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Food Bank Ireland

Two conflicting narratives have dominated the aftermath of the financial crisis, particularly over the past year.  On the one hand, the Irish and British governments are suggesting that we are over the worst and on the path to a more prosperous future and, on the other, frontline care providers speak of people cut adrift by the state and left in highly vulnerable, dangerous and impoverished conditions.  Barometers of this impoverishment include rising homelessness, the distribution of food parcels and hot meals to those on the poverty threshold, and the use of foodbanks.  Statistics on foodbank use in the UK released by the Trussell Trust for 2013-14 showed over 900,000 people in crisis being provided with emergency food.  This total represented a 163 percent increase on usage compared to the previous year with the number of new foodbanks (45 percent increase) unable to keep pace with demand.  

Food banks in the north of Ireland

Development and Film: Are we getting the bigger picture?

Philip French, who recently retired as film critic for The Observer after 50 years of insightful and informative reviews, described cinema as ‘the great art form of the 20th century’ and suggested that ‘this century is continuing the same way’.  Cinema continues to enjoy a popular status in our cultural lives despite the multitude of digital and online access points for movies and television at home.  We still enjoy the social activity of cinema-going and the opportunity to view films on the big screen.  Given its capacity as a conveyor of knowledge, images, messages and issues to a large, international audience, film has immense importance to development practitioners yet according to Lewis et al remains an ‘under-studied medium for development knowledge’ (2013: 20).  In an interesting research working paper, Lewis et al consider the role that film has played in considering ‘key themes within the landscape of global inequalities and power relationships’ (ibid).  They contrast how a range of movies from popular entertainments to more serious-minded fare represent the global South and convey development issues.  

Death by Remote Control: The Deadly use of Drones

On 12 December 2013, a wedding party in Radda, capital of Yemen’s al-Bayda province was struck by an American drone.  The media reported fatalities ranged from 10 to 17 with an additional 30 people wounded in the attack.  The drone struck a convoy of vehicles returning from a wedding when it seems the intended targets were members of al Qaeda.  This deadly attack came seven months after a speech by President Obama in which he pledged to ‘extend oversight of lethal actions’ and raise the threshold for the use of drones toward ensuring the protection of civilians.  He said ‘my administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists - insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability.’  He added that ‘before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the highest standard we can set.’  The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) which closely monitors the use of drones has found that covert drone strikes have killed more people in the six months following President Obama’s speech than the six months be

Drones are remotely piloted unmanned aircraft and were initially deployed in the gathering of intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance.  Since 1999, however, they have been used in a more deadly role in ‘extraterritorial lethal counter-terrorism operations’ which the Guardian’s Seumas Milne describes as double speak for extrajudicial summary executions and ‘a wanton and criminal killing spree’.  The chief advantage of drones to the US military says Milne is that they ‘can continue to demonstrate global authority and impunity without boots on the ground and loss of US life.’  

Why governments are blaming the poor for their own poverty

We are living through the severest economic depression since the 1920s with accelerating unemployment, flat-lining growth and a sharp rise in poverty levels across Europe.  That much seems indisputable.  But two questions that have created societal discord and, in some cases like Greece, severe upheaval are: who is to blame for this crisis and how do we get out of it?  A worrying trend in the public debate on these questions is the increasing use of stereotypes that are designed very specifically to blame the poor for their own poverty.  ‘Shirkers’, ‘skivers’ and ‘scroungers’ have all too evidently  and readily entered public parlance to denote the idle working-class, content to coast on benefits rather than do a day’s work.  A graph capturing the number of times the word ‘scrounger’ is used by UK newspapers (excluding The Times and Financial Times) from 1994 to 2012 shows a spike in usage from just over 500 at the start of the 2008 recession to 3,500 in 2012 (Edwards, 2013). 

The press in Britain may be taking its cue from the government with the British Chancellor, George Osborne, in a speech to the 2012 Conservative party conference asking ‘where’s the fairness for the shift worker leaving home in the dark hours of the morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of the next door neighbour sleeping off a life in benefits?’ (Guardian, 11 April 2013).  Anna Coote and Sarah Lyall from the New Economics Foundation regard Osborne’s contrasting of the ‘strivers’ as hard working, reliable and socially responsible with the jobless ‘skivers’ as unreliable and unproductive as ‘pure fiction’.  Coote and Lyall suggest that ‘people hardly ever choose to be in or out of work’, something determined by the wider economy.  They add that Osborne’s comments ignore the legion of unpaid carers at home and in the community without whom ‘the economy would grind to a halt’ (Ibid). 

Call for Irish Ban on Imports from Israeli Settlements

An Irish parliamentary committee is to call for a ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories following a presentation by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade unanimously agreed to write to the Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, ‘calling for a national ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements’. In its presentation to the committee, EAPPI described the settlements as the ‘biggest barrier to peace’ in the region. 

According to the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, there are 124 settlements in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) with 501,856 settlers living in the West Bank and 190,425 in East Jerusalem. In a Parliamentary Briefing in June this year, the Quakers described settlements as ’illegal under international law, a major cause of poverty amongst Palestinians and an obstacle to peace’. Like the EAPPI in Ireland, the Quakers in Britain have called for a ban on imports from settlements saying that ‘it is the role of governments to protect the consumer from purchasing goods from an illegal source and so is calling on the UK Government to impose a ban’. 

Haneen Zoabi: A politician worth voting for

In this part of the world we have become accustomed to politicians rushing to the aid of ailing bankers or filing expense claims for fictitious second mortgages. In the case of MP Douglas Hogg, this was taken to the extreme of procuring public funds for the maintenance of his moat. In the wake of the expenses scandal at Westminster, Transparency International, the body that fights corruption in public life around the world, found that it had ‘grievously undermined the legitimacy of parliament’ and severely dented public confidence in their representatives. In Ireland, the recently published Mahon Tribunal (March 2012) established to investigate corruption in the planning process found that corruption was ‘endemic and systemic’ and ‘affected every level of Irish political life’ (Irish Times, 24 March 2012). 

The United States' Blockade of Cuba 50 Years On

Last November, for the 20th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly condemned the United States’ economic blockade of Cuba by a massive majority of 186 votes to just two (Israel voting with the US). Rarely has the US been so clearly isolated and diplomatically embarrassed on the international stage as nations of all political stripes have called for this anachronistic piece of legislation to be finally repealed. 

The blockade is the longest and most restrictive set of sanctions ever imposed by one country on another and has been condemned by Amnesty International for limiting Cubans’ economic and social rights ‘affecting in particular the most vulnerable sectors of society’. The blockade denies access to food, educational and medical equipment, hindering Cuba’s world renowned public health programme. For example, in 2011 the US confiscated $4.2 million awarded to Cuba from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. 

The blockade has also caused extensive damage to the Cuban economy with Havana estimating the trading and commercial penalties exacted by the US at $975 billion to the end of December 2010. This is a devastating loss of income for a small developing country of 11 million people but the blockade’s remit extends beyond Cuba through its extraterritorial provisions to penalise companies which have trading links with the island. Just last year, the Dutch ABN Bank was fined an exorbitant $500 million for making ‘unauthorized’ financial transactions in the interest of Cuba or Cuban nationals. 

The United States also limits the rights of its own citizens through the blockade by violating their constitutional rights to travel to Cuba. To date, only academic, educational, cultural and religious trips are authorized and they require a special permit. This denies many Cuban Americans the right to return to their country of origin and visit relatives and friends. 

Development Education and the Global Financial Crisis: How do we respond?

The collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank in the United States in 2008 signalled what has arguably become the world’s deepest recession since the Wall Street crash of 1929.  And this has been a truly global economic downturn, with rich as well as poor countries, facing into a headwind of austerity and unemployment.   For instance, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has just released a report which found that unemployment has risen in two-thirds of European countries since 2010 as growth has flat-lined and employment opportunities dried up.

The economic slowdown has arguably been most pronounced in Western economies tied to strident forms of neoliberalism that have asserted the power of markets to generate growth and ‘raise all ships’ in a general sea of prosperity.   No Western European country embraced the neo-liberal model more than Ireland, which from the late 1990s to 2007, was lauded as an economic tyro dubbed the ‘Celtic Tiger’.  The Celtic Tiger was driven by inward investment by multinational corporations, mostly from the US, engaged in production for export markets in growth sectors like information technology.  However, a combination of lax regulation of the financial sector, a low tax regime for investors, a credit bubble in the housing market and a corrupt political class in league with bankers, speculators and builders saw Ireland’s economic miracle turn to dust.  Ireland’s worst economic fears were realised when, in 2010, it agreed an €85 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank to recapitalise its banks.  What was once the ‘poster child for neo-liberalism’ was recently described by David Begg, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, as the ‘poster child for austerity’.

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