(L-R) Joe Murray of Afri with Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and Rob Fairmichael of INNATE at the lauch of The Downpatrick Declaration. 07.12.21 (Photo by Roger Whelan)
December the 7th 2021 was the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St Colmcille, the lesser known of Ireland’s three Patron Saints. Colmcille, a renowned proponent of peace, was known as ‘the Dove’, which as we know is a recognised symbol of peace around the world.
Colmcille has strong associations with many locations throughout Ireland. From Gartan in Donegal where he was born to Swords (Sord Cholmcille) in Dublin, to Derry and to Iona in Scotland, where perhaps his most famous monastery was founded. Much will be written and spoken about Colmcille in this year of his anniversary and the extent to which, having rejected violence, his life was devoted to the promotion of charity and peace in the world.
But one element that may not get so much attention is the fact that the Dove (pigeon), with which his name is so strongly associated, is currently being trained to become a ‘kamikaze’ – to fly into armed military drones at the cost of its life. According to a report in inews.co.uk “The pigeon research, being carried out by a US company aims to harness the birds’ natural flocking instincts and acute vision to draw them towards the particular sound and motion of a drone. The birds will be trained to fly at a machine or machines en masse,” in an attempt to neutralise an attack on a potential target.
Is this not the ultimate in military madness, a point beyond which humanity cannot go? We know the devastating effects of weapons and war on people and planet, we’ve experienced it on this island, and we see it on our TV screens constantly. We see suffering, starving children and we see millions forced from their homes as refugees and asylum-seekers. And now we have the depraved irony of the Dove of Peace being eviscerated by weapons of war.
You would imagine, you would hope that this should cause the world to stop and think and decide: no more weapons, no more war. But no, the masters of war want ever more weapons, ever more war, ever more profits.
And what about those whose involvement in weapons manufacture or war- making up to now has been limited. Wouldn’t you think they would say – no – not us – we will travel a different path, a path towards peace and development. But no – the Republic of Ireland whose involvement in arms manufacturing has been limited but growing up to now has – in the week following COP 26 – publicly launched a weapons manufacturing drive to entice small and medium-sized businesses into the war industry, which is one of the greatest sources of carbon emissions.
It is in this context that a new initiative supported by many organisations and individuals devoted to peace and opposed to war was launched by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairéad Maguire in Downpatrick on the birth date of Colmcille, December 7th.
This initiative is called the Downpatrick Declaration and it is an attempt to shout ‘stop’ to the slide towards greater war-mongering, addressed to Governments on these Islands. The Declaration takes its lead from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in which the Irish and British Governments affirmed “their total and absolute commitment to exclusively peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and opposition to any use or threat of force for any political purpose.”
How can this tally with the granting of a £30 million contract to a company based in Belfast – a city that still bears the scars of 30 years of conflict – to develop military drones or with the Irish government’s invitation to small and medium-sized businesses, in Ireland to ‘make a killing’ in the war industry?
The Declaration references Downpatrick as a place of great significance in Ireland, where Colmcille, Patrick and Brigid are believed to be buried: Brigid famously sold her father’s precious sword to buy food for a poor person and Patrick, a former slave, rejected killing and encouraged his followers to practice love and charity.
The Declaration challenges the ‘military industrial mind-set’ which suggests that producing more weapons and arming ourselves to death can be a sound basis for prosperity on this island or for supporting peace and development in the wider world.
Ireland, rather than becoming a Johnny-come-lately in the war industry, should draw on its unique history of colonialism and oppression and use its position on the UN Security Council to work for genuine peace, true human security and real disarmament. We should stand in solidarity with the poor, the dispossessed and those who’ve been driven from their homes by war and climate change. The millions of refugees and displaced people, indeed our planet itself, are crying out not for more weapons or war mongering but for peace and an end to conflict and violence.
The Downpatrick Declaration is a step in that direction.