11 March 2004 Edition
Derrig's monkey business
Am I taking Mick Derrig too seriously? Was his article a spoof to get me going? I refer to 'Why Our Primate Siblings should have Human Rights' (An Phoblacht, 26 February).
Derrig has a right to express his opinion, but as a Sinn Féin voter I am at a loss to know why space was given to this article. As an atheist, and an active member of the Humanist Association of Ireland, I am concerned lest anyone confuse Derrig's weird opinions with those of the great majority of atheists and Humanists on this island and worldwide. He's on his own. I wouldn't give a chimp the right to walk the streets, let alone attend school or enter a polling booth.
The Humanist Association of Ireland (which has just changed its name from Association of Irish Humanists in order to be more inclusive) is affiliated to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, which is growing rapidly. We want a secular state that belongs equally to people of any religion or of none. We want to remove the requirement for religious oaths which applies to some of the highest offices of the 26-County state, including that of the President. We particularly want the removal of the power of the churches over the health service and the education system. We would like to see all children taught about religions and life-stances, including Humanism, but we want faith-based activities, such as prayers and preparation for first communion or confirmation, excluded from schools. These activities should be done outside school hours, so that the school becomes a place of equality for all, and a unifying influence instead of a divisive one.
If you want to discuss this further, may I suggest that you invite Educate Together to contribute an article. As well as campaigning for reform, they are opening multi-denominational primary schools all over the 26 counties, despite obstruction from the government. With 31 such schools, ET is the fastest growing sector in Irish education, doubling in size over the past four years.
Humanists defend freedom of religious belief and practice. The separation of church and state, whether in the present "carnival of reaction" or in a future united Ireland, is an important issue in the fight against sectarianism.
This is not an anti-religious agenda, it is an equality agenda.
Possibly in the run-up to the Ard Fheis, Mick Derrig's article on the great apes (An Phoblacht 26 Feabhra) did not make as much impact as it should have. I always find Mick's writing entertaining and thought provoking.
While I would endorse everything he is saying, I believe the rights of all animals should be of concern to the human species.
Animals may not possess the highly-developed cerebral cortex of humans (although my lurcher, Maeve, would probably testify otherwise) but they feel pain, pleasure, fear and so on and a whole range of emotions much underestimated by us. Dogs are very sociable animals; they crave human companionship and being part of the action in a domestic setting: donkeys, who like to be in pairs, will pine for a long time when they lose their companion; the uncanny intelligence of the dolphin family is well documented.
Our furry friends may not communicate verbally, but "dumb" they certainly are not. They are worthy of the same respect that should be accorded any living, breathing creature inhabiting this planet.
A human hand or foot that inflicts pain on an animal may well be capable of doing the same to a child, a woman, or a man.
Clontibret, County Monaghan.
Cannabis Ard Fheis blow
I write to express my frustration at the defeat of motion 221 at last weekend's Ard Fheis. The motion called for the decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use to end the criminalisation of young people who would otherwise never appear before the courts.
This motion represented a step in the right direction and a recognition that the use of cannabis is so widespread that criminalising its users is both a bad idea and an impracticable one. The vote was lost by eight votes, and when a recount was called for from the delegates, a senior officer board member hurried from the stage into the backstage area and emerged with several leading Ard Chomhairle members to bolster the vote against the motion.
I wonder how many of those delegates who held their cards high on the 'No' side, believing perhaps that they were striking a blow against drug abuse, retired to the pub afterwards. A goodly number I'm sure don't even consider alcohol a drug, despite the fact that it kills more people per year than heroin, crack and coke combined. Cannabis kills none, is recognised by the UN World Health Organisation as being safer than alcohol, yet many people — ignorant of the facts of the matter — believe that legal drugs are good and illegal drugs are bad. The message we send is that it's OK to drink your drug, but not to smoke it.
This issue will be back again next year, and will recur every year until the party takes a realistic position, based on information rather than prejudice. Motion 220, calling for a conference to discuss the merits and demerits of the legalisation of cannabis, was passed unanimously, and that represents an opportunity to study and debate the issue. However, it remains to be seen whether such a conference will materialise, considering the same motion was passed two years ago only to be ignored by the party leadership.
On a wide range of issues, Sinn Féin is a radical voice for change. It is immensely disappointing that a slim majority of the party — including the Ard Chomhairle — cannot see beyond the status quo when it comes to the matter of drugs.
Annan's phone is bugged - how about yours?
British Labour MP Clare Short's "spilling the beans" about the British agents bugging the telephone conversations of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the run-up to the war on Iraq, shows that no one is safe from the prying ears of the British Intelligence Services.
This revelation has been met with astonishment and indignation, and rightly so, by right thinking people from throughout the world.
However, in this little 'democratic' state of the Six Counties and indeed the 26 Counties, the bugging and monitoring of the telephone conversations of a large section of the nationalist/republican population by various branches of the British State apparatus has been and continues to be standard practice.
The monitoring of telephone calls made in Ireland is so extensive that a massive special facility at GCHQ in Cheltenum, England, operates for this purpose and for this purpose only.
While this is a massive infringement on our civil liberties and human rights, the silence from those SDLP members who sit on the Policing Board is deafening.
In adopting its hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil policy in regards to policing, the SDLP nodding dogs on the Policing Board have never muttered as much as a word about the wholesale monitoring of our community.
Perhaps the reason why they haven't done so is because they know such questions will be met with blank denials.
And the SDLP wonder why the majority of people in the nationalist community take with a pinch of salt claims from Alex Attwood, Joe Byrne and Co that they are holding the PSNI and Special Branch to account.