Friday, 28 February 2014

Truth commission needed in Northern Ireland

Interesting to again see the old hierarchy of suffering coming into play again in the Northern Ireland context. The only violence that matters it would seem is the Republican variety.
Contrast the present furore with the lack of interest when the devastating book “Lethal Allies” documenting 120 deaths (mainly Catholic) occurring between 1972 and 1978 was published in the autumn. Or the ongoing struggle of the Finucane family to get an independent judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane in 1989.
One of the architects of Lethal Allies, Alan Brecknell, declared that he had no desire to see the 80 plus year olds responsible for the death of his father appearing in court, however he did want what happened recognised and acknowledged.
The response of the British government then was to not even meet with the book’s author Anne Cadwallader and those from the Pat Finucane Centre responsible for gathering the evidence. Compare such a response to the cartwheels now being performed by Theresa Villers and the British government in order to try to keep Peter Robinson and his chums in the Democratic Unionist Party on board with the peace process.
What the present furore over the letters of exemption and other revelations like Lethal Allies and those of the Panorama programme exposing British soldiers killing civilians demand is the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission. Though lest any party should have any misunderstandings, such a body would be internationally constituted and look at killings on all sides, not simply those that serve the purposes of the British state or either of the communities in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Lord Alton calls for caste discrimination to be made history

Lord David Alton has called on the international community to make caste discrimination history. Addressing an international conference in London titled Christiana responsibility to Dalits and caste discrimination, Lord Alton declared that “caste should be recognised as a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.” Supported by CAFOD, Voice of Dalits International, CARJ and Migration Bishop Patrick Lynch the conference heard how Dalits make up 200 million of the Indian population (one sixth) and exist in 132 countries. Dalits also make up a sizeable number of Indians living in the UK, where discrimination was outlawed under the Equalities Act (2010). The Global Slavery Index has confirmed that around half of the world’s slaves are in India – some 13.9 million out of a global total of 29.8 million, and that most are Dalits or Tribals. In the Hindu caste system, they are regarded as subhuman—lower even than animals and left fighting a largely unknown struggle for emancipation. “Evidence points to 80-95% of bonded labourers (the vast majority of the 'modern slaves' in India) being Dalits, 99% of ritual sex slaves (the 250,000 temple prostitutes known locally as Devadasi or Jogini) being Dalits, and the majority of those trafficked into brothels or into domestic servitude being Dalits or Tribals,” said Lord Alton. “If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else.” Lord Alton revealed that it is estimated that every day three Dalit women are raped; Dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; on average every hour two Dalit houses are burnt down; every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; each day two Dalits are murdered; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12 per cent die before their fifth birthday; 56 per cent of Dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 %; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write. The peer challenged the aid agencies to change their approach to caste. “In India you can’t make poverty history unless you make caste history. As we examine what has been achieved through the Millennium Development Goals and the plight of the global poor the professional development agencies need to take a long hard look at the way they target poverty. As they think beyond 2015 they need to listen, rather than impose, and develop a cross thematic framework for addressing the curse of the caste system,” said Lord Alton. “Some of these agencies need to radically rethink their mindset and priorities. They will be far more effective in tackling poverty if they tackle social exclusion. The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50 per cent of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.” Lord Alton cited education as a key way of addressing caste discrimination. “Education is still the best hope for social transformation. Once people are empowered by education, they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes,” said Lord Alton.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Environmentalists back Stern warnings on climate change and floods

Environmentalists have supported economist Nicholas Stern’s dire warning that UK flooding is linked to climate change and more can be expected unless drastic action is taken immediately.

Stern, who compiled at authoritative report for the British government in 2006, warning of orbiting costs as well as the destruction of the planet if climate change were not addressed, has claimed things are now worse.

He argues that “four of the five wettest years recorded in the UK have occurred from the year 2000 onwards. Over that same period, we have also had the seven warmest years. That is not a coincidence. There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, in line with what is expected from fundamental physics, as the Met Office pointed out earlier this week.”
He continued: “A warmer atmosphere holds more water. Add to this the increase in sea level, particularly along the English Channel, which is making storm surges bigger, and it is clear why the risk of flooding in the UK is rising.”
Stern warned things have got a lot worse since his report was published eight years ago and urgent action is needed. “The government will have to ensure the country becomes more resilient to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided, including by investing greater sums in flood defences,” said Stern.

Writer, broadcaster and advisor to the Bishops Conference of England and Wales on environmental matters, Mary Colwell pointed out that Stern is not a man given to sensationalism. 
"His warning that the series of extreme weather events since 2000, right across the world, only go to strengthen the claim that the impacts of climate change are now being felt.  It is a warning we must listen to.  It seems the world is de-stabilising and shifting to a new order in line with a higher average global temperature.  It is, quite frankly, scary," said Colwell. "We only have one course of action.  We must immediately reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to put the brakes on the rate of change in the future and we must immediately restore natural systems that will help ameliorate  the worst effects of flooding.  Emitting greenhouse gases is only one own goal humanity is constantly scoring.  We continue to mis-use the land by eroding and/or compacting soils, deforesting uplands, draining wetlands, concreting land, ripping out mangroves, channelling rivers, building on floodplains and many other practices that reduce the ability of the landscape to deal with excess water.
"We also continue to eat meat in increasing quantities.  The meat industry is responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gases, by comparison, all the world's cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13% of greenhouse gas emissions.  In other words the way western society lives is the cause of climate change and our lack of respect for the natural world is increasing the devastating effects being felt."  
The environmental expert called on the Church to "respond strongly and clearly."  
"It must be a guide to right living and a comfort in times of change.  The stakes are too high for any more hand waving and doubt.  Catholics must practice the 3 Ss - live Simply, live Sustainably and be prepared to make sacrifices," said Mrs Colwell, who expressed her concerns that once the flooding crisis subsides the urgency will also evaporate.  

Environmental writer Edward Echlin said: “The unusual damaging weather is how climate scientists warned climate change would happen. Politicians, business leaders, and news media should have listened and acted. All must now respond. We suffer climate change that is human induced through human emissions and flora destruction. Moreover we need mitigation on climate damage as well as immediate adaptation. Alternative energies are available. House, churches, schools and other roofs, should generate solar energy through PV solar panels. This is true, genuine growth.”

Environmental writer and activist Ellen Teague said: “Columban Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation would certainly agree with Nicholas Stern that the current extreme weather is not a one-off, but part of a trend.”

“Britain has become twice as stormy in the past 50 years as climate change has forced the deep depressions that used to hit Iceland further south. Heavy winter rain will become more frequent and therefore the threat of flooding more serious. Sea level rise is an issue too, with more extreme tidal surges and storms predicted. The number of homes affected by coastal flooding in Kent, for example, is expected to triple in the next ten years,” she said.


Another development has seen  Pax Christi, Christian CND, Movement for the Abolition of War, (MAW) Columban Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) all sign a petition calling for the government to cancel renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system and use the money for flood protection. "We urge Her Majesty's Government to cancel present and future spending on  another Trident nuclear weapon system (estimated at £100 billion) and to spend some of the  money saved now and in the future on coastal protection and  inland flooding defences," says the petition.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Review of the film The Invisible Woman

The film an Invisible Woman about the relationship between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan is entertaining.

Abi Morgan’s screen play, taken from Claire Tomalin’s excellent book of the same name, extracts a number of scenes to create a microcosm of the original work.

The focus is on Ternan looking back 13 years after the death of Dickens, when she is living in Margate, having married the clergyman George Wharton Robinson. She then has two children of her own.

The recall starts from when she first met Dickens, brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes, at the dramatisation of Wilkie Collin’s play the Frozen Deep in Manchester. Further events follow, as the relationship deepens.

The brutality of Dickens toward his wife shows through when he has a barrier built in the house between his and her part and in a letter to the Times practically disowning her.

I’m not sure really whether the relationship between the Ternan family (mother Frances (Kristin Scott Thomas) and sisters Fanny (Amanda Hale) and Maria (Perdita Weeks)) and Dickens is done as well as it might be. In her book, Tomalin gets the sordid tone of the relationship, namely that Dickens wants Nelly and in exchange is prepared to support the other Ternans to a degree as well.

There is the suggestion in the book that Nelly’s sister Fanny plays a little on the relationship to exact certain rewards in terms of her own writing career. In the film, the deal seems to be purely that Nelly is not much good as an actress and has few other prospects..Dickens offers the best option.

What actress Felicity Jones, who plays Nelly, does convey well is her sense of being a tortured soul. She wants to tell about what went on with Dickens. In the film she ends up revealing some of the history to clergyman William Benham, though what is not told is that he later proves a less than worthy confidante.

The element of Tomalin’s book that does go missing in the film is the desire of Nelly and most of the Dickens family to protect the reputation of the great man. This went on while he was alive, so there were almost two lives going on the public and the private. Nelly then continued this, with others such as Georgina Hogarth (Dickens sister-in-law), playing major roles. Georgina gets but one mention in the film. The one family member who particularly resented the caricature of Dickens as the Victorian family man was his youngest daughter Kate, the same age as Nelly, who later said to Bernard Shaw: “If you could make the public understand that my father was not a joyous, jocous gentleman walking about the world with a plum pudding and a bowl of punch, you would greatly oblige me.”  

It is this secret and lies approach that later tears Nelly’s son Geoffrey apart when he only learns of his mother’s life as Dicken’s mistress, long after she died in 1914. The film though ends with Nelly revealing some of the story to Benham and going on with her own life.

The Invisible Woman is certainly well done, the screen play a skilful take on the original book and the acting superb. But as with many dramatisations, those who have read the original book first can end up disappointed, they shouldn’t because film is a different genre. However, if you want to avoid that disappointment maybe watch the film then read Tomlin’s excellent books the Invisible Woman and Charles Dickens – a life

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Why the urgency to re-privatise East Coast mainline?

It is difficult not to think that the government’s rush to re-privatise the East Coast mainline is not due to concerns over the excellent service provided since the line went back into public ownership in 2009.

Directly Owned Railways (DOR) posted results showing turnover of £665.8 million, an increase of £20 million, leaving a profit before tax and service payments to the Department for Transport of £195.7 million, an increase of £13 million.


Passenger journeys at East Coast, which runs trains from London to Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland, increased by 2.1%


Customer satisfaction at East Coast rose by 2%, and the latest punctuality figures were its best since records began in 1999.


Never mind all that though, the government must push on with its dogma driven back to the future policies by getting the line back into private hands.

So the three shortlisted bidders are East Coast Trains Ltd ( First Group plc); Keolis/Eurostar East Coast Limited (Keolis (UK) Limited and Eurostar International Limited); and Inter City Railways Limited (Stagecoach Transport Holdings Limited and Virgin Holdings Limited).

Imagine for a moment a railway run for the benefit of the travelling public and not shareholders in private companies. Lower ticket prices, punctual trains and well rewarded staff, what a terrible precedent that would set. If it works on East Coast, it would be being demanded for other lines – what next a nationally owned and publically run rail system?

Monday, 3 February 2014

What is needed to get politicians to take climate change seriously - the Thames lapping up on to the terrace of Parliament?

The massive damage caused by months of rain should rid any serious person involved in political life of the idea that climate change is in some way the figment of a few scientists imagination. The evidence is there for all to see, yet we have people in government like Prime Minister David Cameron who can publically talk about "getting rid of the green crap." We have an environment secretary in Owen Patterson, who at best can be described as a Walter Mitty when it comes to climate change, not wanting to admit it is the big danger facing the world today.
Mr Patterson should resign for his complete mishandling of the latest crisis. Indeed, anyone who does not seriously believe that climate change is happening should not be anywhere near government or the levers of power - an application to become a member of the flat earth society might be more appropriate.
The reality is that climate change is the biggest threat to human kind. Everything should be being done now to stop the slide and build the safeguards needed to defend against the onset of the extremes of climate seen over recent years.
Maybe, the cost of dealing with climate change might register with the deficit obsessed politicians that are presently in charge of the country.
The cost of climate change as Nicholas Stern predicted in his authoritative report for government in 2007 are going growing.
The reality is that the failure of countries across the world to act seriously against this major threat now ensures that the cost will be more. Indeed, if we are to survive moving forward, the cost of dealing with climate change will swallow up all other budgets, including defence.
This is the reality of life in the 21st century. There really is no time to further indulge climate skeptics in government or the supporting cast drawn from the energy companies, who seek to protect their own markets to the cost of humankind and the planet.

6/2/2014 - Morning Star/ Ilford Recorder