Circling Sharks: In Conversation with Irish Basking Shark Group

Circling Sharks: In Conversation with Irish Basking Shark Group

Circling Sharks:

 

In Conversation with The

Irish Basking Shark Group

 

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly
11th of November 2022

Basking sharks are widely distributed across the world’s oceans, but Irish waters are a hotspot for this seafaring species. The Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG) is a “network of basking shark researchers” that aims to “combine community engagement, advocacy, and research to advance science-based conservation goals for basking sharks in Ireland”. Alexandra McInturf, IBSG co-coordinator and researcher, and Chelsea Gray, IBSG researcher and science communicator, shared how new research contributes to a better understanding of this elusive species.

Photo by Nigel Motyer courtesy of the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG)

“Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish, and they’re one of three filter feeding shark species, meaning they feed on plankton. Basking sharks can reach over twenty feet [six metres] in length. Otherwise we don’t know a lot about them, because they’re hard to study” Alexandra explained. As a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon State University, Alexandra highlighted the difficulties of researching basking sharks in comparison to many other shark species, “For other shark species, you might attract them to an area by baiting or by fishing, or by chumming. You can’t do that with a shark that feeds on plankton. You also can’t bring them onto the boat to put a tag on them, so tagging them is really challenging”. Multi- disciplinary and innovative approaches to research are required to learn more about basking sharks in Ireland and across the world.

Alexandra’s PhD research focused on basking sharks in Ireland and other parts of the world, including the Pacific. This has given Alexandra “a unique perspective and understanding just how important Ireland is for the species. You don’t see them in the same numbers as you do in Ireland basically anywhere else in the world”. Basking sharks tend to arrive around Ireland in April to feed and begin to leave towards the end of June but could be sighted in Irish waters throughout August. Another possible reason for Ireland being an important habitat for basking sharks is “Ireland is a potential mating ground for them but mating has never been observed in this species so far”.

Basking sharks were recently given the status of “protected wild animal” in Ireland under Wildlife Act 1976 (Protection of Wild Animals) Regulations 2022. IBSG has welcomed this development, but “creating a code of conduct, enforcing a code of conduct and then seeing how we can further protect [basking sharks] remains to be seen”. Alexandra highlighted how “it put Ireland on the global stage” for basking shark conservation. IBSG has continued to research basking sharks in Ireland to gain more knowledge on how to protect the species. Several of the research projects completed or currently being conducted by members of IBSG are explored below.

Sightings Scheme

IBSG runs a sightings scheme that members of the public can contribute to as “citizen scientists” by reporting any sightings of basking sharks around Ireland on the website. Alexandra is “analysing the data from that to try to see if there are environmental factors that tend to bring the sharks to Irish waters” such as the amount of plankton or sea surface temperature. Any correlation between environmental factors and the presence of basking sharks helps to understand how these sharks may react to changes in their habitats. These changes include the possible impact of climate change. As Alexandra explains “what does that mean if the global sea surface temperature is changing with climate change? Should we expect those sharks to move?”

Visual Identification Tags

Alexandra also highlighted Simon Berrow’s (IBSG Co-founder) annual work as he tags basking sharks with visual ID attachments. These visual ID tags are large pieces of plastic with numbers printed onto them. Their large size allows them to be read from a distance away so “anybody can see them and hopefully read the number even if you’re not right next to the shark”. The ID tags allow IBSG to monitor if sharks are returning to Ireland and when they are around. Anyone who sees a basking shark with a tag can report the number to IBSG also. If someone wants to view basking sharks in the water however, safety for people and basking sharks is paramount. Only go out on the water if you have the required skills and experience, and maintain distance from any sharks.

Satellite Tags

Photo by Emmet Johnson courtesy of the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG)

Another basking shark research project Alexandra is involved in is SeaMonitor. This project is not directly affiliated with IBSG, but Alexandra is collaborating with other researchers including with Queen’s University Belfast. “They’re putting satellite tags on basking sharks, which are basically tags that can connect with satellites overhead and send a location every time that tag pops out of the water. It’s deployed on the dorsal fins of the shark, so it’s out of the water quite a bit because the sharks feed at the surface” Alexandra explained. The satellite tags allow investigation into the capability of basking sharks to travel long distances. For instance, one shark that was tagged with and IBSG visual ID tag at Malin Head in Donegal and turned up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts a few months later.

IBSG is also interested in the social lives of basking sharks. In a recent research paper, Simon focused on a basking shark behaviour where they gather together, “They just swim around in these massive circles together and that’s called a torus.” The torus could be a potential mating behaviour. Meanwhile, “One thing I’m doing is putting these tags on these sharks that can talk to each other so I can see if certain individuals are constantly detecting the same other ones” mentioned Alexandra, “to try to get a better idea of how they’re interacting in these coastal areas, and whether they actually tend to form groups that stay together. Maybe even travel together afterwards”.

Basking Shark Tourism Survey

Chelsea currently is a PhD candidate in George Mason University and completed her Master’s in environmental science there also. Chelsea’s research during her Master’s focused on why Ireland, particularly Malin Head, had a nearly completely undeveloped basking shark tourism sector, but Scotland, especially the Hebrides, had utilised the presence of basking sharks for tourism. The social science approach Chelsea used included surveying residents of Buncrana and tourists on the beach to learn what they knew about basking sharks. “Most people sort of knew that they didn’t eat seals, and that was basically it. They kind of had an idea that basking sharks were big”, Chelsea discovered during her survey. Many people also expressed an interest in going to view basking sharks either from land or on a boat. Chelsea’s research highlights the importance of raising awareness of less well-known species to ensure their protection.

Individual Based Modelling

Continuing with social science research, Chelsea’s PhD project involves using individual based modelling (IBM) to gather results and to develop a method for how to use IBM results to make recommendations to policymakers. Chelsea explained IBM as complex computer modelling which allows for stochasticity (the quality of lacking any predictable order or plan), or “you have agents like I have little individual sharks. My little individual sharks can interact with the environment and they can impact the environment. Or they can be impacted by the environment”. These agents are not mirroring the behaviour of individual real sharks, but each agent has “has a limited perspective, so it can only see a certain distance and then from there it makes a certain series of decisions”. The limited perspective each agent has reflects that “each individual shark ends up doing its own individual behaviour based on what we call bounded knowledge, so that’s that limitation of how far it can see”, and mirrors real basking shark behaviour. Chelsea compares the results from the IBM to the information IBSG has gathered from the sightings scheme and tagging. The behaviour of individual sharks comes together to form a group behaviour and this is known as “emergent behaviour.

Chelsea is also interviewing Irish policymakers to learn how to best convey IBM results to them. The insights gained from these interviews Chelsea hopes will bridge the gap between “how modelers can communicate their model results to policymakers” and “policymakers are understanding the model correctly and then are applying it correctly”. IBM data can be used to inform conservation legislation through providing insights into how changing environments, locally and globally, may impact on basking shark behaviour.

Basking Shark Conservation

There have been several historical threats to basking sharks. These included fisheries in many places, “there was one off Achill Island which is very famous. It was one of the biggest fisheries in the world, if not the biggest for basking sharks” Alexandra explained, “That whole community has really embraced this part of their history, which I think is amazing. [The community] very much recognize and report when the sharks are around now. And family members of former fishermen have been really active in the conservation of [basking sharks] now”. Another threat was the culling of basking sharks in Canada as “there was an eradication effort because the sharks were becoming entangled in fishing nets”. These are historical rather than current threats, but would have affected the basking shark population.

Current problems for basking sharks are harder to pinpoint as research is still ongoing to learn more about the species. Boat strikes and becoming entangled in fishing equipment may result in a few deaths per year, but the impact of these deaths on the population is unknown as “we don’t know how many sharks there are”. Alexandra also highlighted that “another threat that we would be concerned about is anything that’s going on in the high seas because that it can’t be regulated”.

IBSG is a network of researchers voluntarily working towards educating about, advocating for and protecting basking sharks. The capacity and infrastructure do not exist at the moment for members of the public to volunteer with IBSG, but anyone can participate in the sightings scheme by reporting any basking sharks they see. The benefit of drawing together researchers from multi- disciplinary backgrounds in IBSG is clear to Alexandra and Chelsea. Chelsea sees the importance of cooperation to support basking shark conservation as IBSG “encourage a lot of flexibility and creativity” to spread awareness of basking sharks through different approaches.

 Alexandra highlighted “I think it’s very rare that you get to operate at the intersection of research, policy, advocacy and education. I was able to be not only observing basking sharks in the field and contributing to our knowledge of them this year. But then also getting to be a really active voice in supporting their protection and making a very real policy change”.

Thank you to Alexandra McInturf and Chelsea Gray for their support in this article.

 

Featured photo of basking shark torus by Simon Berrow, shared courtesy of The Irish Basking Shark Group

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Horror Movies and Gender Justice

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Horror Movies and Gender Justice

Horror Movies and Gender Justice

Horror Movies and Gender Justice

 

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle

 

14th of November 2022

STAND Student Festival Exhibition on University of Limerick Campus

Over the last eight weeks, the STAND Student Festival and Exhibition has been making its way across third-level campuses in Ireland. This year’s theme of #GenderJusticeNow focuses on the power of collective action to create change and invites students to sign a pledge to become a gender justice advocate. Students who sign the pledge receive an action pack with information about gender justice and suggestions for how to start making change.

Meghan Mickela, this year’s STAND Student Festival intern and graduate of Trinity College Dublin’s Film Studies Masters Programme, supported the inclusion of documentary film screenings on some campuses. She also curated a list of horror films that explore gender beyond the harmful stereotypes we often see in Halloween-related popular culture.

Halloween may be over, but horror is a movie genre that goes well beyond October 31st. These movies tackle many important themes and complex subjects in a way that only horror can. Check out our Instagram Reel where you can hear Meghan talk about each of these films, or read about them below. Enjoy!

 

Ginger Snaps movie poster

Ginger Snaps

For our first film we have Ginger Snaps from 2000. Sisters Ginger and Brigitte are tested when Ginger gets her period for the first time and begins to experience strange effects. As her body changes and she begins to and she begins to experience more and more strange occurrences, Ginger Snaps uses the horror elements of Ginger’s evolution into a werewolf as a metaphor for the evolution of the female body during puberty. Now a cult classic, Ginger Snaps presents two strong female leads who represent the duality of female adolescence; all at once the beauty and the beast. 

 

 

A Girl Walk Home Alone at Night movie poster

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Next up, the film “A Girl Late Walk Home Alone at Night” from 2014 by Director Ana Lily Amirpour. Late at night, the streets of ‘Bad City’ in Iran are haunted by a girl and her skateboard. Director Amirpour creates a rare horror piece that represents an all too real fear that women face; (walking home at night) and flips the role of the victim onto the citizens of Bad City. Our main character, The Girl, serves as an anti-hero to Bad City while representing the ongoing gender politics that continue to plague Iran after the Irainian revolution. Amirpour’s film is a reigning favourite that is still timely today as women in Iran fight for empowerment.  

 

 

Bad Hair movie poster

Bad Hair

This 2020 film presents the challenges that black women face in corporate America. In  the 1990s Anna works at a Tv station hoping to move up the ranks; she is told she can only be successful if she gets a weave. Things go horribly wrong when the hair proves to have a mind of its own. Bad Hair combines dark comedy with horror to further its presentation of classic racism women of colour face in order to look ‘professional’ according to euro-centric standards. With a killer cast of women of colour this film presents an often untold perspective in the horror genre.  

 

 

Fresh movie poster

Fresh

Director Mimi Cave delivers a delicious take on romance, with a twist; sharp in wit while retaining the horror element. Fresh takes on the idealisation of male psychopaths, while pointing out the irony. It’s a common trend to see male criminals being lauded as attractive or sexy after committing horrible crimes, the film presents a young woman’s perspective of a misogynistic dating culture where she is unable to succeed. Themes including horror, dark comedy, or feminine rage, this one is a perfect fit for those friends who are a little too into their true-crime movies. 

 

 

 

For those interested in other titles, check out:

Raw / Bodies, Bodies, Bodies / Thirst / Thelma / Possession / Saint Maude / It Follows / Prevenge

 

Film is one of the many artistic expressions that can help us to better understand why gender justice is so important. So I hope that when you’re picking out scary movies to watch this Halloween or any time of year, you’ll be thinking about gender justice!

For more information on STAND and the #GenderJusticeNow pledge, head over to 10000studends.ie Take the pledge to become a gender justice advocate while you’re there so that you can receive your action pack full of ways for you to take action for gender justice now!!

 

Many thanks to Meghan Mickela for her work in curating this list and describing the films in it.

 

Featured photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Ginger Snaps movie poster from Wikipedia

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night movie poster from IMDB

Bad Hair movie poster from IMDB

Fresh movie poster from IMDB

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Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Contributor Niamh Kelly shares insights from her interview with Fair Seas’ Sinead Loughran about the importance of biodiversity, the challenges posed by climate change, and how to get involved as a “citizen scientist”.

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Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Taking Under Wing:

Seabird Conservation in Ireland

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly
11th of November 2022

Ireland provides habitats inland and along the coast for many bird species, both resident and migratory. Irish coastal areas provide nesting and feeding habitats for many seabirds. Sinéad Loughran, marine policy and advocacy officer for Fair Seas and Birdwatch Ireland, discussed in an interview with STAND News, what challenges seabirds and other marine biodiversity face in Ireland.

Sinéad highlighted that “the ocean is one of the greatest allies you could have in the fight against climate change”.  Fair Seas (a coalition of Irish environmental non-governmental organisations and environmental networks) aims “to see Ireland, with a renewed appreciation of the ocean, become a world leader in marine protection, giving [Irish] species, habitats and coastal communities the opportunity to thrive”. After completing a Master of Science in Climate Change: Policy, Media and Society from Dublin City University, Sinéad has taken on a role which focuses on communications about promoting “ocean stewardship”, policy consultation with decision-makers and engagement with stakeholders such as coastal communities (including working alongside the Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss).

Image of two gannets by Clive Timmons, courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

Members of the public can support marine biodiversity by becoming involved as “citizen scientists” by utilising the BirdTrack, an online tool that allows people to record what bird species they observe, and the information collected forms a picture of bird distribution and migratory patterns in Ireland and Britain. Another opportunity to engage with Irish biodiversity is through the annual Irish Garden Bird Survey which runs from December to February. Sinéad spoke of how the survey is a “really kind of hands-on way that people can connect with the nature that’s around them and the bird species that they see in their gardens everyday”.

Ireland is a regular home to over 200 bird species, either year-round for birds such as robins, or as part of a migration cycle for other species such as swallows. Sinéad emphasised a variety of challenges impacting seabirds (and other biodiversity on land and in the sea). These causes are explored below:

Climate Change

Image of Puffin by James West, courtesy Bird Watch Ireland

Climate change has direct and indirect consequences for seabirds. One direct problem is the effect on prey availability for seabirds. For example, “Puffins, in 2007, were recorded feeding snake pipefish to their chicks. There is a greater risk of choking for the chicks on these fish and they’re also not nearly as nutritious in comparison to a preferred prey species such as sand eels”. The increasing abundance of snake pipefish may be linked with warming waters and this species of fish is not the ideal food source for puffin parents to feed their chicks.

An indirect impact on seabirds resulting from climate change is how seabird habitats may be affected by offshore wind farms, as Sinéad highlights “[we] recognises the urgent need to rapidly decarbonize our society and economy, but it needs to be done in a holistic way. We are in a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency. They’re inherently interlinked”. Flight corridors to allow birds to access foraging grounds would minimise the risk of collision deaths and seabirds’ displacement from their feeding grounds. The east coast of Ireland provides foraging grounds for seabird colonies in Wales and Cornwall, as well as Ireland.  Sinéad emphasised “how will offshore renewable energy affect bird colonies. Progress efforts on one should not be to the detriment of the other”.

Habitat Quality

A decline in the quality of coastal and estuary habitats impacts both on seabirds and on wider biodiversity in these environments. Sinéad acknowledges that although a recently released report from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states “coastal waters have the highest percentage of all water bodies in high or good ecological status”, unfortunately “there is still a 9.5% decline in the number of coastal water bodies in satisfactory condition since the last assessment”. Estuaries are faring worse as “64% of estuaries are in moderate, poor or bad ecological health”. A decrease in habitat quality impacts directly on any animal or bird living there and “the interconnected nature of our entire water system. We can’t separate our freshwater systems from our marine environment”, therefore the connection between these different habitats means more species and biodiversity will be impacted than only those which inhabit a single area.

Avian Flu

Image of Roseate Tern in flight by Laura Glenister, courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

An outbreak of avian flu has harshly affected wild birds across Ireland and further afield, particularly breeding seabird colonies in the UK and Europe. People are unlikely to contract this disease from wild birds, but members of the public are advised not to handle any dead or sick wild birds. Infected seabirds may travel further inland than usual because of the effects of the disease and come into closer contact with domestic birds and humans than would normally occur. Any dead seabirds, waterfowl or birds of prey should be reported to the Department of Agriculture to monitor the spread of the disease. Gannets have been particularly hit by the avian flu as “they breed quite late in the year compared to other seabirds in Ireland, and so they were still in their colonies. Their chicks were still there, and this was all kicking off from the end of August. Many of [the gannets] were washing up on the shore”.

As avian flu poses a threat to domestic birds as well as wild birds, Sinéad underlined the potential for “a coordinated response for the collection of dead or sick birds” and “further safeguards for wild birds”. Avian flu is caused by a “virulent strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)” and can severely decrease wild bird populations, particularly in seabird colonies with large numbers of birds gathering close together.

Seabird Conversation Project

Image of roseate tern by Brian Burke, courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

Wild seabird conservation however can make a successful and positive impact on marine biodiversity. Roseate terns nesting on Rockabill Island, near Skerries, County Dublin, compose 85% of the European population for their species. This species is also the rarest breeding seabird in Europe. Small wooden nest boxes have been placed across the island annually since 1989, providing the terns with sheltered areas similar to vegetation or rocky crevices which they prefer to nest in. The wooden boxes provide cover from bad weather and predators, provide more space for the terns to nest on the limited area available on the island and allow more eggs to hatch and chicks to be reared successfully. There are now ten times more breeding pairs on Rockabill Island than when the wooden nesting boxes were first introduced. As Sinéad said “such a small space like Rockabill, it’s only about 0.8 hectares, and when you consider how many birds come, that small area plays a vital role in the European population”.

Large scale challenges such as climate change, habitat quality and spread of diseases can impact on local environments and species, and so protecting birds, biodiversity and habitats in Ireland is important.

 

Thank you to Sinéad Loughran for her support in this article.

 

Click here to read Fair Seas new report on public support for better protection of marine wildlife and their habitats around Ireland

 

Featured photo of two gannets in flight is by Gerry Kerr and shared courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

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Revisiting the Emergency in Pakistan: Floods and Loss of Life

Revisiting the Emergency in Pakistan: Floods and Loss of Life

Revisiting the Emergency in Pakistan:

Floods and Loss of Life

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

9th of November 2022

Over the summer, Pakistan faced one of the deadliest floods the world has seen since 2017. According to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, more than 33 million people have been affected by the floods, and more than 1,000 have died since mid-June. The floods have been caused by record-breaking monsoon rains and have primarily affected the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. According to Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, rainfall indexes in these areas increased by 784% and 500% respectively, in comparison with the average rainfall index for the month of August. The situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate through October, and has left the country in a state of ongoing emergency.

The humanitarian situation is expected to worsen, as communities and infrastructure lack crisis response capacity. As the monsoon rains continue to fall, river overflows and landslides further aggravate the crisis: authorities are unable to reach affected areas. According to the disaster management agency almost one million homes were damaged, over 218,000 were destroyed,  and close to 500,000 people have been displaced and are now living in relief camps. Additionally, education authorities in the country stated that at least 17,700 schools have been damaged or destroyed by the floods. As of August 30, one in every seven people in the country has been affected by the floods. “Literally, one-third of Pakistan is underwater right now, which has exceeded every boundary, every norm we’ve seen in the past, we’ve never seen anything like this” Minister Sherry Rehman told AFP news agency

The floods have been compared to the 2010 floods of Pakistan, which is deemed as the deadliest in the country’s history. However, experts have highlighted key differences: while the 2010 floods were caused by river overflows during the monsoon season, the current floods are a direct result of climate change. Not only have they been caused by the alterations in rainfall patterns, but also by burst glaciers, lack of infrastructure, and unfit urban planning. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, an Islamabad-based independent expert on climate change, told Al Jazeera that different flood types can be identified, such as riverine floods, urban floods, glacier burst floods, and flash flooding. “Climate change is a threat multiplier”, Sheikh stated. 

The lack of government capacity, development planning, and adequate infrastructure were identified as main issues in the emergency. According to a report by the International Rescue Committee, the government has claimed that it will take at least five years for the country to rebuild and rehabilitate the nation, while in the near term it will be confronted with acute food shortages. Almost half of the country’s cotton crop has been washed away and vegetable, fruit, and rice fields have sustained significant damage, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said. A Flood Response Plan by the Pakistan Government and the United Nations was launched on August 30, focusing on food security, assistance for agriculture and livestock, shelter and non-food items, nutrition programmes, primary health services, protection, water and sanitation, women’s health, and education support, as well as shelter for displaced people.

“This super flood is driven by climate change – the causes are international and so the response calls for international solidarity”, Julien Harneis, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, stated. Developing countries in the global South are especially vulnerable to extreme climate conditions, and sadly, they lack both economic and capacity resources to effectively respond to such crises. The number of affected people keeps rising like the tide, and the question remains: when will the international community act to stop climate change?

 

Featured photo, an aerial view of a flooded residential area in Sindh Province, southeastern Pakistan is from UNICEF and can be found here.

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Contributor Niamh Kelly shares insights from her interview with Fair Seas’ Sinead Loughran about the importance of biodiversity, the challenges posed by climate change, and how to get involved as a “citizen scientist”.

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Fate Un-seal-ed: In conversation with Seal Rescue Ireland

Fate Un-seal-ed: In conversation with Seal Rescue Ireland

Fate Un-seal-ed:

In conversation with

Seal Rescue Ireland

 

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

17th of September 2022

Ireland has a rich and diverse array of marine wildlife, including two native seal species, common and grey. Seal Rescue Ireland (SRI) is a charity whose goal is to “rescue, rehabilitate and release native seals found sick, injured or orphaned from across the coast of Ireland”. Aoife O’Donoghue, who started as an animal care and conservation intern in SRI and has since taken on the role of donations and membership coordinator, highlighted in an interview with STAND News, how various human activities have impacted on the individual seals SRI has rescued, and also on wider marine biodiversity.

Photo by Aoife O’Donoghue. Finnegas, a male common seal pup, on his first day of fish school.

Aoife explained that “if you counted our marine territory, Ireland would be the same size as France”, and this large environment provides suitable habitats for many marine creatures, including seals. Ireland has a population of about 8,000 – 10,000 grey seals, and despite the name, a smaller population of about 3,000 – 4,000 common seals. Common seals, also known as harbour seals, have a wider geographical spread across the globe than grey seals, leading to their species’ moniker. An aid for the novice seal-watcher to differentiate between the two species that Aoife recommended is their similarity to household pets, “If it looks like a dog, it’s a grey seal. If it looks like a cat, it’s a common seal”. Grey seals are found most commonly in areas such as Dalkey and Howth, have long muzzles, and as their name suggests, have a grey coat. The west coast of Ireland is the most likely location to see common seals and this species have V-shaped nostrils. 

SRI is dedicated to helping seals from around the Irish coast that are ill, hurt or left without a mother to care for them. With capacity to care for up to fifty-five seals at one time and a volunteer network of around 800 people trained and licenced to rescue seals, SRI has observed six reasons why these animals are in need of rescue and rehabilitation before being released. These causes reflect larger global issues resulting from “anthropogenic activities” (human activities influencing the environment) affecting marine environments and biodiversity, as well as Irish seals, and are listed below:

 

Plastic Entanglement

Fishing equipment such as fishing nets that are lost or broken at sea still continue to catch fish, even though the nets are no longer in use for fishing. The fish trapped within these “ghost nets” attract larger predators such as dolphins, sharks and seals. Seals become entangled with the fishing equipment and any attempt to escape can worsen the situation. The entanglements can also restrict a seal’s movement, and this, in turn impacts its ability to hunt, and can result in starvation. Also, if a plastic entanglement begins to cut into a seal’s skin, it can cause infections and injuries.

Illnesses

Healthy seals are usually able to fight off parasites and illnesses, such as seal pox, by themselves. Aoife explained that “poor water quality lowers [seals’] immune system, and it can turn these illnesses quite deadly”. This poor water quality also impacts the wider marine environment habitats and inhabitants. Products that enter the seas from human activities such as “pesticides, herbicides, industrial harbours with metal in them, and raw sewage points” can have a negative impact on the health of any marine creatures living in affected areas.

Injury

Seals haul out onto beaches to rest, but during storms they can become injured if they are dragged out to sea and thrown against rocks or cliffs. SRI rescue seals with “broken bones, bruises, abrasions”, and after Storm Ophelia, more seals required help from SRI than the charity had capacity to accommodate. After taking in an additional eleven seals, bringing the total being cared for to sixty-six, SRI was unable to take in more seals as they “couldn’t ensure the best quality care if [they] kept taking them in”. These seals were rehabilitated and returned to the seas, but SRI hopes to not be in such a situation again of being unable to take in any seals that require their help. Aoife pointed out that “we’re getting way more storms in the last few years and they’re actually way more intense because of climate change”, and the injured seals are one local example of the impact of a global issue. Increasing frequency and intensity of storms may place SRI and other organisations in a position of more marine animals needing rescue and rehabilitation at one time than can be accommodated properly within an organisation’s resources and facilities.

Emaciation

Seals can come into SRI underweight and dehydrated if they are not able to find enough food. These sea mammals then begin to use their energy reserves known as blubber (a layer of fat that insulates the seals and helps to keep them warm). Ireland’s marine environment includes cold coral reefs. These cold coral reefs provide a habitat for the seals and the fish that they prey on, and are also “essential for hatcheries and fisheries. We’re not only fishing unsustainably, but we’re also destroying [cold coral reefs] with our fishing practices” as “bottom trawlers are dragging weights across [cold coral reefs]”. The destruction of these habitats, as Aoife explains, means fish stocks are being depleted, and the way to replenish fish stocks is also disappearing, because the cold coral reefs provide an environment for fish to reproduce. A decline in fish can result in seals being unable to find food and feed

Orphaning

Seal pups can be left without a mother naturally, if she dies, but often if people come too close to a seal pup on the beach, the mother will choose to abandon the pup to ensure she survives to have more pups in the following years. Seal mothers will leave their pups to feed in the sea and return to feed their pups afterwards, so unattended pups are not always orphaned pups. SRI is educating the public on how to respond if they see a seal pup by itself on the beach, and ask that people maintain at least a 100 metre distance, keep dogs on leashes and to ring or Whatsapp SRI if they have any concerns. Seals are protected under both EU and Irish Law (Wildlife Act, 1976) and It is illegal to harm or harass a seal in Ireland. SRI, and their trained volunteers, are licensed under National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) to legally handle seals, but will only do so if life-saving measures are deemed necessary Seal pups are monitored for a 24-hour period before being moved to the SRI facilities in Courtown, Wexford to guarantee the mother has not return to the pup, because as Aoife explained, “[seal pups] are at a crucial stage, they need to be with their mom. [SRI] do are best, but we’re secondary in care compared to a mother seal”.  

 

Photo by Chris Parkes. A grey seal pup on beach in Wicklow. The pup still has his lanugo (fluffy white coat) so less than 3 weeks old and still dependent on his mum for milk.

SRI not only helps seals that are ill, injured or orphaned, but engages in other work such as community outreach, education and habitat restoration. Guided educational tours of the centre for the general public are offered by SRI and seal feeding enrichment experiences which provide a behind-the-scenes look at SRI’s work. These tours, as Aoife said, highlight that SRI is “not a sanctuary. All of these seals that come into our care, they go straight back out to the wild once they’re healthy and up at a good weight again”. SRI also work with other organisations such as various county councils. These partnerships allow surveys of the seal populations to be conducted and beach areas can be closed off during the pupping season if necessary. SRI also had a community outreach stall at Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Finally, the conservation centre is aiming to plant 20,000 native Irish trees before the end of the year and hosts tree-planting events. Animal care such as feeding the seals, cleaning out the pools, applying wound care, administering medications and providing enrichment are essential in SRI, but the charity takes varied approaches to achieve its goal of helping seals. Their volunteering and internship opportunities are another example of this commitment. Aoife joined SRI after completing a Bachelor of Science in biology in National University of Ireland, Maynooth and later on, a Master of Science in Global Change: Ecosystem Science and Policy in University College Dublin. She stresses, however, that people from many backgrounds volunteer and work with SRI, “if you have an education background, if you’ve marketing, media, community engagement, obviously animal care and conservation, [SRI have] all those internships”. Aoife has developed professional connections and also strong friendships through her involvement with SRI,  “but honestly, it’s the seals that are the best part. Most of them come in and they’re quite poorly, quite lethargic. It takes them a few weeks obviously, and then suddenly, when they’re starting to feel better, their whole personalities come out”. After the seals are ready for release, “they will just galumph out of their cage and there’s no looking back for them. They’re just straight out into the water”. 

SRI are conducting rewarding and challenging work to rescue seals impacted by various “anthropogenic activities” and showcase a dedicated local response to protecting marine biodiversity. Global challenges such as climate change, plastic pollution and preserving marine environments have far-reaching effects, including on Ireland’s native seals. 

 

Thank you to SRI donations and membership coordinator Aoife O’Donoghue and executive director Melanie Croce for their support in this article.

 

Featured photo by Chris Parkes of Ilia Pika, a female common seal pup, with interns cleaning one of the deeper pools.

This article was supported by: STAND News Intern Brianna Walsh and Student Engagement Manager Aislin Lavin

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Decarbonisation is a political and ecological project: the EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers to change in Ireland

Decarbonisation is a political and ecological project: the EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers to change in Ireland

Decarbonisation is a Political and Ecological Project:
The EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
Louie Lyons
17th of August 2022

Europe’s energy transition requires large-scale private and public investment in low-carbon technology. On the 7th of July 2022 Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal to include gas and nuclear energy in the EU Taxonomy, a classification system created to clarify for investors what constitutes a sustainable investment. The EU Taxonomy is a tool that hopes to counteract, in combination with subsidies, the failure of the market to incentivise investment in renewables. 

The proposal, put forward by the European Commission, triggered intense debate between member states. Austria remains deeply opposed to the expansion of nuclear energy, while Poland insists their use of gas is essential to quickly phasing out coal. The energy sector relies heavily on fossil fuels, and the transition to renewable energy is critical to reducing emissions; this is an immense project and is beginning to be fleshed-out in plans like the European Green Deal. The urgency surrounding Europe’s energy transition rapidly increased in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which contributed and was exacerbated by the continuing shortage in global gas supplies.

Ongoing heat waves across Europe provide an alarming backdrop to recent debates; suddenly the impacts of climate change carry a sense of immediacy for Europeans, an immediacy apparent to people throughout the global south for decades. Changing weather patterns, food insecurity, habitat destruction and pollution caused by extractive industries are just some of the impacts of climate change in the global south. Many schools and health centres in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, still do not have power. As Europe grapples with the question of how to build low-carbon economies, the question of whether energy transition will result in improved global energy access and inclusion is far from certain. 

Seven Irish MEPs voted against the proposal to include gas and nuclear in the Taxonomy, with five voting in favour and one abstention. All Fine Gael MEPs and one Fianna Fáil representative voted to include gas and nuclear energy in the taxonomy. The result of the vote generated strong reactions from some Irish MEPs, activists and researchers. Taken together they capture the contested and uncertain path to transition in Ireland and Europe. 

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Grace O’Sullivan by Roisin O’Donnell

Beyond dirty versus clean, what does transition mean?

Ireland is at a crossroads; there is massive potential to produce renewable energy, but our reliance on imported gas has prompted concerns over energy security. Meanwhile, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) projects are being proposed by fossil fuel companies in various locations across the country.  

During our interview, Brian, a representative of the ‘Not Here Not Anywhere’ (NHNA) Campaign, fighting LNG expansion in Ireland, was unflinching in his criticism of the EU decision: “anyone I’ve told about last week’s vote was shocked and outraged  – but the problem is that not enough people knew about it”. He stated clearly that:

 

“On an issue that has such a clear mandate from the public then I would wonder how [the MEPs] could justify their actions…It really makes you wonder who this legislation was for?”

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), Ireland’s energy and water economic utility regulator, recently argued for the critical role of liquified natural gas (LNG) in Ireland. Ms MacEvilly, the CRU spokeswoman, said that ‘there was a need to explain to communities  in a better way why this was needed…we will not decarbonise without this infrastructure.” Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh also emphasised the need to communicate the “reality” of transition:

“It is essential that we communicate and engage with the Irish public to ensure that they understand that member states are at different points in decarbonisation… Transition fuels are a means to an end. They are not the end in itself.”

The attempt to frame LNG in Ireland as a pragmatic solution to energy transition in Europe seems misleading. The reality of transition in Ireland is understood by many communities across Ireland, through their experience of decarbonisation and renewable energy projects. Their experiences highlight how we need to keep interrogating dominant approaches to transition in Ireland and Europe.

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Conchúr Ó Maonaigh by Roisin O’Donnell

Liquified Natural Gas in Ireland: means of transition or lucrative transaction?  

The influence and power of the fossil fuel industry, specifically those invested in the continued use of gas, was highlighted by Irish MEPs and activists. Brian, from NHNA: 

 

“[the] fossil fuel industry… use their influence to ensure no reduction in their activities. When it comes to LNG terminals being built in Ireland we see similar underhanded tactics being used to fund the Shannon LNG terminal by using European PCI (Projects for Common Interest) list funding.”

MEPs McManus and Daly, when asked to respond to the result of the vote, made reference to “powerful if silent interests” and the influence of “big lobbies here in Brussels”. Academics and activists insist that the fight against the fossil fuel industry is the ‘sine qua non of climate politics’ . Grassroots campaigns, including ‘Keep Ireland LNG Free’ focuses on the role that private companies will play in the expansion of LNG infrastructure, increasing our reliance on fossil fuels and unpredictable gas markets.

Shannon LNG, a subsidiary of Hess Corporation, has applied for planning permission for an LNG terminal on a site in North Kerry. In response, Kilcolgan Residents Association was established, including a website—‘Safety Before LNG’ (SBL) —that provides a ‘resource of information on the strategy used to develop an LNG terminal’. They describe a coordinated approach on part of Shannon LNG, the statutory body Shannon Development company and local politicians to convince residents of the potential of the project for the area, including a newsletter that described LNG as an “environmentally friendly fossil fuel”

Climate Camp Ireland, a week-long event was held from the 2nd-7th of August near the location of Shannon LNG’s proposed site. The camp, involving workshops and family-friendly events, was envisaged as a way of challenging Shannon LNG, but also an attempt to create ‘a space that is a model of the kind of society we want, and need, beyond capitalism’. 

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Patrick Kirwan by Roisin O’Donnell

“We need a new politics—not just new technologies and policies” 

Speaking with Patrick Kirwan, secondary school teacher and climate and biodiversity activist based in Waterford, I wanted to understand how decarbonisation is discussed in schools. He highlighted how “the education system doesn’t cover politics, how to engage with government reps…It isn’t dynamic because teachers lack time and confidence on these topics. But it could be different. We know that what we teach students leaches out into the community”. When I asked about the topic of just transition he was clear that, “to answer your questions students would have to have a good level of knowledge about the different aspects of climate…the students I work with closely, their knowledge is growing.  They just want to take action! They want to learn about the twin climate and biodiversity crises in a practical hands-on way”. 

Sinead Mercier and Patrick Bresnihan, activists and lecturers in Maynooth University emphasise that our current approach ‘prioritises and assumes private, corporate ownership of renewable energy production’. Sinead Mercier’s work compares transitions in Germany and elsewhere, highlighting the need for ‘social dialogue’ that facilitates an ‘inclusive, iterative, place-based, context-specific approach’, and the damage caused by a poorly implemented transition. Wind farms—a critical source of renewable energy in Ireland—have been resisted by communities that were excluded by developers and felt that private companies and their far-flung investors were the primary beneficiaries. 

Conchúr Ó Maonaigh, Phd student at Maynooth University, provided me further insight into the challenges of decarbonisation in Ireland, highlighting how it “ [relies] on spatial divisions of power that can undermine the so-called just transitions pursued by the state. There are clear sacrifice zones… [that] governments, activists, and the public do not consider in the discourse on decarbonisation”. He suggested that activists, particularly on the left, needed to “draw attention to the complex chains of ownership and resources that form the basis of renewable futures”.

The responses of committed people and organisations demonstrates the complexity of the energy transition, but also importance of continued interrogation of decarbonisation, a process that does not guarantee a just transition or dissolution of vested interests.

 

Featured image and portraits included in the article by Roisin O’Donnell.

This article was supported by: Interim Marketing Coordinator Criomhthann Morrison & STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin.

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The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?
United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
Louie Lyons
17th of August 2022

Russia vetoes humanitarian aid resolution

On the 12th of July, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution jointly proposed by Ireland and Norway. The resolution aimed to provide crucial humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, who continue to experience the devastating impact of conflict between the al-Assad governing regime and rebels. This provision of aid would have lasted for twelve months, a period of time that the Irish ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne, claims “actors on the ground… needed”.

However, the bias of Russia, a prominent supporter of the Syrian government, was on full display. The Russian Federation used its power to veto the proposal and in turn proposed its own amended resolution that passed with a vote of 12 members in favour and 3 abstainers (France, United Kingdom, and the United States). Aside from these votes, the only country to vocally support the amendment was China. The final resolution now sees humanitarian aid travelling from Turkey to Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Turkey for only six months as opposed to the original twelve. This is a replay of events in 2020, when Russia similarly pressured the Council to cut the period of aid delivery to Syria from twelve months to six.

The 2020 resolution also limited the UN’s access to a number of borders into the country, reducing entry from four borders to just two. The Syrian civil war has been a continuous conflict since the Arab Spring protests in 2011, where tension grew between government and rebels, and has led to a major international refugee crisis. In 2021, a total of 13 million people had been internally or externally displaced. The Syrian civil war has, since its inception, spiralled into an international conflict with Russia, Iran, and the terrorist organisation Hezbollah supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government, and the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands, Britain, and France as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel supporting Syrian rebels.

 

Many are heralding this recent settlement as a necessary step towards helping the 2.4 million Syrian people reliant on cross-border humanitarian aid. Proponents of the Russian amendment also point out that it does not preclude the possibility of a renewal of aid in six months.

However, others view this as a compromised resolution.

Critics say it reduces the certainty and confidence surrounding aid, with French ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, claiming that we are now relying on a “precarious renewal”. The American ambassador, Richard Mills, also commented on the matter, stating “[this is what happens] when one Council member takes the entire Security Council hostage” and that Syrian civilians will be negatively impacted by the downgrade in the quantity of aid. Ambassador Mills went on to detail the general Russian stance on Syria, “Russia is so brazen in its disregard for Syrian lives that it has not even bothered trying to justify its stance on a humanitarian basis. This is an immoral and cynical approach to humanitarian needs.” Russia and China have both defended their positions on halving the guarantee of aid as a means of protecting Syrian sovereignty – that is to say the Syrian government’s autonomy and right to act however they wish within their own borders.

The irony of Russia’s claim to be a protector of sovereignty has not been lost on many. The impact of the new resolution may mean that, by the time UN agencies and NGOs working in the area will have organised to begin their operations, their authorisation will have expired. This will force them to spend valuable time and resources every six months working to apply for renewals and will diminish the amount of focus they can give to aid distribution on the ground.

The Security Council’s veto examined

Russia’s veto is part of a larger trend that sees the permanent members on the UN Security Council ally with brutal regimes by stalling action proposed by the UN. This trend applies to two states and two regimes in particular – The U. S’s defence of Israel and Russia’s defence of Syria. With regards to Russia, this is the 17th time they have used their veto to defend Syrian sovereignty despite that sovereignty being used to justify atrocities such as the Syrian government engaging in biological warfare against its citizens. Similarly, Russia and China both also used the veto to protect North Korea’s nuclear programme in 2022.

The situation between the U.S and Israel mirrors that of Russia-Syria but has been going on much longer. The U.S has used its power to veto 53 resolutions that would have sanctioned Israel over the past 50 years. Amongst those 53 exist a veto opposing investigations into the murders of seven Palestinian civilians by an Israeli soldier in 1990 and Obama’s veto of a resolution that would have denounced Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank in 2011. The U.S’s blanket support for Israel is tantamount to a war crime get-out-of-jail-free card and unquestionably sends a message to Israel that international law does not apply to them. China for its part has also used it’s veto twice to block UN aid to countries that are diplomatically engaged with Taiwan. Threats on the global stage is the main way in which China exerts indirect control over Taiwanese foreign policy and waving the veto around is one means of intimidating states looking for UN support.

 

This all begs the question – why are certain states given a veto at all, especially when vetoes are mostly used to defend the indefensible actions of friends?

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

An Austrian battalion doctor comforts a young patient in Damascus (United Nations)

Why is there a veto?

The veto was added to the UN charter as a way to persuade the Great Powers to join the UN. The Great Powers made it clear that there would be a veto or there would be no UN. In the wake of two devastating World Wars, the appetite for supranationalism and global governance was big. The veto was a bitter pill worth swallowing to establish the UN, binding the power in compromise from the very beginning in the hope that five countries would at least sing from the same hymn sheet on such serious matters. But in reality, over the near 80-year history of the UN, it has become an insurmountable weapon of war, the very thing the international organisation sought to prevent.

The veto is a barrier preventing the world from progressing past our former colonial global system. For four former western colonial powers to hold elevated influence over what regimes are worth keeping or what ones ought to be changed around the world is clear neo-imperialism. The list of permanent members on the Security Council includes only one state outside of the conceptual West. Similarly, the Security Council contains no representation from Africa, South America, or Oceania – yet three from Europe. This issue of Security Council representation too is a matter for debate.

Both Turkey and Brazil have at certain stages in recent times advocated for the abolition of the veto and have called for nations such as Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, and India be added as permanent members to the council. In April 2022, the UN General Assembly voted that the General Assembly must convene within ten days of a veto, at which the vetoing state would be required to provide greater justification and a debate would take place around the use of their veto. This is a first step but it is doubtful that the General Assembly will have enough power to either convince or shame a permanent member into reversing their veto. The outcome of this reform is that procedurally, vetoes will now take longer but will still have the same effect of facilitating war crimes and authoritarian regimes. Efforts to reform international laws that would place responsibilities on third-party countries to ethically intervene in conflicts have also suffered under the political curse of compromise: legislation has been clumsily worded and operationally impractical.

 

 

Veto reform is merely polishing the veneer of something that is broken on the inside; abolition is the way forward.

Unfortunately, the five permanent members are likely to balk at any further diminution of their power and the loss of any of the five permanent members to the UN would be a great blow – see the League of Nations without America. The permanent members are significant contributors of financial aid to the UN and consequently, many members see the veto as a necessary evil to keep the UN together.

Ireland’s role

Ireland was among five states, the others being Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mongolia, who called for an outright abolition of veto powers back in 2018. Italy as part of the Uniting for Consensus Group also noted a desire amongst member states for the abolition of the veto. In relation to the Syrian civil war specifically, on top of their proposed resolution Ireland pledged €23 million towards humanitarian funding for Syria at the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels in May 2022 – the sixth conference of its kind. The funding will be provided to a number of humanitarian agencies. With this pledge, Ireland surpasses the €200 million mark in total humanitarian funding provided to Syria since 2012. While aid is stifled by a paralysed Security Council, the UN is forced to build peace with one hand tied behind its back. Of course the various reasons that cause Western democracies to prop up authoritarian regimes in the first place will still exist. However, in a veto-less world, the ways in which they could do this would be reduced by one.

 

Featured Photos by United Nations

This article was supported by: STAND News and Communications Intern Brianna Walsh and STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

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From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

People standing around in a circle in a field surrounding other people lying on the ground making up the words frack off lng
Penelope Norman

14th of August 2022

Early in the morning, I climbed out of my tent to head over to the kitchen. The night before, around the fire, I had promised my friends, ‘the best potatoes any of you have ever eaten in your life,’ and I aimed to deliver. We had two bags of freshly grown spuds which needed to be washed, chopped, and fried with only a couple of hours to do it all before the entire hungry camp rushed towards our door.

Slí Eile’s climate camp was set up during the first week of August in a field between Lislaughtin Abbey and Saleen Pier, just outside of the town Ballylongford, Kerry. The goal of the camp was to demonstrate organised resistance against New Fortress Energy’s (an American fossil fuel company) proposed Shannon LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project. The project site the terminal would be built on was a fifteen-minute walk away from camp and, at the time of publication, it is currently leased as field space to a local farmer. The camp consisted of three large marquees which hosted a kitchen, a canteen, and event spaces. The other half of the field was kept for people to pitch their tents.

I went to the tap outside the kitchen to wash yesterday’s dishes and get to work. In addition to my potato-craving comrades, I had to worry about getting the meal cooked before our daily plenary meeting and my friends’ morning workshop about the benefits of Mutual Aid. Luckily, a few other early risers were around to help me with the cleaning and a number of the other kitchen crew were able to work on their contribution to breakfast. I easily found the tools that I needed to get the dish prepared.

 

 If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention.

The campers were a mix of people from different campaigns ranging from climate organisations such as Futureproof Clare and Fridays for Future to broader groups such as MacramÉire and Community Action Tenants Union, among others. Many had been a part of Extinction Rebellion Ireland at some point during their lives, though most had moved on to other ways to combat the climate crisis. Politically, there were two things which connected everybody who was there. We all cared about the crisis, with a hope to stop the methane-leaking LNG terminal which would exacerbate it. We also wanted to take active steps to move towards a world that was actually survivable, though there were disagreements about how much change would be required to get there. The camp and its mission were kept together by a fundamental bond, the shared experience of living in a specific space at a specific time which was only possible because we were able to rely on one another for basic requirements such as food, shelter, waste disposal, and warmth.

When I began to chop the potatoes into small chunks, I noticed how fatigued I was. From the moment I had asked if there was anything I could help with when I arrived Monday afternoon, I was swept from task to task in a way that I hadn’t been used to since I’d worked in a hospital years ago. If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention. That’s not to say that I didn’t have time to rest, it’s just that every action from the most intense work to the special moments of relaxation were deliberate and filled with meaning in a way I wasn’t used to in the city. Community feels different when you’re living apart from the people you build it with. We had weaved a fragile net of mutual reliance on each other; I didn’t have the time or need to dissociate to the same degree as usual. In the city, I tried my best to disappear; in the camp, with the support of others, I tried my best to actively live in the present.

People doing the jobs required to run the camp had a wide range of experiences. In my working group, there were campers who had worked in restaurants, cooked for friends occasionally, or maintained kitchens at other climate camps; we all taught each other the skills and recipes necessary to keep the camp fed. A task to install some complex solar panels turned from a specialist activity into a workshop where everyday people learned how to do it themselves. Direct action and media training workshops both helped people gain the confidence to engage politically for themselves and provided the space to share experiences and raise people’s awareness about various aspects of the struggle against Collapse. Even free transport to and from the nearby town of Listowel became an opportunity to learn about one another along the way and form the bonds necessary to maintain our community. The activities of the camp worked to empower each of us to participate in every part of camp life rather than separate us and disguise the labour happening around the site.

 

While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

I needed help to light the stove we used to cook. While someone lent me a hand, I worked to create a spice mix of black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt to add to the potatoes when they were ready. Someone else helped me carry the heavy pot full of water to the tent so I could boil the sliced tubers before sauteing them. While I waited for them to boil, I was able to chat and share a coffee with a number of people who’d come into the marquee’s social area, including a number of friends from the previous night and new people who’d arrived in the morning. A couple of them helped me drain the potatoes while we reflected on yesterday’s Céilí and the upcoming events. While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

For an extended encounter between a group of exhausted Irish leftists in a field, there was shockingly little drama. When a number of issues inevitably came up, they were handled without resorting to calling the gardaí (which would have put some of the campers at risk of violence.) We would find people who could empathise and communicate with the people involved in trouble and move through it without resorting to exclusion or violence. A lot of this came from a mutual respect we held for each other and our shared interest in maintaining the camp and its mission. A number of people did get tired, and conflict grew over space and scheduling. We knew the only way we were going to get through conflict without turning to older systems of punishment was recognising the worth in each other and pushing through to do the difficult work of compromise. This labour was just another job that kept the camp together, and one of the most hard-won successes we brought into reality.

I was able to fry the ingredients and serve them. Everybody made sure to thank me for the work and I in turn thanked them for what they’d done over the week. We all kept the old phrase ‘you are what you eat’ in mind while enjoying breakfast. We were eating locally produced food made by our friends for the purpose of keeping the camp going. We were a community, politically and gastronomically. The burner I made the potatoes on had been used the day before to create a glue out of boiled wheat flour called wheatpaste. Our actions and our meals were made by the same people in the same place, the heart of the camp as one friend put it. I don’t see these processes as distinct, separable parts of our camp, but different faces of the same fantastic gem. At the end of the day, it was a bold experiment in dreaming a better world into reality.

Featured Photo by Slí Eile

This article was supported by: STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

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Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

A cloudy day above number of buildings' walls ripped apart with building materials scattered on the ground
Penelope Norman
Penelope Norman
1st of July 2022

 

I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.

I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’

In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)

This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.

One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,

 “O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”

 

She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,

 

“his words replete with guile

Into her heart too easie entrance won:

Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold

Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound

Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d

With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”

 

Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.

In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,

 

“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of יהוה —
creating them male and female.
יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”

In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,

 

“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”

 

This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.

A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,

 

“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”

In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.

At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.

I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.

 

 

Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

Business & Politics

India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

an image of a road in a desert region

7th July 2020

 

Where did the dispute begin?

The dispute centres on areas of contested territory between China and India. The two countries contest where the border between them lies, which has led to long-standing tensions, including a brief war in 1962. After that war ended, the two countries agreed on a 2,100 mile long demarcation line, known as the Line of Actual Control. However, they did not go so far as negotiating an official border and still do not agree on exactly where the line lies. The Line of Actual Control separates Ladakh, which is part of Indian-administered Kashmir, from Aksai Chin, which India claims as its own territory but which China controls. 

 

What has been happening recently at the border?

Over the last few months, there has been an increasing number of clashes along the Line of Actual Control between Chinese and Indian troops. These have mainly been low-level fistfights, including one larger fight that broke out in May. These tensions have resulted in both countries sending more troops to the border. An escalation occurred on the 15th of June, resulting in death for the first time in 45 years. India lost 20 soldiers, while China has refused to comment on its casualties.

 

What has sparked the recent escalation?

In May, India reported that the Chinese army seemed to have grabbed forty to sixty kilometres of territory in India, including areas not previously disputed. While each side crossing the border is not uncommon, due to the disagreement of where the line is, this was a more severe incursion as it included things like digging trenches and moving heavy equipment. 

 

It is not entirely clear why China would do this, although there are several possible explanations. One reason could be that India has been building a road to an air force base in the area, which China may have seen as a threat, although both sides have built infrastructure in the past. Another possible reason is that China has also been increasingly aggressive in Asia recently, possibly due to other world leaders being distracted by the coronavirus crisis. This includes increased aggression in the South China Sea and a crackdown in Hong Kong. 

 

The increased aggression in Ladakh may be part of this general trend. Additionally, China may be unhappy with India furthering its alliance with the US, including a 3.5 billion dollar arms deal in February. Regarding the clash on the 15th of June, India claims that China launched a premeditated attack on its troops, while China claims that Indian troops crossed the border and provoked Chinese soldiers.

 

Why is this important?

Both India and China, the two most populated countries in the world, possess nuclear weapons. While the chance of these being used remain remote, any increase in tensions inevitably raises the possibility that the two countries could escalate into war. Even if they didn’t use nuclear weapons in a war, it could still be very destructive given the size of their respective armies (two of the biggest in the world) and populations.

 

Can this be resolved?

It may be a positive sign that while both countries have guns and tanks near the border, the recent outbreaks of violence have been confined to fistfights, stone-throwing and some use of clubs. While this has still resulted in multiple casualties, each side has restrained themselves from using firepower. Both countries are banned from using firepower due to a 1996 agreement, which has not yet been broken. However, attempts to deescalate further may be unsuccessful.

 

 Initially, on the 6th of June, both countries agreed to disengage but this did not prevent the fatal attacks on the 15th. On the 24th of June, military commanders agreed again to disengage their troops, and it remains to be seen whether this will reduce tensions. Satellite imagery has since emerged showing  China has built several structures near the clash site from the 15th of June, in an area India claims is on its side of the Line of Actual Control. This casts some doubt on the possibility of disengagement, as this may be seen as a provocation by India. Even if tensions deescalate, the prospects of agreeing on an official border and fully ending the conflict are likely to be low, as several rounds of talks since 1962 have failed to produce one.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Steven Lasry

 

 

The Leaderless Protest Series – Chile

The Leaderless Protest Series – Chile

Every day we are witnessing the kindled spirit of the youth across the world. Political autonomy, corruption, powerlessness, poor economies, climate change and social media seem to be the chief contributors to the mass protest rage that has taken over. The large anti-government demonstrations have not been peaceful, with the number of human losses increasing as every day goes by. From Algeria, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan and more, the story seems to be the same: voices that were never heard are gathering together for a scream to bring about a much-needed change! Does it mean the people’s voice will finally be heard?

In this particular article, Editor Deepthi Suresh helps us to understand recent developments in Chile.

 

 

How did this start?

The protests began in October 2019 due to an increase in subway fares by 3%, and soon paved the way to widespread vandalism, destruction and looting. The fare hike has definitely triggered  the public after years of “rising cost of living, miserable pensions, relatively low wages, deficient health and education systems and costly and inefficient public utilities,” according to a report by the New York Times. These demonstrations are Chile’s worst unrest in decades. The protests have transformed into a nationwide uprising with the protesters demanding dramatic changes to the country’s economic and political system and the ultimate demand of the resignation of Chilean President Piñera. As of December 2019, 29 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested and the number only seems to rise.

 

According to Victor Villegas, a sociologist at Santiago’s Alberto Hurtado University, “it’s not a coincidence that the movement began with high school students because they have always driven Chilean social movements”. As police attempted to forcefully stop the students at the stations, the protests had already begun to spread out into the streets. Metro stations, supermarkets, and petrol stations were burned, leading Piñera to declare a state of emergency.

 

Although the leaderless movement has forced the billionaire president to be on the defensive, which resulted in him replacing eight ministers and the announcement of emergency measures including a small increase in the minimum wage and higher taxes on wealthy Chileans, the protests have continued.

 

 

What are the protesters’  demands?

The protesters have called for a change in the pension system and a measurable like in the minimum wage in addition to Piñera’s resignation. Piñera  has addressed the demands in his reform plans but the protestors are furious that these proposals would cost the state, rather than the private industries. There have also been demands for a new constitution as the current one was drafted during the dictatorship.

 

 

Current developments 

Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters. Human Rights Watch director Jose Miguel Vivanco stated that “indiscriminate and improper use of riot guns and shotguns, abuse of detainees in custody, and poor internal accountability systems” gave rise to serious violations of the rights of many Chileans. 

 

The 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP25, with thousands of world leaders and government officials attending, was supposed to take place in Chile in December but had to be cancelled due to the protests. Ironically, the focus of this particular climate change conference was economic and social inequality.

 

The government has scrapped the subway fare increase and the president said that he is mindful of the broader grievances that fueled the unrest. He is, however, yet to outline a comprehensive set of policies. It seems that Piñera is finding it difficult to come to grips with reality and the population’s frustrations. It looks like the protests will continue until he steps down.

 

 

Photo by Carlos Figueroa

 

 

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Political crisis and conflict in Burundi

Political crisis and conflict in Burundi

 

 

What countries do we think of when we hear the word “war” in a modern context? Most of us could probably list Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for good reason. These three countries have experienced devastation and destruction as a result of wars that have ravaged their landscapes and terrorised their populations. The international media have widely covered these conflicts, and in so doing their names have become synonymous with our notion of modern warfare. But, these nations are not the only countries that face war and devastation. This article examines the current situation in Burundi, a country whose war has been overshadowed by those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others.

 

History

Burundi has a long history of ethnic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu populations, a conflict which brew to a boil in 1993 when the Hutu president was assassinated during a failed coup led by Tutsi soldiers. This attack led to a bitter civil war between the ethnicities which saw over 300,000 people killed in less than 10 years. In an attempt to avoid such events recurring in the future, a new constitution was created which included a provision that limited the run of a president to two terms and mandated an ethnic rotation of power every 18 months.

 

Current Situation

In April 2015, the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he was running for a third term as president, in direct violation of the country’s constitution. The day after his announcement, thousands of protestors took to the streets. The police responded to these protests by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing six, injuring several and charging over 60 with participation in an insurrection movement. Nkurunziza subsequently made a public announcment threatening anyone who dared question the validity of his presidential candidacy.

In May 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunzia could run for a third term without violating the Constitution. The Vice-President of the Court fled the country the day after, having been the only member of the court to vote against the candidacy. He stated that he had received several threats and feared for his life should he remain in Burundi. Nkurunzia was re-elected in July 2015, warning that if the opposition did not put down their arms he would instruct law enforcement services to use “all possible means” to quash the opposition.

The events that followed in Burundi resulted in over 130 murders and 90 cases of torture over the course of six months, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On December 11 of that year, following attacks from an armed opposition militia, around 300 young men were taken from their homes and arrested by Government forces. The following day over 150 of the detainees were found dead, their bodies scattered around their villages. The government has also shut down all of the country’s independent media and has subsequently shut down all independent media.

 

International Involvement

In 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The Court, however, has ruled that the withdrawal of the country does not affect the jurisdiction of the court to investigate crimes that occurred while the country was still a member. Similarly, in 2017, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. The majority of the violence has been attributed to government intelligence, police and youth forces although a small amount of the violence has been connected to opposition forces. Amnesty International have backed these assertions and warn that the current situation is the beginning of a countrywide genocide.

 

Burundi Today

As it stands, the events in Burundi deserve our full attention. We must not allow the coverage of one war to detract from another. Violence of inhuman proportions is ravaging a nation that is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Men, women and children are facing the unthinkable: forced to choose between risking their lives or fleeing their homes. It is a situation that we must never become immune to and a news story we must never become comfortable with.

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Christine Vaufrey at Flickr