, God’s Executioner by Mícheál Ó Siochrú, is a forceful restatement of the prosecution case. The 1649-53 campaign lingers in the Irish psyche for the huge death toll (possibly 40% of the population).There was wholesale burning of crops, forced population movement and slaughter of civilians. The post-war Cromwellian settlement of Ireland has been characterised as “genocidal”.
The 50 years from 1641 to 1691 saw two catastrophic periods of civil war in Ireland which killed hundred thousands of people and left others in permanent exile. The wars, which pitted Irish Catholics against British forces and Protestant settlers, ended in the almost complete dispossession of the Catholic landed elite. The Plantations had a profound impact on Ireland in several ways. The native ruling classes were destroyed and replaced by the Protestant Ascendancy.
Sir William Petty
William Petty (1623-87) – mathematician, mechanic, physician, cartographer and statistician – devised a public-private partnership for “fusing science and policy”. Petty is best known through his connection with the Cromwellian settlement of Ireland. Arriving in Ireland in 1652 as physician-general to the army, he set about making himself useful by surveying the boundaries of holdings and assessing relative values. This became known as the Down Survey, which commodified Irish land. It standardised the measure of estates, in size and in value, and, as, Petty himself was a major holder of these debentures, became very rich. When he arrived in Ireland, he had maybe £500 in assets, but he came to own 50,000 acres in County Kerry alone. John Aubrey estimated Petty’s rental income at its height at £18,000 a year – perhaps £27 million in today’s money. Petty anticipated Henry Ford’s methods (Ford’s father was from County Cork) of division of labour and economies of scale. He divided complicated tasks into bits that could be handled by men “not of the nimblest witts”, that is, by the soldiers themselves, who were also tough enough to deal with angry landowners and “with the severall rude persons in the country, from whome they might expect to be often crossed and opposed”.
One way of preventing Ireland from being a haven for terrorists was to transform it by social engineering into a peaceful and productive land. Ireland could be seen as a laboratory in which a new, rational and virtuous society might be developed. Petty wrote: “Some furious Spirits have wished, that the Irish would rebel again, that they might be put to the Sword.” He had some scruples: “I declare, that motion to be not only impious and inhumane, but withal frivolous and pernicious even to them who have rashly wish’d for those occasions.”
Eugenics and Ethnic Cleansing
Petty explored the idea of breeding the “meer Irish” out of existence by deporting 10,000 Irishwomen of marriageable age to England every year and replacing them with a like number of Englishwomen? “The whole Work of natural Transmutation and Union would in four or five years be accomplished. The Englishwomen would run Irish households on much more civilised lines: “The Language of the Children shall be English, and the whole Oeconomy of the Family English, viz. Diet, Apparel, etc., and the Transmutation will be very easy and quick”.

Cromwell’s genocidal campaign had been financed through promises of confiscated Irish land. Rebels were executed and others were sent as slaves to the West Indies. Irish soldiers were given the opportunity of going abroad to fight in foreign armies and became known as the Wild Geese.
All land east of the River Shannon was claimed by the Crown. About 8,400,000 acres were reassigned from Catholic to Protestant owners. The former Irish owners could either accept transportation to poorer land reserved for them in Connaught or be tenants of the new Protestant owners. Catholic ownership plummeted from 60% of the land before the Rebellion to less than 10% after 1652. It was a great experiment in the movement of populations and transference of social power.
Petty may have provided some useful ideas to Hitler and Mengele. How well his experiment worked out we will see in future articles. While I deplore the activities of conflict junkies who are only happy when the fires of hatred are constantly stoked, one cannot understand contemporary Ireland without knowing where the divisions in Irish society originated.
More genocidal horrors next week.
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Reconciliation in Ireland Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday August 12 2012.

Ireland’s Revenge on the Tudors



I have been watching on DVD the Showtime TV series The Tudors. It strikes me as ironic that the series was filmed in Ireland and has provided gainful employment to innumerable Irish actors (including my Facebook friend Nick Dunning, wonderfully shifty as Thomas Boleyn).  Ironic because many of the troubles Ireland has suffered over the centuries resulted from the policies and actions of Henry VIII (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers – Sean O’Keefe from County Cork- who first came to fame as the man who shot Michael Collins in Neil Jordan’s film).

Patriotic Irishmen, my father included, like to talk about 800 years of British oppression (see the responses to my essay on Groundviews: True, Strongbow (2nd Earl of Pembroke Richard de Clare, Lord of Leinster, Justiciar of Ireland) invaded Ireland in 1170 but it was not until the Tudors that the real oppression began. Strongbow is described as Cambro-Norman, a term used for Norman knights who settled in southern Wales after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

War on terrorism?
The Normans were not generally too much of a bother to the native Irish and they actually helped bring a measure of efficiency to agriculture, commerce and the law. To a great extent, the Normans ‘went native’. Some adopted the Irish language and customs and intermarried. The Irish themselves also became “Normanised”. Many Irish people today bear Norman-derived surnames such as Fitzgerald, Burke, Roche and Power. There are many Irish D’Arcy’s, De Laceys and De Burghs. There are several distinct types of Irish face. One of them- thin lips, sharp nose –  is distinctively Norman.

Many of Ireland’s problems came from Wales. The Welshman Henry VII founded the Tudor dynasty in 1485 after killing the reigning King Richard III. In 1536, Henry VIII deposed the Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare as Lords Deputies of Ireland. The Fitzgeralds had been, in effect, rulers of Ireland since the 15th century but had become a security threat to the Johnny-Come-Lately Tudor dynasty by inviting Burgundian troops into Dublin and crowning the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as ‘King of England’ in 1497. In 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald rebelled against Henry VIII. The rebellion was put down and Henry tried to bring all Ireland under his control to prevent it being used as a base for a Catholic invasion of England.

Spenser’s final solution
Edmund Spenser, considered by many the first English poet of note after Chaucer, could also be regarded as the Radovan Karadzic of his day. Spenser wrote most of his masterpiece, The Faery Queene, on his 3,000 acre estate at Kilcolman Castle in County Cork. County Cork is in the province of Munster. He also wrote propaganda advocating genocide. The Munster Plantation of the 1580s was the first mass plantation in Ireland. It was a punishment for the Desmond rebellions.  The Desmond dynasty was annihilated and their estates were confiscated.

Spenser was a beneficiary of this confiscation. Spenser communicated with his neighbour and fellow poet Sir Walter Raleigh, who had commandeered 40,000 prime Irish acres for himself at Youghal. First Earl of Cork Richard Boyle may have been an ancestor of the writer Richard Boyle who has long been resident in Sri Lanka. Both were born in Canterbury. The Earl of Cork claimed most of the County and Munster as his own.

English ‘Undertakers’ were wealthy colonists. They undertook to import tenants from England, Scotland and Wales to work on their new lands. The plan was to confiscate the land and redistribute to create concentrations of British settlers around new towns and garrisons. The new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants. The planters were also barred from selling their lands to any Irishman.

The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster and the ordinary Irish population was relocated near garrisons and Protestant churches. Up to 80,000 English and Scots Protestants had been settled in the previously Catholic north of Ireland by 1641. The Reformation did not ‘take’ in Ireland. This was because brutal methods were used to pacify the country and exploit its resources which heightened resentment of English rule.
Settlers with a British and Protestant identity would form the ruling class of future British administrations in Ireland. Penal laws discriminated against Catholics who were barred from public office and from serving in the army. Voting for Parliament was rigged so the Protestants would always have the majority.
There is a familiar imperial pattern here of colonisation, land theft, divide and rule, religious and racial discrimination leading brutality to conflict. During the years of the Provisional IRA terrorist campaign the British from a superior height would say : ”Why is it these people can’t just get on with one another?” To Irish people it is not an Irish problem. Ireland suffered from an English (or possibly Welsh) problem.
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Reconciliation in Mali Part 2

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday June 30 2013

A UN peacekeeping force, known as Minusma, consisting of 12,600 troops, will be deployed in Mali from 1 July 2013. The stated aim is to provide security for a presidential election due on 28 July 2013. Britain’s UN ambassador said there was “unanimous agreement” that UN peacekeepers should take over from the African Union. The pretext for the previous intervention in Mali was the attempt of the Jihadist group, Asnar Dine, affiliated with the larger Al Qaeda adjunct AQIM, to move out of traditional Tuareg territory in the northern desert to spread Sharia law to south Mali.

The presidential and parliamentary elections planned for July are intended to stabilise Mali, which has been disrupted by a military coup and Islamist rebellion.  “We will organise the elections throughout the national territory in order to reunite the minds of Malians, reunite their hearts, and to enable Mali to remain one and indivisible,” said Minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly.

The first suicide attacks in Mali’s history recently took place in Gao, followed by fierce fighting in the northern town. Algalas ag Moutkel, who had been in prison for stealing a mattress, told the BBC how an Islamist group cut off his hand with a knife. Gao’s mayor, Sadou Harouna Dial, said that twelve others had hands and legs amputated with knives.

Mali shifted from autocracy to democracy providing a model for post-colonial Africa. In 1991, massive protests touched off a coup that ended the 23-year reign of General Moussa Traoré. The coup’s leader, Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré, presided over a transition that brought a new constitution and multiparty elections. Every five years since then Mali has held elections that have been considered free and fair. Mali was a place of tourists and the non-political Tourés – musician Ali Farke and his son Vieux.

What went wrong?

Laurent Bigot, a French foreign ministry official, described Mali as a ‘sham democracy’. As a legitimately elected civilian president, Amadou Toumani Touré maintained a veneer of progress. Cynics say this was just to keep the aid money flowing. His government at first boosted the number of children enrolled at school but never invested adequately in the education system. He pushed sweeping legislation through with little debate. In 2009, after the Assembly passed a progressive bill to reform Mali’s 1962 laws governing women’s rights and families by 117 votes to 5, Islamic groups stirred up opposition. The law was never enacted. Touré’s “rule by consensus” became a euphemism for suppression.

President Touré was toppled just before he was about to leave office anyway, in what Bruce Whitehouse calls an “accidental coup” by rank-and-file soldiers who did not seem to know what they wanted. The coup caused a vacuum as politicians fled. A lieutenant in camouflage fatigues had appeared on state television to announce the suspension of the constitution. A poll conducted a month after the coup showed that two-thirds of Bamako residents backed the junta and its leader, the army captain Amadou Sanogo who had trained at Fort Benning, Georgia and the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Sanogo claimed the coup was necessary because Touré’s government was failing to deal with Tuareg unrest. The army did worse, losing control of the regional capitals of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu within ten days of Sanogo assuming office. Reuters described the coup as “a spectacular own-goal.”
The Tuareg Rebellion was allegedly armed and financed by France for the purpose of splitting the north of Mali along Algeria’s border, from the rest of the country. Global Research claims that anonymous US military experts say that US and NATO Special Forces actually trained the same “terrorist” bands now justifying a neo-colonial US-backed invasion of Mali by France.

Historian Stephen Ellis has argued that the increasing fragility of African states is “an early sign of a wider problem with the system of international governance” built after World War Two. Western powers are discovering that there are limits to their ability to reform state systems. It may be that the way to help these societies sort out their conflicts is to let them do it on their own.

France did not give up its Empire as easily as the British. French troops have intervened in Africa 50 times since 1960 to defend France’s extensive  economic interests. Investigative journalist Michel Collon has written extensively about war strategies and media coverage of military conflicts, and believes that the US and France both regard the continent as merely a  supplier of raw materials. Africa has 40% of all minerals crucial to international economic growth. France and the US have  military bases as well as using  local armies. Mali is poor because of its colonisation by France and the current plundering by French companies. The real goal of a French presence is not to combat the Islamists but to secure the resources. Despite the presence of Minusma, France will maintain at least 1,000 troops in the country for anti-terrorism operations.

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Reconciliation in Mali Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday June 13 2013


On July 28 2013, citizens of the West African nation of Mali will vote for a president. Legislative elections are scheduled to go ahead on July 21. Mining engineer Dramane Dembele runs as presidential candidate for the country’s largest political party.
Elections were initially scheduled to take place in April 2012, but a military coup ousted President Touré shortly before his term was due to end. An alliance of Tuareg separatist and Islamist rebel groups took advantage of the ensuing chaos and seized control of the whole of northern Mali – an area larger than France.

Mali is a land-locked nation, three and a half times the size of Germany, bordered by Algeria to the north, Niger to the east, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast to the south, Guinea to the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania to the west. Its size is just over 1,240,000 square kilometres (480,000 sq mi) with a population of 14.5 million. Its capital is Bamako.

Gold production

Mali is the third largest producer of gold in Africa, but half the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
At its peak in 1300, Mali covered an area about twice the size of modern-day France, and stretched to the west coast of Africa. Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires (Ghana, Malinké and Songhai) which controlled trade in commodities such as gold, salt and slaves. West Africa has a favourable geology dominated by the Birimian Trend, a large area that runs through many West African countries and through the heart of South-western Mali. This is currently the base for the fastest growing gold production and exploration in the world. According to the former Malian minister of mining, Mamadou Igor Diarra, Malian soil contains copper, uranium, phosphate, bauxite, gems. More recently, uranium has been discovered and lots of oil. Two thirds of France’s electricity is from nuclear power and sources of new uranium are essential. Presently, France draws significant uranium imports from neighbouring Niger.
Under the Mali Empire, the ancient cities of Djenné and Timbuktu were centres of trade and Islamic learning and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centres of civilization. The decline of these empires coincided with the eagerness of European states to extend their presence and influence across the globe and to take advantage of free labour and natural resources.

During the 19th Century Scramble for Africa, France seized control of Mali, after its first incursion in 1880, making it a part of French Sudan. French imperialists called colonization their mission civilisatrice. French is now the dominant language in Mali and across West Africa, while Christianity pervades the region. In 1886, Jules Ferry said: “The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races.”

Plantation slavery

The present boundaries of Mali are the legacy of 70 years of French colonial rule, from 1890-1960. Resistance to French control did not end until 1898, when the Malinké warrior Samory Touré was defeated after seven years of war. The French attempted to rule indirectly, through appointed chiefs. Mali was administered with other French colonial territories as the Federation of French West Africa and supplied labour to France’s colonies on the coast of West Africa. The French authorities forced African laborers to produce goods such as peanuts and cotton, which were transported to the coast by railways and roads. Just before the abolition of slavery (as late as 1905 for the French empire), 3.5 million people, about one-third of the region’s population, were slaves. Ten-thousand Malians died in the trenches for France in WWI. According to the Anti-Slavery Society, some of them were freed slaves.
In the 1930s, in an effort to build up the local cotton industry to feed French textiles, France established an irrigation programme that flooded areas (thereby displacing Malian villages) of the Niger River Valley, using labor that amounted to plantation slavery.

Internal autonomy

In 1956, with the passing of France’s Fundamental Law (Loi Cadre), the Territorial Assembly obtained extensive powers over internal affairs and was permitted to form a cabinet with executive authority over matters within the Assembly’s competence. After the 1958 French constitutional referendum, the Republique Soudanaise became a member of the French Community and enjoyed complete internal autonomy. At least 120,000 Malians now live in France.
The July 2013 elections are a key step towards stabilising Mali, which had struggled to fend off Islamist fighters before intervention by French forces to oust the rebels from the north of the country. Thousands of troops from France and African nations are currently in Mali. “We will organize the elections throughout the national territory in order to reunite the minds of Malians, reunite their hearts, and to enable Mali to remain one and indivisible,” announced territorial Administration Minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly.

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