Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The choices between the cost
of a statue, a ship, a court
case, an eye or a milkshake

Bishop John Jebb’s statue in the north transept, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … how would you like to be memorialised for future generations? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I spent an hour or so in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, after lunch on Tuesday afternoon [9 July 2017], showing John and Sheila Comerford from Seattle, Washington, around the cathedral where I am the canon precentor.

We exchanged stories about the Comerford family and about Cambridge, and we shared a lot about the awful, frightening state of politics in the US today under the Trump administration.

They enjoyed hearing tales about Brian Boru’s palace and the tombs of the O’Briens of Thomond, the Anglo-Norman foundation and the chapter structures of Anglican cathedrals, and the mediaeval building and the misericords, the Reformation and Cromwellian Puritan iconoclasm, sculptures and stained-glass windows, and listening to Peter Barley on the organ.

As I was regaling them with stories about squatting prebendaries and the mediaeval misericords, John was taken aback by the size and scale of the statue of Bishop John Jebb in the North Transept or Jebb Chapel commemorating John Jebb (1775-1833), Bishop of Limerick, and the lengthy lists on the panels naming the donors who subscribed to erecting the statue.

John wondered out loud had I ever considered what my own memorial would be.

With John and Sheila Comerford in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, this week

There is a trend on Facebook of asking people to donate to particular causes or charities to mark a friend’s birthday. It is not a trend I have followed, although I would always encourage friends and colleagues to support in their own way the work of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

I have been working this week on online resources for next Sunday’s Gospel reading, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), and preparing two sermons on this reading.

The Good Samaritan leaves money at the inn to help pay for the cost of the overnight stay of the man who has been beaten up and robbed on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.

Whose expenses would you be happy to contribute towards?

I would be very pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the legal costs faced by Carola Rackete, the German sea captain who defied Italy’s ban on migrant rescue ships last month by forcing her way into the port of Lampedusa last month.

She has told Lorenzo Tondo of the Guardian that she would do it all again, even though she faces a lengthy trial and a possible jail sentence.

On 12 June, the crew of the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 pulled a group of migrants from an inflatable raft drifting off the Libyan coast. Carola Rackete was denied entry into Lampedusa but eventually forced her way in past Italian military vessels.

When she disembarked with 42 rescued migrants, she faced a mixed reception. Some of the crowd gathered on the quay cheered her but others hurled abuse and threats. She was immediately arrested and is facing the prospect of a long trial on charges of aiding illegal immigration and attempting to ram a patrol vessel.

Soon after Sea-Watch 3 arrived in Lampedusa, the migrants were taken off the ship, and Rackete was arrested and warned she could face 10 years in jail. In the end, Judge Alessandra Vella accepted that as the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete had a duty to protect the lives of those on board.

For many, she is a hero for facing down Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has called her a ‘pirate.’

Libya has descended into a lawless, chaotic state policed by armed militias, and Sea-Watch, a German charity, had already vowed never to return migrants to its shores.

Last month, the Italian cabinet passed an emergency decree ruling that any vessel that sailed into Italian waters without permission would face a fine of up to €50,000. But the charity has promised, ‘Forcibly taking rescued people back to a war-torn country, having them imprisoned and tortured, is a crime that we will never commit.’

Two online campaigns to support her legal costs have raised close to €1.4 million between them over the past week.

Carola Rackete, the captain of the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 (Photograph: Sea Watch Mediateam / Sea-Watch e.V. / The Guardian)

Or I would be pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the legal costs faced by the people who took recent legal action that led to the Court of Appeal in London ruling that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been unlawful. The judgment that also accused ministers of ignoring whether airstrikes that killed civilians in Yemen broke humanitarian law.

Three judges said that a decision made in secret in 2016 had led them to decide that Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox and other key ministers had illegally signed off on arms exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, said cabinet ministers had ‘made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law.’

As a result, the court said that the UK export licensing process was ‘wrong in law in one significant respect’ and ordered Liam Fox, Britain’s international trade secretary, to hold an immediate review of at least £4.7 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The case was taken by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). Thousands of civilians have been killed since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015 with indiscriminate bombing by a Saudi-led coalition that is supplied by the west and accused of being responsible for about two-thirds of the 11,700 people killed in direct attacks.

A critical passage in the ruling added that ‘a close reading’ of evidence supplied in secret suggested that in ‘early 2016’ – probably when David Cameron was prime minister – that there had been a covert change of UK policy towards Saudi Arabia. There was a decision, or a change of position, so that there would be no assessment of past violation of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

It emerged last month that while Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary he had recommended that the UK allow Saudi Arabia to buy bomb parts expected to be deployed in Yemen – a decision he took only days after an airstrike on a potato factory in Yemen had killed 14 people in 2016.

But neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Hunt bothered to refer to any of this illegality in their televised debate last night. Johnson was too busy pulling the rug from underneath the feet of the British Ambassador in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, and allowing Donald Trump to dictate the pace and tempo of British foreign policy.

Or I would be pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the expenses of Dr Yacoub Yousef’s clinic in Jordan.

He is the eye surgeon in Jordan who was shown on BBC News last night and who is giving a new eye to Yusra, a six-year-old girly from Yusra’s new eye.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin met Yusra and her family in war-torn Yemen last October. She had an aggressive tumour in her left eye, but could not get the life-saving treatment she needed.

She has received a prosthetic eye in Jordan and is returning home. She is now cancer-free but has a genetic condition, so follow up checks are being arranged in Yemen. I wonder what future she faces when either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt becomes Prime Minister and reviews British arms sales to Yemen.

Or I would be pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the legal costs of Paul Crowther who was taken to court in Newcastle after dousing Nigel Farage with a milkshake.

Paul Crowther was convicted on one count of criminal damage and another of common assault, fined £350 and ordered to complete 150 hours of community service. He also lost his job as a technical adviser at Sky television.

Paul Crowther said: ‘The bile and the racism he spouts out in this country is far more damaging than a bit of milkshake to his front.’

The banana and salted caramel milkshake cost £5.25. The figure of £350 was reached by calculating the cost of cleaning Farage’s suit and tie, and repairing a microphone on his lapel. A crowdfund on GoFundMe raised £1,705 – significantly more than the fine, or than Farage’s cheap suit and cheap tie.

The Good Samaritan depicted in a window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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