European debt crisis sparks new attacks on public sector

Anti-austerity protesters in Pairs

Anti-austerity protesters in Pairs

Published in An Phoblacht on May 20, 2010

THE British Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition has announced that it will immediately make £6 billion in public spending cuts this year in order to begin reducing the state’s £163bn deficit. The coalition will reveal an emergency budget on June 22nd, with further cuts to be implemented this autumn.

The announcement comes as no great surprise – it was a Tory election pledge, while the Lib Dems and Labour both campaigned against such immediate cuts, saying the move would threaten Britain’s fragile economic recovery and threaten to push it back into recession.

While the North’s Executive will not be affected by this round of cuts this year, it will be expected to “pay back its share” of these spending cuts as well as make further spending cuts next year. Sinn Féin has called for a united front of all parties to formulate a plan of action in the Executive to effectively resist major cuts to the block grant or the North’s public services.

Among the initial measures in Britain will be a freeze on recruitment to certain vacant public sector jobs and the sacking of agency and temporary workers. With unemployment in the state now at 2.5 million people, trade unions are preparing for a campaign of industrial action to halt the new government’s plans to cut jobs and pensions and further privatise public services.

Sovereign debt crisis

‘Reducing the state deficit’ has become the mantra of governments across Europe as the global financial crisis, which hit world markets in 2008, has entered its second phase – the ‘sovereign debt crisis’.

The United States, Britain and the Eurozone countries have collectively given the banks more than $14 trillion since September 2008. But the massive state intervention into markets has been aimed at nursing the banks and financial institutions back to the condition where they could carry on as they had before the collapse, rather than taking them into permanent public ownership.

Now, the political sponsors of the financial elite argue, begins the age of austerity – when the public deficit caused by the bail-out is to be reduced by cuts to public spending.

In response to several downgrades in Greece’s credit rating since December last year, European Union members and the International Monetary Fund initiated plans for a ‘financial safety net’ in March aimed at guaranteeing loans for member states under threat of defaulting.

On May 10th, the EU agreed the terms of the ‘safety net’, its biggest bail-out package since 2008, which consists of about €750 billion. There is €440 billion in guarantees from Eurozone states, €60 billion in a European debt instrument, and €250 billion from the IMF. Of course, any vulnerable state that needs to avail of this assistance will have to agree to harsh spending cuts and other conditions.

Austerity measures

The Dublin Government has been voluntarily implementing brutal ‘austerity’ cuts in public spending since 2008 to reduce the state deficit. Other states with high levels of public deficit (5-10% of GDP) – Portugal, Spain and Italy – have begun implementing similar cuts this year.

After Standard & Poor downgraded Portugal’s credit rating last week, the Portuguese Government said it would rush through spending cuts planned for next year. Spain’s rating was also downgraded last week by S&P and the government announced further spending cuts of €15 billion in 2010-11.

On May 9th, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition lost an important state election in North-Rhine Westphalia, and its majority in the upper house, after committing to making the largest national contribution to the Eurozone ‘safety net’ package.

Greece – which has a fiscal deficit of about 10% of its GDP, similar to the US’s and less than Britain’s – was forced to accept a “rescue package” of €110 billion this month after its credit rating was downgraded to junk status by the same agencies that played a major role in causing the global financial meltdown in 2008.

The package of loans and guarantees came with conditions of major public spending cuts, including cuts to public service jobs and pensions, raising the retirement age, privatisations and more – provoking outrage among the Greek population and a general strike that shut down the country on May 5th.

Economist Michael Burke pointed out in ‘An Phoblacht’ last week that the bail-out is not aimed at reviving the Greek economy. “The targeted beneficiaries of the bail-out are the holders of Greek Government debt. These are mainly German, French, British and US banks,” he wrote.

Lessons

Several things are clear from the latest crisis in Europe, which has arisen as a result of the response to the 2008 crisis.

The states with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio are those that have implemented cuts rather than stimulus measures to deal with the recession.

The Greek/Eurozone crisis, like the global financial crisis, is largely the result of shady financial speculative practices that were not reined in and regulated after the 2008 collapse.

EU leaders charge Greece with masking its true debt level since entering the Eurozone in 2001. Goldman Sachs helped the Greek Government do so by turning its public debt into tradable ‘derivatives’. Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions were then able to gamble on Greece defaulting. This speculation fuelled the “loss of market confidence” that saw the state’s credit rating downgraded to being a risk for investors.

France, Germany and Italy have also turned their public debt in tradable derivatives.

The financial crisis has not passed but has entered a new phase of public debt and the nationalised debt is being repaid by states’ cuts to public spending. Political, economic and social policy decisions have been totally subordinated to the market.

It is also clear that Eurozone leaders are trying to ensure that the weaker states in the zone are forced the bear the brunt of the most severe public spending cuts. The strongest members are embarking on a drive to reduce member states’ independence in fiscal policy matters.

If the austerity measures are successfully implemented in Greece, workers in Ireland, Portugal, Spain – and then the rest of the Eurozone states – will be next.

Sharpeville: Brutal massacre that galvanised anti-apartheid movement

Sharpeville, 1960

Sharpeville, 1960

Published in An Phoblacht on 25 March 2010

South Africans have marked the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre by joining a commemorative rally in the town’s stadium that was addressed by the country’s Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe.

On 21 March 1960 in the township, the apartheid regime’s police officers opened fire on an unarmed demonstration of thousands of black South Africans protesting against discriminatory laws, in particular the pass system that controlled travel and employment. Sixty-nine people were shot dead, most of them in the back as they were fleeing the gunfire; at least 180 more were wounded.

The commemoration also marked the killings of 29 people in 1985 marching in the town of Langa to mark the 25th anniversary of Sharpeville.

“The Sharpeville and Langa massacres were a tipping point in that they triggered revulsion and disgust locally and internationally,” Motlanthe said at the ceremony.

Catalyst

The pass, referred to by non-white South Africans as the ‘dompass’ – the ‘stupid pass’ – had been introduced by British colonialists in the 19th century and its use tightened in the 1950s, including being forced onto women. The pass laws controlled travel and employment of holders and black people faced arbitrary arrest if they were not carrying it.

Thousands of black South Africans rallied peacefully against the pass system that day 50 years ago. They turned up outside the Sharpeville police station without their passes and demanded the police arrest them. The police responded by massacring the protesters and in the following weeks and months, under a ‘state of emergency’, thousands of black South Africans were rounded up and detained without trial. The African National Congress and other political parties were banned.

Sharpeville was a pivotal moment in the history of the South African state and the resistance movement that ultimately brought one of the 20th century’s most tyrannical political systems to its knees. The massacre radicalised a generation of South Africans and prompted the ANC to launch an armed campaign against the state as people became convinced that peaceful resistance was no longer an option.

The Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) or ‘Spear of the Nation’ became the military wing of the ANC and had the honour of later being classified as a ‘terrorist’ organisation by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States.

Sharpeville drew the world’s attention to the abhorrent reality of the apartheid state and its violations of human rights, and was the spark for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that developed over the following decades until it became powerful enough to have a meaningful political and economic impact on the regime – helping to force it to the negotiating table with the ANC.

In 1966 the UN General Assembly declared 21 March the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Today, 21 March is celebrated as Human Rights Day in South Africa. In 1996, the ANC chose Sharpeville as the site to usher in the era when then-President Nelson Mandela signed the progressive new South African constitution into law.

“To adequately commemorate the victims and survivors of the Sharpeville massacre and other bloodbaths, we must ensure the progressive realisation of the socio-economic rights as envisaged in the Bill of Rights,” Motlanthe said.

“This means as government working with our social partners, we must strive to improve the quality of life of all our people by providing shelter, basic amenities, education, and security.”

Racist tyranny

While racial segregation and oppression of the black majority had been entrenched by European colonial settlers, both Boers and the British, for hundreds of years, apartheid was made official policy in 1948. Legislation was passed that classified people – and the rights they were entitled to – on the basis of their skin colour or ethnicity – ’black’, ‘white’, ‘coloured’ and ‘Indian’.

The regime began consolidating the process of segregating different racial groups geographically and eventually tried to corral the black population into ten ‘bantustans’ or ‘homelands’. Formalised in 1958, these were designed not only to drive black people from their land to be replaced by white settlers, but also to deprive them of their South African citizenship and (already limited) franchise under the guise of having ‘autonomy’ in the impoverished bantustans.

The bantustans, which allowed the regime to rid itself of social responsibility for the majority of the state’s citizens, were only recognised as ‘sovereign states’ by South Africa – and Israel.

Addressing the UN four years after the Sharpeville massacre, Argentinean-born Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara said: “We speak out to put the world on guard against what is happening in South Africa. The brutal policy of apartheid is applied before the eyes of the nations of the world. The peoples of Africa are compelled to endure the fact that on the African continent the superiority of one race over another remains official policy, and that in the name of this racial superiority murder is committed with impunity. Can the United Nations do nothing to stop this?”

The fierce state repression of the 1960s failed to prevent an upsurge of youthful struggles for civil rights in the 1970s, with a mass student demonstration in Soweto in June 1976 being met once again with ruthless violence. This time several hundred school students were shot dead.

‘Stop Israeli apartheid’

Throughout the 20th century the oppressed people of South Africa fought back with courage and determination in the face of brutal repression – using strikes, protests, armed struggle, civil disobedience and more. The Sharpeville and Soweto massacres were defining moments in this struggle in terms of galvanising the resistance and shocking the international community into taking action against the regime.

Today, as a democratic South Africa struggles to overcome the legacy of the poverty and racial inequality caused by 400 years of colonialism, it also demands that the new apartheid state, Israel, be similarly isolated through boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Nelson Mandela has said that justice for the Palestinians is “the greatest moral issue of the age”.

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” he said.

Legacy of apartheid poses serious challenges – ANC chair

Baleka Mbete in Dublin

Baleka Mbete in Dublin

Published in An Phoblacht on 25 March 2010

Speaking to An Phoblacht‘s Emma Clancy during the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis held in Dublin in early March, international guest Baleka Mbete, a National Chairperson for the ANC and former Deputy President of South Africa, said that important steps forward had been made in the country since 1994 but that huge challenges remain.

“Successive ANC governments have made a lot of positive changes to South Africa since we came to power 16 years ago. Of course, we have extended democratic rights to all citizens and dismantled the formal structure of apartheid,” Mbete said.

“But overcoming the structural legacy of apartheid – poverty and inequality – remains our biggest challenge,” she said.

“For so long our movement was in opposition and we could not have anticipated the complexities of being in government. But we are enthusiastic about being in this position. We believe we are up to meeting the challenges, and we are confident in the renewed mandate given to us by the people in last April’s general election in which the ANC alliance won almost 70% of the vote.

Mbete said that last year the ANC had completed a comprehensive 15-year review of their achievements and areas that needed to be improved.

“Fifteen years is long enough to have gained the knowledge and experience of operating the state structures and we wanted to have an honest appraisal of our work. We want to launch a concerted push to really improve the quality of life of the people, who are still suffering from poverty,” she said.

“We have five key priorities for the next five years – creating decent jobs, developing education and health services, reducing crime and developing rural areas.

“We have tried to reform government structures to best meet these needs. For example, we have now set up an equality ministry to address the needs of women, children and people with disabilities. This is one area that needs much more attention.

“The majority of women lived in the so-called reserves in rural areas while their partners went to work in the towns or cities, a pattern that developed in the framework of colonialism but which still exists today.

“We have also set up a ministry of rural development and land affairs. Because, despite progress, many people have been left behind in these rural areas. They are lacking basic services and sending their children to school in mud huts.”

The ANC chairperson said that the legacy of apartheid and meeting immediate needs “will mean a bigger bill for the government”.

“But we believe this is something we must do,” she said.

“The global economic recession exacerbates our existing problems by fuelling unemployment, particularly in South Africa’s mining industry, where there has been large numbers of workers laid off.

“We want to mitigate the effects of the recession through the process of all the social partners working together, to make sure the unions and workers’ representatives have a say – and that workers can be retrained for different industries, for example.”

Mbete told the Ard Fheis that the ANC would be marking its centenary in 2012, and urged Irish republicans to participate in events in South Africa and internationally to celebrate a century of struggle against apartheid and oppression.

Critical moment in Basque conflict resolution

Kattalina Madriagia speaking at the Sinn Féin are fheis

Kattalina Madriagia speaking at the Sinn Féin are fheis

Published in An Phoblacht on 5 April 2010

At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis held last month in Dublin, Kattalina Madriagia, a pro-independence left former MP from the Basque Country, spoke to An Phoblacht’s Emma Clancy about the significance of the Basque Abertzale Left’s proposal for a democratic and peaceful process of political dialogue to begin.

Madriagia explained that for several years, a process has been unfolding among the Basque Abertzale Left of trying to break through the barriers put up by the Spanish and French states that have frustrated the development of the movement for Basque independence.

“In the past decade, the Abertzale Left movement, and Basque society in general, has experienced a surge in repression against us, in particular from the Spanish state forces,” Madriagia said.

“Successive Spanish governments have stepped up their efforts to criminalise and isolate the pro-independence movement within Basque society, and internationally.

“Today there are more than 750 Basque political prisoners, the highest number since the death of the fascist dictator General Franco in 1975. Torture in the prisons is widespread and well-documented. There is a wide array of repressive legislation in place that criminalises political parties, media outlets and cultural organisations.

“We face a major challenge of changing the current scenario and that is what the Abertzale Left’s proposal aims to do.”

Following months of discussion and debate, a large conference of Abertzale Left representatives, including from Batasuna, made a public statement in February stating their commitment to using “exclusively political and democratic means” to advance their political objectives – in which the democratic will of the Basque people would be respected “in a complete absence of violence and interference”.

Response

Madriagia told An Phoblacht that this proposal was highly significant and needed the active support of all sections of Basque society and international involvement to succeed.

“The proposal was received very well by the Basque people,” she said. “It was understood by Basque society, and supported by all the political parties and trade unions.

“But this need for active support for the proposal from the Basque people and the international community is all the more urgent since we have now seen the Spanish state’s response to the proposal, which is to opt for repression.”

Madriagia explained that the attacks on the leaders of the discussion process began before the document was even published. Eight high-profile left-wing political and labour leaders, including Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi, were arrested in October as a discussion paper was about to be published and charged with “trying to re-organise the leadership of Batasuna”.

“[In March] Arnaldo Otegi was sentenced to two years in jail for ‘glorifying terrorism’  –  on the basis of a speech he made at a rally in 2005 in which he compared a Basque political prisoner, who had been held in jail for 25 years, to Nelson Mandela. Otegi has also been banned from holding public office for 16 years.

“The Spanish state is clearly targeting those who are actively seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict. ‘Securocrats’ fear a changed scenario and are determined to resist such change through repression. They want to avoid a united position developing among the Abertzale Left.”

International role

“We want to create a situation in which multi-party talks can take place, on the basis of the Mitchell Principles,” Madriagia said.

“International support for this process is crucial. After the process broke down in 2006, we maintained our relationship with the international actors. We hope that we can create a scenario whereby the international actors will facilitate a process of political dialogue.”

Madriagia said that she welcomed the response of solidarity from the Irish people to Basque ex-prisoner Inaki de Juana, who is fighting extradition to Spain from Belfast.

“Every time we are at the doors of a new process, the repression intensifies, and the extradition attempts against Basques around the world are part of this. These actions do not help the development of a peace process – they help maintain conflict.

“All international actors should take a pro-active position on this question of an opportunity for a peaceful process of conflict resolution, and not help put up obstacles.”

Madriagia said that there was a vital need for other EU countries to now put pressure on the Spanish government to end its strategy of trying to strangle and silence the Basque call for engagement.

“This is an important opportunity for progress that should not be wasted but we need to mobilise support internationally to achieve the construction of the new scenario envisioned in the Abertzale Left’s statement,” she said.

“We want to thank the Irish people and Sinn Féin for their historic and ongoing solidarity with our people and our struggle. We look to Ireland as a positive example of what dialogue can achieve and such a process can be built.”

‘Time for leadership’

On 16 March, ETA killed a French police officer in a shootout near Paris that resulted from a chance encounter between ETA members and police. The fatal shooting came days after the body of ex-prisoner and ETA member Jon Anza was found in a morgue in Toulouse. Anza’s disappearance in France last April is believed to have been caused by Spanish security forces, with the collaboration of the French security forces.

In a statement, the Abertzale Left said both cases showed the urgent need to build a new scenario in the Basque Country based on its initiative launched in February. The pro-independence left expressed sorrow for the policeman’s death and called on ETA and the Spanish and French states to make clear commitments to reviving the democratic process.

On 30 March a statement by international leaders, including former President of South Africa Frederick de Klerk, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and former Irish President Mary Robinson, was presented in the European Parliament commending the public commitment from the Basque Abertzale Left to using “exclusively political and democratic” means to attain its political goals.

The statement called on ETA to support a permanent ceasefire and for the Spanish government to respond positively to such a declaration.

Commenting on the publication of this statement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: “The conflict in the Basque country can only be resolved through political dialogue. It is clear from this statement that the international community want to help to create such a process.

“The Irish Peace Process has shown the world that previously intractable conflicts can be resolved. Sinn Féin actively supports an inclusive process in the Basque Country.

“It is now important that the opportunity presented by the political initiative taken by Abertzale Left and the positive statement from international leaders is grasped by both ETA and the Spanish government.

“Now is the time for decisive political leadership. It is the time for the rights of the Basque people to be recognised and for a genuine conflict resolution process to be put in place.”

‘International community must act to keep Palestinian statehood alive’

PLO Executive Member Professor As'ad Abdul Rahman

PLO Executive Member Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman

Published in An Phoblacht on 8 March 2010

Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman, an independent member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and a founding member of the PFLP, was a keynote international speaker at the recent Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. He spoke to An Phoblacht’s Emma Clancy about the need for the international community to act urgently to stop the colonisation of further swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem if a two-state solution is to have any prospect of being achieved.

The criminal siege of Gaza is continuing to cause the deaths of Palestinians each day, and the world must take action immediately to lift the blockade, Abdul Rahman told An Phoblacht.

“Not only has there been no rebuilding of Gaza permitted since the bombardment reduced much of the territory to rubble, but more than a year later, Palestinians are still waiting desperately on an uncertain trickle of basic vital food and medical supplies to be allowed in,” he said.

“Resolving the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip by lifting the blockade is the most urgent priority. At the same time we need to bring to the world’s attention what is going on in the West Bank, because each day the colonial actions of the Israeli government are moving the prospect of Palestinian statehood further and further away.”

Rogue state

Abdul Rahman spoke about the refusal by Israel to abide by existing agreements and of the role of the U.S. in tolerating Israeli aggression.

“Palestinians have had a very bitter experience of agreements entered into which have not been implemented,” he said.

“We thought 20 years ago that the discussions and process we began would deliver peace with justice in the Middle East. But this so-called peace process began an era of a new apartheid in Palestine, as Israel chose to go down the path of a rogue state.

“The consistent failure of world leaders to respond effectively to Israel’s violations have given the state the confidence to proceed on this course. The situation is worsening as the behaviour of Israel, now led by an extreme right-wing government, has become increasingly brutal and, frankly, crazy.

“This reckless brutality has manifested itself in many ways – the slaughter in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008/09, the ongoing siege of the territory, and the Israeli response to the United Nations’ Goldstone Report into the Gaza attack.

“The official response to the Goldstone report which asserted that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza was to call Justice Richard Goldstone a ‘self-hating Jew’ who was irrationally ‘biased against Israel’.”

Abdul Rahman pointed out that although the Goldstone report was adopted by the UN General Assembly, there will be no ‘independent inquiry’ set up by Israel to investigate violations of the laws of war, as the report recommended.

Goldstone’s report says that if Israel failed to do this, justice for the Gaza victims should be pursued through other mechanisms, in particular the International Criminal Court and the use of universal jurisdiction by other countries against states that breach the Geneva Conventions.

Abdul Rahman continued: “Of course, the most recent demonstration that Israel operates as a rogue state can be seen in the transnational killing of a Hamas leader (Mahmoud al Mamdouh) in a hotel room in Dubai by a large team of Israeli intelligence operatives who moved around using forged passports from several countries, including Ireland.

“Everybody, even Israel’s staunchest allies, recognises that Mossad was behind this transnational murder, just as Mossad was behind the assassination of (Hezbollah member) Imad Mughniyeh in Syria in 2008.

“How long can the U.S., and the rest of the world, stand back silently and watch as Israel violates not only the rights of the Palestinian people, but the basic laws and standards of interacting with other countries, including its western allies?” Abdul Rahman asked.

U.S. role

“Israel’s confidence in its impunity has been reinforced by the failure of the U.S. and the international community to take action as it violates agreements and continues its relentless colonial expansion,” the PLO representative said.

“When Barack Obama was elected U.S. president, he initially made strong statements and moves in favour of creating conditions conducive to negotiations resuming between us and the Israelis. But he has since then backed down and is now trying to insist that the Palestinians resume ‘negotiations without preconditions’.

“What this means is that Israel is allowed by the U.S. to continue its colonial settlement expansion and annexation across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, in a flagrant breach of its commitments under the 2003 Road Map. In recent years Israel has dramatically intensified its colonisation of Jerusalem, evicting Palestinian families from their homes.

“Under the Road Map agreement Israel is obliged to cease all expansion of its colonies, including that of so-called natural growth. But this extreme-right Israeli government insists that Jerusalem is exempt from the settlement freeze and continues to seize Palestinian land, destroying the potential for East Jerusalem to be a viable capital of a future Palestinian state.

“It is impossible for any Palestinian leadership to negotiate directly with Israel under such conditions.”

Abdul Rahman said that U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, was working towards facilitating ‘proximity talks’ where direct negotiations would not take place but whereby he would travel between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Successive U.S. governments have also tried to sideline the UN from the Palestinian question – the Middle East Quartet (the U.S., UN, EU and Russia) has the UN only as one partner when by international law it should be the key body dealing with the issue,” he said.

“While the U.S. has repeatedly publicly stated that it views the ongoing colonial expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as being against international law, it has failed to exert the necessary pressure on Israel to cease this expansionism.

“Palestinian representatives, the Palestinian people, the Arab masses, and supporters of the Palestinian cause worldwide are fed up with nice talk and no deeds.”

Unexpected rift

Since carrying out this interview a major diplomatic rift between the U.S. and Israel has developed, with the Israeli announcement during a visit to the state by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden last week that the government was to build 1,600 new homes in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian negotiators said there would be no talks, direct or indirect, unless Israel shelved the plans; Biden reportedly said the plans “would set the Middle East on fire”. Obama has demanded that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu act to halt the planned construction and commit to re-entering negotiations on core issues with Palestinians.

Netanyahu apologised for the “unfortunate timing” of the announcement and, under intense pressure, said that the construction would not begin for at least a year, but he has stated that Israel’s ongoing colonisation of East Jerusalem is “not negotiable”.

It remains to be seen if the Obama administration will back up its unprecedented harsh words to Israel with actions.

Demand for unity

Abdul Rahman also discussed the division between the different factions of the Palestinian national movement, saying the longer the siege of Gaza and the restriction of movement between the two territories continued, the harder it will be to break down the barriers between Fatah and Hamas.

“There is a lot of work going on to pressure the different forces into working for unity, for a quick rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas, despite the ideological and political schisms that have riven the national movement,” he told An Phoblacht.

“The strongest pressure, of course, comes from Israeli brutality and oppression, which fosters the demand for unity from the ordinary Palestinian people.

“If they fail to resolve these differences and work together in the interest of the Palestinian people, they are both becoming increasingly aware that they are moving toward their own destruction as political forces, because the Palestinian people view the factional fight as basically committing suicide – suicide of the nation. It is my deep hope that the two sides will come together soon to try to resolve their differences.”

PSNI must suspend use of stop and search powers

PSNI

Published in An Phoblacht on 10 February 2010

THE PSNI is under mounting pressure to suspend its use of stop and search powers granted under Section 44 of the British government’s Terrorism Act 2000. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on 12 January that the power to stop and search people arbitrarily  – without any grounds for suspicion – was a violation of the human right “to respect for private life”.

The British government has refused to repeal or suspend the legislation and has said it plans to appeal against the ruling.

Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Policing Board Daithí McKay said the most recent figures available from the PSNI on the powers backed up the ECHR’s ruling’s finding that the so-called anti-terror legislation was being abused by police, and used in an arbitrary and discriminatory way.

Targeting nationalists

While in Britain the powers have been used disproportionately against black and Asian people – who are four times more likely to be stopped under S44 – McKay said the nationalist population in the Six Counties was overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of this violation of civil rights.

“Sinn Féin has campaigned against this abuse of power by the police since the introduction of this draconian legislation by the British government. We believe that, in light of the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Section 44 powers are illegal, the PSNI must now suspend its use of these powers,” McKay said.

The latest quarterly figures publicly available, from July to September last year, on the PSNI’s use of S44 stop and search powers show three key findings:

•There was a dramatic jump in their usage, with figures more than doubling from the previous quarter. From July to September last year, 10,265 people were stopped and searched under S44 in the Six Counties.

•Stop and search powers continue to be invoked a vastly disproportionate number of times in nationalist areas. The constituency with the highest number of people stopped and searched during the July-September quarter was Foyle, with 2,203. While S44 stop and search powers were used 1,305 times in Strabane during the quarter, they were used only once in Larne, a town of around equal population.

•The use of stop and search continues to be demonstrably ineffective by the PSNI’s own criteria. Of the more than 10,000 people stopped and searched during the quarter, only 39 were subsequently arrested.

Abuse of power

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act allows areas to be “designated” for the use of stop and search without suspicion by a police constable. The designation is made by an assistant chief constable and subsequently endorsed by the Secretary of State – and it can be made without going through any judicial or parliamentary process.

Under the legislation, the designation lasts 28 days, but can be renewed on a rolling basis. Civil rights groups in England responded with outrage last year when it emerged that the whole of Greater London had secretly been an authorised stop and search area since 2001.

The powers allow police to stop an individual or a vehicle within a designated area and search the person, anything they are carrying, and their vehicle. The legislation means that police officers no longer have to have “reasonable grounds of suspicion” to do so.

In 2008/09 police forces in the North, and in England and Wales, stopped and searched around 250,000 people under S44. In 2008, the London Metropolitan police stopped and searched more than 2,000 children under 15 years old  – including 58 under the age of nine.

In July last year the London Metropolitan Police force announced it was refining and limiting its use of S44 powers following a review. The police force in Hampshire, England, said it was suspending its use of the powers the same month, citing the fact that no arrests were made despite more than 3,000 searches being carried out.

‘Illegal’

The European Court of Human Rights case was brought against the British government by two people who were stopped, interrogated and searched under the legislation in London in 2003 as they made their way to an anti-war demonstration against an arms fair. English civil rights group Liberty strongly supported the case.

The landmark ruling by the Strasbourg court on 12 January (Gillan and Quinton V the United Kingdom) found that:

•The power to search a person’s clothing and belongings in public could cause humiliation and embarrassment and was a violation of Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to respect for private life.

•The fact that the decision to stop and search somebody was “based exclusively on the ‘hunch’ or ‘professional intuition’ of the police officer” meant there was a “clear risk of arbitrariness in granting such broad discretion” to a police officer.

•The judges were concerned by the way the powers are authorised. There is no requirement that the powers be considered “necessary” –  only “expedient”.

•The absence of any obligation on police officer to show a reasonable suspicion “made it almost impossible to prove that the power had been improperly exercised”.

The court found that the use of stop and search, and the way the powers are authorised, are “not sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse”.

“They are not, therefore, in accordance with the law.”

Challenge

McKay said that the problems in the use of such police powers were compounded in the Six Counties, with a long history of such powers being abused for political repression against republicans and nationalists.

“Many of those who have been stopped and harassed by the PSNI were stopped because of their political opinion or background. This abuse of power amounts to political policing and damages the credibility of police forces that use them as well as community relations,” he said.

“People in the North want a police service that will deal robustly with serious issues affecting their daily lives such as drugs and criminality in our communities. They want to see effective, civic and accountable policing, and the use of Section 44 powers by the PSNI seriously undermines this.”

McKay said that Sinn Féin was calling on the PSNI to suspend its use of S44 powers and was challenging the PSNI on the issue on the Policing Board and in the District Policing Partnerships.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice and Policing Board member Alex Maskey has written to the British government and the PSNI chief constable asking for their response to the ECHR ruling.

Fellow Policing Board member and Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson will be part of the Policing Board’s Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee’s review of stop and search powers which was announced following the ruling.

“The PSNI should now suspend its use of Section 44 in light of these facts and the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that it is incompatible with Convention rights. The continued use of this legislation is a flagrant abuse of human rights,” McKay said.

World’s poor battle for climate justice at Copenhagen

Climate activists at the Copenhagen summit. Photo by Lauren Carroll Harris

Climate activists at the Copenhagen summit. Photo by Lauren Carroll Harris

Published in An Phoblacht on 10 December 2009

THE enormous rift between rich and poor countries on solutions to climate change has, unsurprisingly, immediately come to the fore at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen which began on 7 December and is to conclude on 18 December, reports An Phoblacht’s Emma Clancy from Copenhagen.

A secret draft agreement believed to have been worked on by the US and Denmark among other states, which was leaked to the British ‘Guardian’ newspaper on Tuesday 8 December, outlined rich countries’ plans to sideline the UN in all future climate change negotiations.

It also sets grossly unequal per capita emissions limits for 2050 that would mean people in rich countries could emit almost twice as much as those in the developing world, and plans to hand climate finance control over from the UN to the unaccountable World Bank.

The leaked draft proposals fall dismally short of the action required to tackle climate change and it follows several months of efforts by leading politicians, who represent powerful industrialised states, trying to lower expectations as to what can be achieved at the Copenhagen summit.

The industrialised countries are responsible for three quarters of emissions historically while they represent only 15% of the world’s population.

The text – a draft of the final agreement – clearly abandons the Kyoto Protocol’s principle that rich and poor countries have differing obligations based on their historical contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and their differing capabilities in terms of making the transition to clean energy.

Antonio Hill, climate policy adviser for Oxfam International, said the draft text also “does not suggest anything like the 40% [by 2020] cuts that science is saying is needed”.

Binding treaty

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún, who is participating in the summit as part of the European Parliament’s 15-person official delegation, has reiterated her call for a legally binding treaty to be reached at Copenhagen that sets emissions targets that can limit global warming to no more than 2C.

Emissions must peak by 2015 and then be quickly reduced if a safe climate is to be maintained.

“Industrialised countries must commit to at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 to 95% reduction by 2050 compared to 1990 levels in order to prevent warming reaching more than 2C,” the MEP said.

However, at this stage the EU says it will reduce emissions by just 20% by 2020 (which it will raise to 30% if other states make similar commitments) and by 50% to 80% by 2050. The US pledges to cut emission by only 17% to 20% by 2020.

Bairbre de Brún said that in addition to ambitious, science-based targets by industrialised countries, a key element of a just agreement must be the provision of financial and technical aid to developing countries to enable them to put their industries and economies on a sustainable path and to adapt to the impact of climate change.

“It has been estimated that the developing world will need €120 billion per year by 2020 to cope with these problems and the EU must commit to at least €30 billion per year in climate funding to developing countries by 2020 in addition to overseas development aid,” de Brún said.

The consequence of failure to make the urgent and necessary changes to our societies – to break our fossil fuel addiction and make the transition to sustainable economies powered by renewable energy – is catastrophic climate change.

The devastating human cost of climate change that has occurred as a result of the 0.75C warming since pre-industrial temperatures is already being felt in developing countries through drought, floods and other disruptive weather patterns. The Global Humanitarian Fund estimates that 300,000 deaths in the global South are being caused each year by climate change.

If warming continues based on current emission rates, the UN estimates that nine out of ten farmers in Africa will be unable to grow food. More than 1.3 billion people in Asia are dependent on water from the rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers to survive; current levels of warming mean the glaciers may have melted entirely by the end of the century.

A shadow of doubt?

An alliance between the developing countries, progressive forces in the industrialised states and the growing global climate justice movement is facing hugely powerful governments and business interests at the Copenhagen summit that are determined to prioritise short-term profit over the survival of the planet. Public opinion, pressure and mobilisation is the key to changing this balance of forces and ensuring action is taken.

The release of hacked email correspondence between climate scientists at the University of East Anglia in mid-November was timed to coincide with the Copenhagen summit and aims to sow seeds of doubt among the public about climate science which proves global warming is occurring and is a result of human activity.

The emails are damaging to the climate movement in that they damage the credibility of three or four scientists and show that the highest standards of scientific integrity were not being adhered to in the UAE’s Climate Research Unit.

But, as a spokesperson for the British Met office said: “If you look at the emails, there isn’t any evidence that the data was falsified and there’s no evidence that climate change is a hoax”.

South African-based author and activist Patrick Bond believes “the real danger comes from fossil fuel firms – especially BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil – that, like big tobacco corporations decades ago, know full well the lethal potential of their products. Their objective is to place a grain of doubt in our minds, and for that climate denialists are useful,” he said.

This denialist campaign is having a disturbing impact, and in the US a poll by Pew Research Center poll in October found that only 35% of respondents believed that human activities lay behind global warming – down from 47% in 2006.

The release of the emails has also overshadowed the findings of several highly significant reports that have been released in the past month.

Market failure

In addition to several scientific reports that reaffirm the existing climate science and show that climate change, and specifically the melting of the arctic sea ice, is occurring much faster than believed only two years ago, Friends of the Earth has also released a report outlining the major flaws in the carbon trading system championed by big business and rich governments as a mechanism to reduce emissions.

The FoE report – ‘A Dangerous Obsession: The Evidence Against Carbon Trading’ – found that carbon trading is “not delivering the urgent cuts in emissions needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, is failing to realise promised incentives for investment in new low-carbon technology, and is a dangerously unstrategic approach to making the transition to a low-carbon economy”.

The report said carbon trading schemes rely on so-called offsetting – “a controversial, ineffective and increasingly discredited mechanism”.

The speculative carbon market bubble “risked a repetition of the subprime mortgage crisis, and provide a smokescreen for rich developed countries’ failure to provide developing countries with adequate support to tackle climate change” it said.

“A completely different, faster and more strategic approach is needed – one that relies on simple, direct and proven policy tools such as taxation, regulation and public investment,” the report concluded.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are expected to participate in demonstrations for climate action during the climate change summit, with a global day of action scheduled for 12 December, when a major protest will take place outside the summit in Copenhagen.

Last weekend, tens of thousands joined protests in Dublin, Belfast, London, Glasgow, Brussels and Paris to demand an effective treaty that can guarantee a safe climate.