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2015 Annual Conference Report

Veterans for Peace_02 headerBusiness Meeting

The Statement of Purpose was read out by John Boulton and the Steering Group introduced themselves to the membership. Ben Griffin and Joe Glenton stood down as Agitators in March to leave two spaces available. George Hill and Gus Hales were elected unopposed. Agitators are elected to the Steering Group for three years. Kathryn Piquette pointed out that given the increase in female members this year it would be appropriate for a woman to be elected to the Steering Group in the near future. The Agitators decided that they will discuss the appointments of Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary at the next Steering Group meeting which is on Monday 4 May.

John Bourton gave an oversight of the wide range of activities carried out by Veterans For Peace UK members since the last Annual Conference.

A minutes silence was held in memory of Veteran For Peace Kev Donaghue who was killed in a motorbike accident earlier this year. In his short time with the organisation he attended the 2014 Remembrance Sunday Ceremony carrying the Never Again banner at the front of our formation. Kev also initiated the formation of  VFP Manchester. He will be sorely missed.

Bye Law Ammendments

ARTICLE VIII. ELECTIONS

Section 1. Nomination of Agitators

(a) No later than April November 1 of each year nominations for election to the Steering Group may be made by petition. Nominating petitions shall name the nominee, be signed by at least five (5) members, and be submitted to the Secretary.

ARTICLE XI. MEMBERSHIP MEETING

Ben Griffin proposed that we move our Annual Conference from April to November. This will mean fewer trips to London for the membership. We will be able to combine our Annual Conference on the Saturday with the Remembrance Ceremony at The Cenotaph on the Sunday hopefully increasing attendance for both. We will be able to put on a social event for the Saturday evening and will look into cheap accommodation for members for Saturday night. Kathryn Piquette asked if this meant there would not be an AGM until November 2016. The Steering Group stated that there was no reason an EGM could not be held in November 2015 to cover the intervening period

In order to facilitate the move of the Annual Conference to November the following Bye Law amendments needed to be made. The membership voted unanimously in favour of amending these Bye Laws.

Section 1. Annual Conference.

(a) The Annual Conference of the members of Veterans For Peace UK shall be held between April 1 and April 30, each year, the date to be designated by the Steering Group. on the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday each year.

Ben Griffin stated that when our Bye Laws were drafted and agreed at the 2014 Annual Conference a mistake was made in that we set our financial year to be from January to December. The financial year in the United Kingdom runs April through to March and our Bye Laws need to be amended to comply with this.

The membership voted unanimously in favour of amending the following Bye Law.

ARTICLE XII. FINANCIAL REVIEW AND FISCAL YEAR

Section 3. Fiscal year
The fiscal year of Veterans For Peace UK shall be from January April 1 through December March 31 of the same next year.

The amended Bye Laws can be viewed here.

USAID

The Steering Group has already carried out the action stated in this letter in response to the VFP National Board (USA) decision regarding USAID and Project Renew. The membership was asked to ratify the action already taken and to empower the Steering Group to take further action if required.

Aly Renwick said that the actions of USAID should be viewed in the context of the “Pivot to Asia” being carried out by the United States Government and that we should not have anything to to with USAID.

Stephen Mann said our independence would be compromised by any relationship with USAID, making it more difficult to reach out reach out to communities that have a negative perception of the US Government.

Ben Griffin said that a relationship with USAID contravenes one of the key principles of the Statement of Purpose, “To restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations”.

Jim Radford spoke about how numerous voluntary organisations started in the UK in the 1960’s had been co-opted by government money and become professional organisations divorced from their membership and original ideals. He said that this was a similar situation and that any relationship with USAID should be opposed.

Scott Albrecht spoke about how the organisation he ran for homeless refugees refused to apply for government funding or apply for charitable status because this would compromise their work (which recognises the malign influence of the state in creating the refugee crisis) and restrict his organisations freedom of action. He said that the same was true for VFPUK.

John Bourton pointed out that whilst he too opposes a relationship with USAID, those defending the decision in the USA think that it complies with another of our key principles, “To seek justice for veterans and victims of war”. John also suggested that the Steering Group look into whether we should change our own Bye Laws to prevent our organisation from accepting government money or employing paid workers.

Daniel Campbell pointed out that the decision of the VFP National Board (USA) could contravene the principle “to seek justice for veterans and victims of war” because when aid is conflated with militaries and governments there is blurring of the line between aid workers and combatants. This puts the lives of aid workers in general at risk from attack and creates a reluctance for communities to accept aid. The outcome is a reduction in real help for the victims of war.

Ben Griffin said that the Steering Group has acknowledged that the decision taken by the VFP Board of Directors (USA) was democratic and that a large proportion of VFP members in the USA support the Board decision. The VFPUK Steering Group had been careful to make sure our position had been defended whilst not damaging our long-term relationship with Veterans For Peace in the USA and that the action taken was proportionate and considered.

Lee Lavis praised the Steering Group for the way in which the situation has been handled.

The membership voted unanimously to ratify the action already taken and to empower the Steering Group to take further action if required.

Schools Workshop Presentation

John Boulton gave an excellent presentation explaining the structure of our Schools Workshop and demonstrating the workshop to the membership.

If anyone is interested in getting involved with our Schools Education work or you would like a visit to your school please email coord@vfpuk.org

Armed Forces Day Workshop

Darren Cullen gave us an update on the progress of the Actionman: Battlefield Casualties adverts that are currently in production. The launch date is Tuesday 23 June in Shoreditch. We are looking for younger veterans to be our spokespeople for the launch.

Duncan Parker explained how under pressure from the Military Plymouth County Council have denied us a stall at the Armed Forces Day event there. Duncan talked through the possibilities for participation in some other way.

Les Gibbons talked about the plans for Armed Forces Day in Southampton and the involvement of other groups down there.

Ben Griffin spoke about the planned action in London involving the return of medals during the run up to Armed Forces Day.

Anyone wishing to volunteer for any of the above please email coord@vfpuk.org and your message will be passed on to the relevant person.

Veterans For Peace in N Ireland

The afternoon began with a montage of clips taken from films made by Reelnews about VFP work in N Ireland.

This was followed by an extraordinary panel;

Lee Lavis was an infantry soldier in the British Army. He completed 2 operational tours of Northern Ireland during the early 1990s. After leaving the army he settled in Belfast from where he now volunteers alongside former opposing combatants as part of school, youth and community projects that seek to address the reality and legacy of conflict.

Séanna Walsh read the statement on July 28th 2005 which ended the IRAs armed campaign. During that campaign Seanna spent 21 years in prison. This included the period of the ‘Blanket Protest’ and 1981 Hunger Strike. He later played a vital role in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement negotiations and now works as the Coiste legacy and engagement officer.

Kieran Devlin was born and raised in Northern Ireland and joined the Royal Engineers straight from school. He served in Iraq during the first Gulf War and later in NI as part of a construction squadron based in Antrim. He left the Army in 1993 and now resides in North Down with his family and is heavily involved in community work.

Pat Magee was arrested and convicted of planting the 1984 bomb at the Grand Hotel Brighton. Since his release following ratification of the Good Friday Agreement  Pat has worked nationally and internationally on conflict resolution projects that aim ‘tobreak down differences’ through ‘engagement’. This has included numerous public interactions with Jo Berry whose father was killed in the Grand Hotel.

All four panelists spoke at length about their own experiences and opinions on the current situation in N Ireland. There were some excellent questions and interventions from the floor. Fiona Gallagher talked at length about her brother, who was shot dead by the British Army. She also gave an insight into growing up in Derry during the conflict. Jo Berry, who’s father was killed by Patrick Magee was present and spoke about her own journey.

Social Evening

A good number of veterans and friends headed over to Drummond Street for a vegetarian curry! It was great to see  conversations continued and friendships cemented.

Corrections

Please email any corrections or extra information to coord@vfpuk.org

 

 

  • Fiona Gallagher 27/04/2015, 00:54

    An amazing day. A day where borders and divides no longer existed. It was full of sincere people with a wealth of stories and experiences. I feel privileged to have been a part of it all. Many thanks for listening to my story and being so open to me. Xx Keep doing the great work you all do. I’m behind you all the way xx

  • Elaine Lawson 27/04/2015, 09:31

    I agree with Fiona – it was a privilege to have been invited into your midst for the afternoon. It was uplifting to see how you have stepped outside the roles that society closed tight around you as combatants and carved your own positive way in the world.
    This is going to sound a bit madly poetic, but it reminded me of something I read recently about dragonflies and how they have to struggle out of the bodies they lived in for years underwater as larvae, shake themselves hard out of their old larval skins, rest in the sunshine until their wings dry out and then fly free.
    (I suppose it’s a bit different for dragonflies because once they’re out, they’re out and flying high above the water. They don’t have to hang around with larvae telling them ‘come back and be like us, just squash those wings back into this cover’ or ‘it’s much better being a larva than a dragonfly.’)
    Anyway, thank you for inviting me. I felt that I was seeing humans consciously choosing to be the very best versions of themselves. In all the tiny and enormous moment-by-moment choices of your new lives. It was lovely to feel the kind, warm, safe haven of sanity created and cherished by Veterans For Peace. All good luck with your work.

  • Heather Speight 29/04/2015, 01:44

    I happened to read the above comments and was very moved. You’re a great bunch 🙂 When I’m tempted to despair, I think of you and it cheers me up!
    You are beacons of light and hope. Keep them burning!
    Thank you so much
    Heather Speight (Movement for the Abolition of War)

    PS Ben, I heard from Sally Reynolds that you gave a talk in Abingdon last week. She said you were really excellent!