Category Archives: Ban bus Ireland

Belfast

I was talked out and very tired and Mette rolled on down the road towards Belfast. It was late and we all just wanted a bed for the night. I found myself feeling quite strange as Belfast drew nearer. I had done a little time there during the troubles in either 1989 or 1990, I can’t remember. It was very tense and wet and grey and intimidating. Then, I felt that what ever I did I was going to get hurt. Sectarianism and the violence that surrounds it is a very volatile situation. You just don’t know who is who and what is really going on. I was also 20 years younger then and walking across the cracks of society was not as instinctive as it is now.

It was leading up to Christmas and there was random violence that was basically aimed at destabilising the Christmas period. A few shop bombings accompanied by the usual knee cappings and killing was the norm then. On top of this were British army patrols that were primed to explode at anything that went out of the ordinary. I was basically wandering the streets following the sounds of sirens to get the odd shot of any aftermaths from this violence.

Meeting preparationsAn old friend in Australia came from a strong Republican family and many of his relatives and brothers were in jail. He wanted nothing to do with any of this and got out and headed for a new life in Australia. Although he was well out of what was going on he was still well connected.

I contacted him before I came over and told him what I wanted to do and asked if he could connect me. His answer was short and to the point.

“They are all fuckin mad over there, stay away from it. It will only do you no good.”

As I was still keen he finally agreed to connect me with some people who could maybe get me approved to shoot some photos in the Republican areas. I had the numbers to call in my pocket and made the calls. I was heavily grilled on the phone and asked to call back in a few hours. I did and they agreed to see me. A pub in Falls Road was chosen and I arrived early. No need to say how they would recognise me as I just didn’t fit in here at all.

I walked to the bar and ordered a Guinness and no sooner had the bar tender walked away when I was picked up by my head and dragged with feet off the ground by someone. I was choking and gagging as he flung me against the wall.

“Who the fuck are you and what the fuck are you doing here?”

I babbled at full speed as someone made some phone calls. Finally the pressure eased a bit and the gorilla who had me pinned against the wall loosened his grip a bit.

“Ok, Sean is coming but if you film this, I’ll kill you and if you do that, I’ll fucking kill you and if you do something else then we’ll smash your knees. Now get up off the ground and I’ll buy you a pint”.

Point taken and absolute fear injected into my very soul.

I wandered Belfast for awhile and shot the odd shot and got bailed up more times than I care to remember by everyone from Republicans, Loyalists, Unionists and the British Army. Finally I was bashed in the face while just walking along the street.

“Fuckin news c…t!” was screamed in my face and they walked on.

I was fast becoming sick of this place and it could all go to hell as far as I was concerned. There were other jobs to do around the world and Northern Ireland could burn in its own mire for all I cared.

It was a weird feeling to now return to a place that I had a tough time in and really had no connection with. I just felt it was a place of anger and aggression.

The drive towards Belfast became better and better with new freeways feeding us into the city. Our GPS girl was behaving nicely and giving us the proper lefts and rights till we came off the freeway and into Divis street. This was familiar territory to me but I never would have recognised an inch of it. Belfast looked great. In the nineteen year gap and the years of peace they had managed to redevelop Belfast nicely. Bright lights bathed the nightclub set as they wandered from bar to bar. Many of the big retail names were here and it looked like any other capital city.

As we drove towards our hotel we passed many a spot I remembered like the Crown pub but it all fitted into a normal city and wasn’t something from the dark side. Belfast had been reborn.

Our hotel was just past Queens University to the south of the city centre. It was only a few hundred metres from the tiny guest house I had stayed in all those years ago. We parked the Ban Bus, checked in and went to bed.

The following day I was to speak at the Stormont. This is the parliament of Northern Ireland. Luckily the talk wasn’t till one o’clock so there was time for a gentle start to the day. Getting into any parliament is a coup at any time and getting to brief MP’s is a special connection. The general assembly this wasn’t going to be but a side briefing in the media conference room was still good. Amnesty had pulled off another good connection.

It wasn’t a huge crowd by any means but we had a representative from all the main parties. They had each been sent to gain the information we had to spread then feed it back to their parties.

Side meeting at Stormont for parliametarians
Like most politicians they are in the business of governance and not overly concerned with details. They take a broad view of any topic then move on. It was my job to hopefully batter them out of their complacency. I knew it was to be short so it had to be sharp. I started firing information at them in a fast an aggressive way. So far so good and as I got to talking about the victims of cluster bombs I could see it was beginning to hit a chord with them. These could be their children.

I got to the end with only one MP leaving just before the end but I’d had a good talk to him before I began so that was not too bad. The rest had some surprisingly good substantial questions then the place was empty. We wandered the back corridor’s of the Stormont and as we were waiting for Mette to take a pit stop the doors at the end opened and none other than the Reverend Ian Paisley walked with his minders. I thought this was a good time to try and button hole him for a talk about clusters.

He ambled down the corridor flanked by his minders and I got eye contact with him. His head went back down and they pressed on by. The minders had that very definite look of not now, we won’t let you to him.

Amnesty and The Ban BusIn another forum you push on in but in a parliament you do have to have a little decorum. We had a little debrief with Patrick and Fionna from Amnesty International and decided that the briefing was a good success. Patrick and Fionna do a lot of this kind of political lobbying and in comparison to other presentations they felt we had done well as the MP’s had stayed engaged, interested and had asked good questions.

A couple of photos later we headed back to the hotel till the afternoons presentation was due at Queens University. Mette wanted some really good photos of the Ban Bus at the Stormont so she and Raechel headed back with it to see what they could do.

Mette is the mistress of charm and has the extraordinary ability to talk her way into anywhere anytime. Once you have left parliament and the security area you then have no right to return. This meant nothing to Mette and as usual, she talked her way past the security and before they knew it, Mette was doing laps of the roundabout and Raechel was taking photos.

The Ban Bus at Stormont in Belfast

Queens University is a magnificent place with dramatic gothic architecture. The day was perfect and we were hoping for a good turn out of students and activists so we set up in a lecture room. Mette and Raechel hit the streets again and started interviewing every passer by. On the side of the university they were having trouble getting people to stop and talk till they realised that something special was happening in Belfast. It was a beautiful day. The other side of the street was in full sun and they were in the shade. Why would you stand in the shade and talk if you could be in the sun? They crossed the road.

The mood instantly changed and many were quite happy to stop and chat and give their comments about cluster bombs. The Irish are in general a very friendly lot and it seems anywhere you go they are up for a chat or craic. Good craic, a good chat.

It’s a perfect piece of Vox Popli or the peoples voice.

“So Sir, what do you think about the international use of cluster bombs and do you think they should be banned?”

Why is that only we actually ask what people think? It should be the very nature of being a politician. Ask the people how they would like to be represented then act on it. A very novel idea in the so called democratic world.

As they got their interviews piece by piece I met the various students who came for the talk. These were people who would hopefully engage in the issue. There is noting more passionate than a student activist.

I was starting to feel a little like a broken record as I launched into the presentation. The most important thing is no matter how you feel you can’t wear that on your sleeve. The people who we choose to represent from cluster affected countries deserve our best job and only our best job ever. Nothing more, nothing less. The talk went well and many stayed around for a few extra words and some ideas on what they could do and how to get involved. These are the people we really need.

Belfast has been short, fast and productive but on the road we must go so we packed up and headed west again to Derry or Londonderry or umm, I know someone will get upset no matter what I say so I might as well settle for what is at the entrance, The Walled City.

North

It was time to head north and to talk to the people of Northern Ireland. The next week would all be about pounding the pavement up there and getting to as many groups as possible. We loaded up the Ban Bus and hit the road. The next time we would be back in Dublin will be the day before the negotiations begin.

As Dublin traffic is a constant traffic jam it was nice to be leaving in the quiet of a Sunday morning. We decided to take the scenic route north so as to not just be dashing across motor ways from point to point. For some reason our GPS gets silly when you ask it to calculate a long distance so we broke it down to town to town. It seemed so much happier. The voice coming out of it even seemed more relaxed.

John Rodsted talking cluster bombs on the phone
The drive into the centre of Ireland was beautiful and very green. It’s so green in Ireland it’s almost luminescent. This is a colour that’s gentle on my eyes as Australia has been in drought for so long and a parched and dusty land is the norm there.

As we wound our way from the highways to the byways we started to enter areas that were recently notorious as hot spots of the troubles. Enniskillen, Omagh and ahead was Derry to some, Londonderry to others. The Good Friday agreement from ten years ago brought about a slow but precise movement towards a functional peace in Northern Ireland. There has been nothing easy about the process but it has progressed in this decade. The region is getting much safer and place names that rang with fear of sectarian violence are now becoming normal rural communities again. I always find being in a place many years after a war has ended interesting as you can really measure the progress to peace or in some cases, the lack of it.

Orlaith, Naoisi and Meadhbh from Letterkenny Our first stop in the north was to Letterkenny and a series of talks organised by the local Amnesty group. The local coordinator was Mary and she didn’t just open her community to us but her home and family too. This is one of the bonuses of this project that we do get to meet some very special people. They are special because they have chosen to lead an active life that engages in public debate and is conscience based. Mary and her friends form opinions and they act on them. This is the greatest act as they participate in society. There is no apathy here.

Mary fed us a wonderful dinner and after a walk with the kids and dogs we talked about life and civil society and the challenges faced by all to build a better world. This is not idealism but people who see problems with the world and look for active ways to move it forward.

The next morning Mary had us lined up to speak at the local Irish school. These schools conduct their curriculum in the Irish language so you get both an education and a connection in a rich culture that refuses to die or be moulded into some homogeneous society. I always like talking to schools as these kids will be the movers and shakers of the future. The talk is not too hard core but it’s not soft and fluffy either. It’s simply what goes on in cluster bomb affected countries. The good and the bad are all here but what I like the most with the kids is their simple understanding of what is fair and what is not. It all boils down to basic justice issues. Is it fair to use a weapon system that by its very nature will leave a permanent dangerous legacy? They answer no in unison. Why isn’t international diplomacy based on simple human understandings like this? What is it in the process of ageing that clouds our judgements with multiple agendas?

The kids were left with a feeling of outrage at what was happening in nations affected by cluster bombs and took the information and petitions and said they would follow through on it.

Mette in the castle orchardWe drove out of Letterkenny towards Milford and found a national park near by with a stately home and gardens in it. Glenveagh was built in the 1870’s but was built in the style of an old castle and keep. We took the short diversion to it and it was nice just to stretch the legs and walk around the beautiful gardens.

Castle GlenveaghOur afternoon presentation was to be to another school in a town a few miles to the north in Milford. Again the connection was through Amnesty contacts. Finola was a teacher of business studies with a strong social conscience. She wanted to instil a strong social ethic in her students and break through that adolescent apathy that exists in most teenagers. She had lobbied with the school and other teachers to get to as many pupils as possible and three classes crammed into a small science lecture room for the talk. We are not above bribery and the offerings of badges, stickers and other information went over really well. I worked my way yet again through the issue and some stunned and shocked looks came back to me as the story unfolded. That same old feeling of injustice crept in and they were left with a desire to get involved.

Finola, Mette and John: Ban cluster bombs!We now had a few spare hours till our third presentation of the day in the parish hall that evening. Finola insisted she take us for a drive to see the northern beaches and coast road. This was a really welcome distraction as doing these presentations is quite a mental strain and after each one I feel quite drained.

The northern beach area is beautiful and it reminded me of beaches in the south east of Australia. It wasn’t a pebble beach but a long winding strip of sand with tussock sand dunes rimming it. Mette can’t go to any beach without swimming no matter how cold it is and before we knew it she was dashing into the frigid waters. Vikings! They are a hardy mob.

As we strolled along the almost deserted beach we talked global history and the actions of civil society and how a single person or community can make a difference to the big picture. A quote that always comes to my mind is ‘All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing’. What we want to do is to motivate as many good people as possible.

Ban Bus talk in Letterkenny church We headed back to Letterkenny and Mary had a great dinner on the table for us, a good bit of fuel before the evenings talk to be followed by a long drive.

This talk was to the members of the local Amnesty group and anyone else interested from the town and parish. Along with the audience came two of the local priest’s. The church in Ireland is very important and they have excellent connections into all levels of Irish society. It’s amazing what contacts come out with a chat to a priest.

The local bandI started my third talk for the day and as usual, the response from the people was very strong. It was simply another group of people who were now connected to the problem and wanted to become part of the solution. A little glimpse into another window to a world I hope they never experience first hand. After the presentation we stood around and chatted to the people. A great old local character was Alphonso. He was an old civil rights and peace campaigner from way back. I’ve no idea how old he must be I feel it is definitely in his eighties. He rode his bike to the meeting and was moved by what he saw and as I finished the talking he disappeared. About a half hour later he returned and had made us a present. He had woven a kind of crown of thorns with a Celtic peace cross across the middle. It was made from spring Hawthorn and reeds. He had just dashed out, found the materials and woven it together. This was a really moving gift and it took pride of place in the van.

It was finally time to take the two or more hour drive to Belfast and start the whole process again. The Ban Bus hit the road.
Letterkenny Church

Diplomatic hyprocracy

A real irony was one of the points of concern from some governments. They complained that during the final day’s position statements there was clapping for countries who made good strong statements calling for a total ban. One of the most vocal to complain of this was the Canadian diplomat Earl Turcotte. He made a very strong attack on this in his closing statement and in general about NGO inclusion. Sadly he was an NGO himself before he joined government and used to be a strong supporter of the actions of civil society. How ones morals change once they join government and take the government wage packet. The irony came when we reviewed the filming from within the final meeting – here was the Canadian delegation clapping for some statements – so their complaints can only be seen as a cynical attempt to have us locked out. Oh the games and lengths that governments will go to to make sure this process stays behind closed doors.
Princess of Wales memorial Fund

The night the Wellington conference finished the NGO community had a get together at a local boat shed and who should turn up thinking he was still a bit of an NGO? None other than Earl. I was amazed no one tossed him in the harbour.

There is a sad cowardice from some governments that try to look like they are doing the right thing then do their damnedest to undermine a strong treaty. This seems to be particularly popular tactic from the likes of most of the problem European countries and Australia. They are often referred to as trying to look ‘good but, smell bad’.

The Australians fall within this category along with Germany, the UK and a handful of others. They call themselves ‘The Like Minded’ group and are doing a lot of work to create a strong treaty for everyone except themselves. They have a vested interest in the treaty having holes that will allow no cluster bombs, except theirs, or not to be able to use them, but allowing their military allies to use them. If these exceptions are included then the treaty will be very weak in a practical sense and the next war will be a Déjà vu of the last one.

Ban Bus on the road
So much of the nature of diplomacy is to have a long winded talk fest that ends in status quo. This is a common outcome from many a UN meeting. They come, they talk, they congratulate each other, they drink the free cocktails and they agree to disagree. Such is the nature of much so called diplomacy. This process must be different.

The argument about interoperability is an interesting one. The governments that want exceptions on degrees of use are trying to cloud the negotiations with a myriad of ‘but what if’s’. If a weapon system is deemed unacceptable and is banned then how can you argue for an exception of use under certain partnerships. An easy way to look at this is to replace the term ‘cluster bomb’ with terms like ‘poison gas’ or ‘torture’.

If a coalition partner country decides to torture people do we agree with them doing this? Of course not. If a coalition partner decides to use poison gas in a conflict then do we agree to this? No. So why is a treaty that’s to ban cluster bombs different? You can not decree a weapon is unacceptable then have loopholes and exceptions for use under certain conditions. The treaty must not be half cocked. It’s like being half dead or a little bit pregnant. You are either dead, pregnant or have a strong treaty. Nothing more and nothing less.

The process to create this treaty has come to be known as the Oslo Process. It’s a copy of the landmine treaty from eleven years ago and then it was known as the Ottawa Process. It’s a method of creating a treaty that is totally outside of any United Nations treaty process. The big difference lies between a process of opt in or consensus.

The United Nations treaties are treaties of consensus. This means that the world will come together at a conference to attempt to deal with an issue. They will talk about it over a week or so in very neutral and diplomatic ways and then if they all agree a treaty might emerge. The problem lies in that they all must agree. If someone doesn’t like it then all bets are off and the treaty will not go ahead. That is consensus. Unfortunately there is rarely any consensus.

The Oslo Process works differently. It’s an opt in process. The aim is to convene an international meeting and invite the world to come and talk. Over a series of meetings all the issues relating to a treaty are worked through. Finally the last meeting will be the treaty creation itself. This will normally take a few weeks of hard core legal word battling through the text that will become the final legal document. Finally a treaty will be the end result and then all nations will be encouraged to sign it. Normally it will not be open for signing till many months after the treaty text has been created. This will give all countries the chance to go back to their capital cities and digest the responsibility of the treaty.

This is the process that was created and followed in 1997 that became the Landmine Ban Treaty. It’s the same process that we are following now in the creation of this treaty. Since 1997 we went from few countries being interested in a treaty to now 156. That’s a massive success and even the few countries that have not signed are virtually not using, selling or manufacturing landmines. Now that is a success in progress.

This is what we want to do now. Fight through the process for a strong and field focused functional treaty and then work on the universalisation of it. That’s to say, educate all the countries of the world about the problem of cluster bombs and get them to sign onto the treaty. This is not an overnight way to make a treaty but it’s the best way to make a strong treaty. With a choice of this method or the UN method, this method is designed to achieve a positive outcome and actually be successful.

Treaty worries

The coordinator of CMC has just sent around an email re the various upcoming logistics for the conference and our first fear has been realised. There will largely be an NGO lock out of the proceedings. This is a disaster for the issue of transparency as the debates will be now held out of the public eye and behind closed doors. The opening and closing ceremonies will be open and there will be a video link so the meeting of the whole can be viewed from outside but the side meetings which is where the various texts of the treaties will be thrashed out will be closed. In each meeting they will only allow four representatives of the CMC to be present. This is a victory for countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany who were very uncomfortable with the physical presence of NGO’s actually being in the room and seeing how the process would unfold. They were very concerned with the transparency of the procedure in Wellington and we heard that a great deal of pressure was put on the Irish government to lock civil society out to a large degree.

This tactic was highly expected but we were hoping that the Irish government would have stood tough on such an important issue. The same pressure was put of the chairs and hosts of the previous meetings in Vienna and Wellington and those governments resisted NGO exclusion.

Are NGOs alarmed and should they now be requesting to be on their countries delegation in order to ensure civil society’s presence and a fully transparent procedure?

Galway

Galway ban cluster bombsWe drove into Galway and rang our local contact Sarah. She is a really bright spark of a person and explodes with great ideas and good energy. Nothing is a problem and she takes multitasking to new dimensions. As we were driving into town she gave us a series of lefts and rights until we nearly drove into her as she was walking her dog. Our first impressions of Sarah were wrong as a high energy person. She is twice as speedy as I first thought and lives every second in hyper drive. It’s dizzying to watch but I am always in awe of those who just keep powering on and getting things done. I wish I could muster 20% of what she has.

Pint in GalwayWe dumped our gear in the hotel and went for a walk around the town in search of a cleansing pint of Guinness, for our health of course. Galway is a really vibrant west coast town of about 80,000 people. There is a really strong arts community here and as we sat and drank we met many people. Sarah seemed connected deeply into this community on so many levels. She seemed to have a few guiding rules like, don’t ask permission but just say sorry once the police arrive and complaining people are just background noise. These simple philosophies have buffered her well against the nay sayers to all her various enterprises.

Tomorrow nights talk was to be held at the city Museum and a meeting with the director was scheduled for the morning so we headed in our different directions till then.

The director was certainly under Sarah’s spell as she cheekily referred to the space as her Museum. He was pro active too and wanted all manner of events to be held at the museum. If it’s always changing and vibrant then the people will come. Every request that we had was met with a sure, why not, I can’t see a problem with that, whatever you need. I was now starting to think I’d stepped into a time machine and landed in a place where they keep all the exceptionally nice people. Galway is great.

We invaded the place with a temporary exhibition and our huge outdoor banners stretched along the outside of the museum and Mette and Raechel spun their charms and started talking to every pedestrian that passed by. The Ban Bus had arrived in Galway and was making its presence felt.

Aine Bonner and John Rodsted at Galway MuseumTonight’s presentation was to be Aine Bonner and myself. Aine is a young Dublin journalist who got her teeth stuck into the issue of governmental ethical investment. In particular she started looking into the investment of the national pension fund and the arms industry. As she investigated her leads with the pain staking detail of a detective she found a mire of money woven deeply into the arms industry. As she dug deeper she discovered alarming fact after alarming fact that turned so much of the pensions fund into blood money. Cross checks between when wars were actively being fought and an increase in profits began to emerge. War was obviously good for business and positive for getting the best return from your investments in the arms industry.

She went deeper and began to dissect exactly where the funds were invested and into what weapon systems they were supporting till finally she found that 27 million euro was directly invested in the manufacture of cluster bombs. This was a national scandal as Ireland had put their hands up to be a leading country in a ban of these weapons. A major feature article was published and the lid was off these grubby little secrets. The government was caught out and embarrassed. This is the kind of journalism that takes passion and dedication to follow through. She had done it and her research now demanded answers.

Ban cluster bombs talk in Galway MuseumThis investigation is forcing the Irish government to look closely at their pensions fund and start paying attention to principals of ethical investment. This is not a first for governments and industry and there was a great precedent with the Norwegian pension fund. This is the national bank account from the Norwegian oil industry and like the Irish pension fund it’s invested all over the globe for maximum return on their money. Unlike the Irish fund the Norwegians have an ethical board of advisers and investigators who closely look to where this fund is invested. They simply scrutinise every transaction and make sure that there is no investment in blood industries.

This example and others is forcing the Irish government to re-examine their investments and pull funds out of the tainted companies. The power of a few and the focus of one had made a change in Irish history.

By the late afternoon we had the ground floor of the museum well and truly invaded with cluster bomb information and pictures and were ready to go. All we needed now was an audience. One or two wandered in and began chatting to each other. Aine was very nervous as she is a writer and not used to public speaking. I think she would have preferred a knife fight with a pack of drunks than doing this but here she was and soon the stage would be hers.

I stepped away from the non crowd and sorted out my computer and data projector and got a good image up and when I re-emerged there was a buzzing crowd and all the seats were full. This was a great start and it really does make your enthusiasm soar.

Aine and I took the stage and I launched into my talk. There was a little agitation at the start which is normal but as I got into the depth of the subject that soon died away. The enormity of the cluster bomb problem quickly sank in and a collective sense of outrage soon grew in the crowd. The history, the impact on normal lives, the different arguments both true and false, the legacy left behind that destroys any future for any community affected by these weapons was all laid bare till I’d began speaking of the political solution. This is the pass to Aine. I stepped aside and she was on. I got a flash of terror in her eyes as she stood to the microphone and I sat down then she was away.

A tiny quaver was in her voice as she began her talk. That lasted about five seconds and then she was away with talking about a subject that she was passionate about. Her nerves were gone and one fact after then next rolled off her tongue as she explained the depths that she had gone to investigate the investment issue. The audience was engrossed as this directly affected them and they wanted to know more.

We finally finished the talk with some simple asks. First, form an opinion and second, get involved. We then opened for questions. There were a few who wanted to soap box themselves so at that it was time to wind it up and on to the next location. We hit a pub in town for a relaxing pint or two. The road would lead us out of town in the morning and back to Dublin to pick up our new ordered gear till we then headed north for the whole of next week.

What is hard about coming to Ireland and doing an advocacy project like this is that everyone seems to be deeply political and no one trusts the government. As soon as I get to the part of the talk that addresses Ireland as a key player in this treaty process I am met with general disbelief. They all feel that Ireland will buckle at the end and allow for many of the concerns of governments that are hostile to the treaty to be heard. That is only speculation at this point and for now we must give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them to chair an open and inclusive process.

Limerick

Ban Bus in LimrickThe next day took us across the country to Limerick and a talk at the University. Mette drove the bus and Raechel filmed while I write and sorted the talk. The organiser was a guy called Edward and he was a real civil society campaigner. He realised that the local airport was being used for US troop transporting to Iraq and Afghanistan and set about creating a local protest group that picketed the airport and other actions. Part of their reasoning was that Ireland was a neutral country so should not have been assisting the US in any way in their conduct of this war. Many of them had been arrested and they had even managed to get through the fences and damage some planes. These people were real activists with a huge social conscience and they weren’t just talkers but doers.

Ed HorganEdward organised a lecture room at the University and advertised broadly around the campus. We arrived and set up our banners and pictures and Mette worked the campus grounds talking to whoever she could collar for a conversation about cluster bombs. The hour for the talk arrived and a steady flow of people came in till we had a full house. I was as primed for this as I could be and launched into a fast and aggressive history of the international use of cluster bombs. The affect on the audience was immediate and people were incredulous that these weapons were not banned years before. As I bounced from one issue to the next the engagement completed with people wanting to get involved. We steered them to the Irish coalition and urged them to follow through on the campaign till the treaty was concluded in three weeks time. The clock was definitely ticking and people were coming to the issue. This is why outreach work is so important.

Ban Bus at Shannon AirportAfter the talk Edward wanted us to come with him to Shannon Airport which is the site used by the US military and their troop flights to Iraq and secret CIA movements. He had been barred, banned and arrested while being anywhere near the airport but still he was not intimidated by any of this. We dumped his car in an industrial carpark and drove him into the airport in the Ban Bus. Now one thing about the Ban Bus is that it is not exactly subtle with all of the very large signage. A stealth vehicle we are not and now we had the local super campaigner in the front seat navigating. What could possibly go wrong, besides arrest that is.

We cruised the perimeter looking at planes and looking to see if there were any military aircraft or secret unmarked ones. On this occasion there were none but if it wasn’t for the vigilance of people like Edward, then no one would have known about the secret CIA rendition flights. He and his group had spent many weeks watching every aircraft movement through Shannon and cross checking their information with an international network doing the same thing. This way they could cross check aircraft movements and build travel lists of many of these flights. It’s just one of the many ways to look into the secret way this so called war on terror was being conducted.

We took a photo outside of the airport terminal then it was time to load up and head north to Galway. We dropped Edward at his car and parted company at the freeway split.

The west of Ireland is beautiful and now it was bathed in warm afternoon sun. The flicker of the light through the trees has a slightly hypnotising strobe affect on the senses and makes you dream of other things. I was thinking about the upcoming treaty negotiations and what pressure that we as civil society could really put on the worlds governments. I knew one thing for sure, it was not going to be easy.

The Ban Bus decorated!!!

The logistics were coming together well and Mette went out to get the new signage for the Ban Bus. We waited for the transformation from blue mini bus to something more spectacular. The wait lasted all afternoon till Mette walked into the flat with a grin.

“What’s it like,” we asked?
“Oh, it’s ok I suppose,” said she.

The Ban Bus decoratedWe traipsed down stairs to the car park and found an absolute transformation. The bus looked fantastic with every panel covered in magnetic signage. There was absolutely no mistaking as to who we were and what we were to be doing. All of the design work of Mette’s had really paid off and despite the initial hic ups when the company made normal stickers, the end result on magnetic sheeting looked amazing. They even matched the colour of the van with the background of the magnetic sheets and you would swear the van had been spray painted. We were now fully fitted and ready to hit the road

Camera girl arrives

Phonix park
Sunday came and we grabbed a few hours off to go for a bike ride in Phoenix Park. The park is huge and in the middle of Dublin. It’s so big you could seriously get lost there. The really special character of the park is it has herds of wild deer wandering free. We found a large herd and quietly stalked them. They were so used to being safe and not interfered with by people that they couldn’t care less about our presence. They grazed about and wandered from place to place happily while we took a few photographs.

Ireland is doing well economically and they have put a lot of effort into issues like bike paths and public transport. The bus lanes on most major roads are sacred to public transport while the car lanes are choked with the result of the boom. The boom has created an affluent middle class where now everyone has a car. This rapid boom has put so many cars into a road system that is struggling that the end result are some horror traffic jams.

Our friend Raechel arrived this night too from New Zealand. She will be working with us doing some filming of the whole Ban Bus and treaty process. The footage will be used in a variety of ways as pool for media but a prime outlet is You Tube.

She called from the airport that she had landed but her bags were lost. That is the ultimate drag after over 30 hours of travelling. It’s very cheesy to be in the same clothes after so long in a plane and then after a refreshing shower changing back into the same cheesy undies. The airline, BMI, was totally disinterested and said that they had lost many bags today and they would get them to her when they finally had time. On their website they promised all sorts of responsibilities but in practice delivered none. Finally after lots of calls they said the bag would arrive by 11 pm the next day. We stayed in with the phones on a waited. Nothing. We tried calling but no one there. Another day gone. The next morning Raechel rang again and got the same amazing customer service. She stuck to her guns and finally had them agree to find her bag and deliver it by mid day. We waited again. Mid day came and went and still no bags. She rang again to no avail till finally a courier dropped them off in the early afternoon. A happy girl emerged from the shower with clean clothes and feeling like new.

Piecing it all together

Dublin is definitely a city with its own character. It’s truly Irish in all ways and not a homogenised society. So many capital cities are no different from the next capital besides the language. Although there are many peoples from many nations here they all seems to soak a large amount of Irishness.

O\' DonoghuesThe River Liffey that flows through Dublin is tidal and rises and falls every few hours. It seems we are right at the point of equilibrium between tidal rise and the flow of the river and we get a great view of the ‘garbage wars’ that take place when the tide peaks. A heap of garbage is pushed up stream by the incoming tide while more garbage floating down stream collides with the tidal rubbish. It spins and swirls then all join the flow as once again the tide and river head for the sea as one. Its not that the Liffey has any more garbage than any other city river it’s just that it all gets compressed in front of our flat for an hour or two each day.

Rae rang and wants to meet us at a pub near Phoenix Park. We head out and trawl the streets looking for the pub. Finally we call him and his directions have been completely confused and we are at the wrong end of Dublin. He had meant to say near St Stephens Green and not Phoenix Park. Taxi time. The taxi driver was an older guy from Summer Hill and the whole way to the pub told us how much he liked to fight at the football or pub or anywhere.

Irish folk music“Jus dive on in an av a poke and dig at any ol’ skull. Oh I love it I love it I do” he says.

We pay him and ask for a receipt and he pulls all of his receipts off the roll and says, “Help ya selves to one a deez.”

We tear off the bottom one and Mette notices that the next one was from a month and a half before. He’s truly been working the Dublin untraceable cash society.

The pub is jumping and has been jumping since 1739. It’s called O’Donoughues and is quite a local institution. Small, packed and loads of Guinness passing across the bar and three musicians belting out some Irish music. The atmosphere is alive and soon we are slopping down a pint and yelling at each other over the music and crowd. The musicians are great and swap instruments between them. There is no shyness here as spontaneously the crowd breaks into chorus with them as they belt out another Irish folk gem. A couple of American tourists wander in and just don’t seem comfortable with the closeness and intensity of this place. It’s a place where you push and are pushed, all spilling Guinness over each other.

John Rodsted and Rae McGrathWhen the musicians took a break I went and had a chat with them and told them about The Ban Bus and the treaty negotiations coming up in a few weeks. Would they be interested in playing at something associated with the conference and the NGO’s? Andy played guitar and banjo and loved the idea of getting involved. Maybe we can network through these guys into the Dublin music scene and get a Cailly happening. A Cailly is basically an Irish jam session and they are so full of fun and life it would be a great party maker at the end of these negotiations. The network is building and if you want to campaign about anything then hit the streets and start talking to everyone. It’s amazing who will get involved with a cause like this.

Kilkenny

The Ban Bus tours Kilkenny CastleAfter the nights chat with the Dublin Anti War Movement, it was time to head south to Kilkenny to do a public presentation. We had been in contact with a passionate campaigner called Guy who ran and organisation called the Irish Lebanese Cultural Foundation. He’s a Lebanese man married to an Irish woman called Christine and they had coordinated all sorts of cultural and aid projects to Lebanon. Kilkenny has a large Irish army base there and many a soldier had served in Lebanon as a peace keeper. I was amazed to hear that the Irish army had been in Lebanon for 23 years. That must be some kind of record for staying involved and engaged.

With such a close connection between these troops and Lebanon it made it an obvious choice for a talk on cluster bombs. Guy really worked his connections well and sent out over 300 personal invitations to teachers, the military and local politicians. Many a reply was given that they would come and it all was looking like a good audience would be in attendance.

We headed out of Dublin towards Kilkenny and discovered the nightmare of a badly programmed GPS. All the way this woman’s voice just gave us the worst directions, turn left, turn right, turn around, everywhere except to where we needed to go. It was driving us nuts so the most useful thing was the off button. We finally had another go at reprogramming it and found the original direction was to the middle of a field about 200 km away. Not very useful. The adventure ended with us arriving at the hotel we had booked and guy came over to meet us.

There are a few people who impress you at first meeting but Guy did. He was quietly motivated to create understanding between Lebanon and Ireland and this was his motivation to get us to come down and talk about cluster bombs. We headed to the location for the talk and set up our materials, data projector, bomb clearance gear, information, badges, stickers and some T-shirts. All was ready for the 7.30 start.

Kilkenny meeting participantsThe allotted time came, and then it went and we found ourselves standing in an empty room. Not a good omen for the rest of the night. In a few minutes the two men arrived and then a woman. We all looked a little sheepishly at each other and there was a distinct discomfort at the lack of an audience. We waited 15 minutes and still no more people came so I broke into the talk. These few folk had come to find out more about cluster bombs and find out they would form me. I don’t care if its only one person who comes as they have shown the interest in the issue and they wanted more information.

It felt a little awkward to begin with but once we had all moved our chairs in together and introduced ourselves, the awkwardness disappeared. The talk works through the whole problem with cluster bombs from so called military utility to the catastrophic legacy that is left behind. It builds the nightmare that was inflicted on the people of Laos in the 1960’s and 1970’s and threads through all the major conflicts from then till now and ends in the madness of Lebanon two years ago. The one thing that binds all of these wars together is the terrible legacy that cluster bombs leave behind. Laos has that sad distinction of being the worlds most heavily bombed country and we finally ended up in Lebanon with 4 million cluster bombs being dropped in the last 3 days of the conflict.

The stories that have the most impact are the tales of Krouch Kin in Cambodia who had just lost her husband to a 40 year old cluster bomb and Tzanga Mana in Eritrea who was trying to hide them so that the children wouldn’t play with them. These are the stories that hit the ordinary humanity of the problem. Again, the few who were here were being deeply affected and were holding back tears.

As I was winding the talk down, in came two more guys who had been watching the football. They were laughing and joking at the match. It then ended up that this was our problem, the football final on TV between Chelsea and Liverpool. They were and hour late but as we talked they were interested in the problem of cluster bombs. Oh well, as they came and have shown the interest then find out they will. I launched into the whole discussion again.

At the end we sat and chatted as we packed up our gear. Our audience may have been small but is was quality. The late guy was the mayor of Kilkenny and his friend another counsellor. They were really inspired to get involved and were going to take the issue to council and try and have Kilkenny declared a cluster bomb free area. Another woman who came was ex army and she wanted to really push the issue through the ex service personnel associations. Our night in Kilkenny may have been small but it was definitely a quality crowd.

The road from KilkennyWe drove back to Dublin the flowing day and completed the preparations for when The Ban Bus hit the road on a more permanent basis.

The following day Mette went to the company that was doing the printing of signage for the Bus. The designs were ok and she was leaving the Bus with them to fit the magnetic panels to the sides. The design was good and approved and the printer was heading for the car with the printing.

“Hey, you are going to put them onto magnetic sheets?” said Mette.
“What” said the printer?
“Because that’s what I ordered and without it being on magnetic sheet it will destroy the paint job and as it’s a hire vehicle I want my bond back!” said Mette.

The printer had blown it and was going to cover the vehicle with stickers. It was back to the drawing board for them and another delay.

A strange thing in Ireland is that this place is a cash economy. Its amazing how many big businesses do not except a credit card. This isn’t just corner store stuff but big things like the printing for the Bus. It has to be cash. When I bought a data projector the other day the business would only accept cash. This seemed crazy to me and it seemed it would lose them money but a taxi driver explained to me that it’s all a tax dodge. Ireland runs on cash so as to keep the tax man away. Everyone seems to be on quite a large fiddle with this from hotels to taxis to big businesses. This makes it harder for us as we are dealing with large amounts of euros and I’d much rather not be carrying all this cash with me.

Rae had now arrived in Dublin the morning we drove to Kilkenny and was working hard at getting more presentations lined up for us to do. He was also hitting the press hard and this was starting to pay off. Although our Kilkenny night was small, we got four key radio programs to do features on us. The message was now starting to get out to the wider audience.