The Leaderless Protest Series – Hong Kong

The Leaderless Protest Series – Hong Kong

Over the last year, we have witnessed 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 Hong Kong.  

 

Umbrella Protests of Hong Kong (2014)

Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony until it returned under China’s control in 1997. The city, under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, is considered to have more autonomy than the mainland, and its people enjoy more rights. Beijing is responsible for the city’s defence and foreign affairs. However, Hong Kong witnessed protests (also referred to as an Occupy Movement or Umbrella Movement ) that occurred from 26 September to 15 December 2014. The protests began after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) issued a decision regarding proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system. This decision was seen as a widely restrictive and almost equivalent to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP’s) pre-screening of the candidates for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Thousands of Hong Kong residents from all spheres of the population occupied major  streets across the city, shuttering businesses and bringing traffic to a halt. Their claim was that Beijing had reneged on an agreement to grant Hong Kong open elections and their demand was “true universal suffrage”. 

 

2019 Protests

Five years since the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong witnessed yet another massive protest in June 2019. Demonstrations began this summer over a bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China in certain circumstances. Hong Kong, despite being part of China, enjoys special freedom. This bill erupted a sense of fear among the residents that Beijing was bent on exerting greater control over Hong Kong and would largely endanger judicial independence and target social activists and journalists in Hong Kong.

Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs. On July 1st 2019, after an hour long siege, protesters stormed into the parliament and defaced parts of it. Protest action at Hong Kong international airport in August also saw renewed clashes and led to hundreds of flights being cancelled.

The problematic bill was withdrawn in September, but the demonstrations have continued and now the demand has been for full democracy in addition to an inquiry into police actions.

Also, protesters feared that the bill could be revived. Protesters have formulated the following demands:

  • This movement should not be categorised as a riot
  • Amnesty should be granted for arrested protesters
  • An independent inquiry into the police brutality should take place
  • Complete universal suffrage should be implemented

 

Recent Developments

Protesters have continued their protests which include train disruptions and university occupations. However, these protests have subsided and the election on 24th November took place quite peacefully. Democratic candidates have secured about 90 per cent of 452 district council seats, which clearly has shown the public support for democracy. The landslide win has put immense pressure on Hong Kong’s leader who has pledged to listen to public opinion. Although the elections may have been local in nature, a result such as this where Democrats have secured the maximum number of seats is a sign that the protesters have the complete support of the public. The current head of Hong Kong has agreed to take public opinion into account but to what degree, only time will tell.

As a timely thanksgiving gift to Hong Kong, President Trump has signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in support of the pro-democracy protest movement. This will definitely lead to a backlash from Beijing further derailing the delicate US-China trade talks. The act was unanimously passed by both houses of the US Congress. Hundreds of Hong Kong residents including the elderly marched carrying the US flag as a sign of gratitude aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong. In response, China has suspended the review of requests by US military ships and aircraft to visit Hong Kong as of December 3, 2019, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying. She also announced that Beijing would impose sanctions on several US non-governmental human rights organisations that have been monitoring and reporting the state of protests in Hong Kong.

The relative calm over the past week is definitely not a sign of the protests losing momentum, but looks like players of the world have heard the voices and path-breaking changes may be fashioned in the new year.

 

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

 

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Students say minimum wage is not enough

Students say minimum wage is not enough

Eimier Kelly, Dublin City University Communications student, was a retail assistant receiving €8.65 an hour at the age of 20. She says her employers believed that a 2% commission would make up for the low wage. “It was  hypothetical, and not realistic,” she says in hindsight. Eimer said, “The commission did fill in the gaps around holidays – especially Christmas, but any other time of the year it probably made little difference.”

Despite living wage being €12.30 an hour in Ireland, minimum wage still stands at €9.80. In the 2020 Budget, minimum wage was meant to rise by 30 cents, to €10.10, but that raise has been delayed due to the risk of a No-Deal Brexit.

Even further, minimum wage can go as low as €7.80 or €8.60 an hour for those in their first two years of employment – even if they are over the age of 18 – under the Employment Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2018.

Eimer Kelly added that she was extremely lucky, because she lived with her family in Dublin. So, she did not have expenses like rent and food to worry about. “But there were other students working in the shop who were in hour-heavy courses and did have to pay for rent and food. It wasn’t realistic.” 

Eimer believes minimum wage in Ireland is not rising enough, especially in comparison to rising rent and education costs. She explained the living wage in Ireland should be the minimum wage, as people are trying to live off of those wages.

A recent report from the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) found that 74 per cent of students have to take on a job while studying and that 55 per cent are skipping lectures to go to work to cover financial costs.

Another student, aged 19 and currently working in retail, explained that they feared losing their job if they asked for less hours or a raise. “It took me so long to find a job, and I need to keep it to get by. But I am missing college to go to these shifts and it’s really starting to feel like it isn’t worth 8.60 an hour.” The student further stated , “I’m scared to ask [for a pay rise] because I can’t risk losing that income, even though it is so little…it just gets in the way of everything, like I am constantly stressing about not having enough money.”

Craig McHugh, Union of Students in Ireland Dublin Vice President, explained that students are also having to work to cover the cost of “tuition fees which are now the highest in the EU, and rent which has reached astronomical rates…” Regarding third level institutions he said they are “seriously strapped for cash because of the government’s inaction on higher education funding” and that the SUSI grant is, “a system that’s been crippled and is drastically under funded on rates that were low 7 years ago.”

Dublin City University’s Student Union Welfare and Equality Officer, Aisling Fagan, said “it’s a massive issue” and added “[working conditions] can easily impact a student’s mental health and negatively impact their university experience.”

The ILCU report found that 44 per cent of students did not think their third level institute gave efficient financial support or budgeting help. Fagan mentioned that DCU have a team who help students with finance and even have an officer specifically for budgeting and financing. She said these services are seeing an increase in demand as they are “seeing more and more people knock on that door.”

But added that “it all needs to come back to publicly funded education. And there needs to be more regulation in place for workplaces – many managers want to pay their employees more but simply can’t.” Similarly, McHugh explained more support was needed for students but “we also need economic change. We need to eradicate the norm that is precarious working contracts, now and forever.”

 

Photo on Piqsel

 

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Why Ireland should have its own Green New Housing Deal

Why Ireland should have its own Green New Housing Deal

Last week, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought the ‘Green New Deal for Public Housing Act’ to US congress. This is the first overt action to bring the Green New Deal to life since the resolution was released this February. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the Green New Deal is essentially a ten-year plan to greatly reduce US emissions through mass deployment of renewable energies, huge investment in green infrastructure (particularly public transport) and the creation of numerous ‘green jobs’. The deal places great emphasis on addressing the climate crisis and social justice crisis as dual-issues, and also endeavours to provide free Medicare and Education for All.

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act specifically focuses on enhancing over one million units of public housing through zero-carbon upgrades. The bill allocates over $172 billion US dollars to fund this project and it would create roughly 240,000 jobs every year. According to research by The Nation, this would be the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only would it reduce emissions, it would also create safer and healthier neighbourhoods and boost employment in poorer areas. The Act is extraordinary in its scope and ambition, and some critics have dismissed it as being ‘too unrealistic’. This commentary is to be expected in the face of any trillion-dollar plan, but truthfully, the whole world should be taking note. Most of all, Ireland. 

Ireland has been getting a lot of bad press for poor performance on climate change, and rightly so. We have missed our emissions targets three years running and currently have the third-highest emissions per capita in the EU. This trend shows no signs of reversing any time soon. Ireland is also suffering from a housing crisis, in case you haven’t heard (or have been living under a rock – I’d say you can get a good price for it on rent.ie). An extreme deficit in housing within the capital has driven prices to an all-time high, forcing people to rent indefinitely or move further and further out – often to locations where public transport is poor (read: non-existent) and where owning a car is a necessity. This results in an inexhaustible list of problems including financial insecurity, deteriorating physical and mental health and ultimately, homelessness. 

As of September 2019, there were 10,397 people without homes in Ireland. Over one-third of these are children. This is unacceptable and is ultimately the result of a broken housing system. We need more public housing. We need an Irish Green New Housing Act. This would be a project undertaken by the Irish Government whereby zero-carbon, energy efficient public housing would be deployed and upgraded over the next ten years, providing numerous jobs in the process. Green communities would be created with adequate links to an improved public transport network that runs completely off renewables. Imagine. 

Imagine an Ireland where issues of public interest are favoured over the interests of private entities. Where we provide for our people and our environment. These are issues that cannot be kept separate and it has long been known that under a climate crisis it will be the poorest and already vulnerable who will be the first hit, and the worst hit. Here is a plan to address two of our most pressing issues in tandem. As the Emerald Isle, let’s truly take up the mantle of being ‘green’ and become a leader on these issues.

 

Photo by Patrick on Twitter

 

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Single-Use Plastics levies: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

Single-Use Plastics levies: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

Last week the Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton announced that the Irish Government would be introducing a number of levies aimed at reducing single-use plastics. Two of the most notable levies being a ‘latte levy’ on disposable cups of between 10 and 25 cents, and a plastic bag levy increase of 3 cents on the current levy of 22 cents. This is good news – so why has there been a murmur of controversy around this announcement?

 

The Good:

Plastic waste is a huge environmental issue and the fact that the Government is noticing and making moves to remediate this is a good thing. Ireland is the top plastic waste producer in Europe, with each person producing on average 61kg of plastic waste per year. Recycling, once hailed as a cure that would allow us to continue buying as much plastic as we liked so long as it went in the green bin, has gravely disappointed in its reality. It is estimated that only 30% of plastic waste within the EU is recycled. Seeing as this is inherently a problem of overconsumption, levies such as the plastic bag tax are to be welcomed as they discourage production in the first place. 

 

The Bad: 

The Environment Minister has been criticized for delaying action on installing a plastic bottle deposit and return scheme in Ireland, a scheme which the Green Party have been pushing for. This would involve paying an upfront ‘deposit’ on single-use plastic bottles and once you dropit to a recycling centre, you get that deposit back. This system is currently in use in many countries across Europe and has been successful in reducing waste. This, in combination with the levies already put forward, would help to redeem Ireland’s environmental reputation.  

Another issue is that the latte levy has left small coffee shops feeling disadvantaged as large coffee chains like Costa and Starbucks will find it much easier to pay such a levy. The announcement also left certain environmentalist groups frustrated as it doesn’t target the bulk of the problem. The proposed levies don’t tackle the items that are responsible for the majority of plastic in the ocean; fishing nets. It is estimated that almost half of ocean plastic is from discarded fishing nets and if this is to be tackled it means tighter regulations on fishing activities and reduced consumption of seafood. 

 

The Ugly: 

Plastic is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment and the Irish government knows that. It is much easier to introduce a few levies on bags and cups than to acknowledge the large elephant in the room – Ireland’s inaction on climate change. Ireland is consistently ranked as a ‘climate laggard’ and has the third highest emissions per capita in the EU. A latte levy won’t even begin to fix this, and installing a Liquified Natural Gas terminal in the West of Ireland that uses fracked gas certainly won’t. Yes, even slight progress on environmental issues is positive and should be commended, but slight progress is nowhere near the rate of change that is needed on environmental issues right now.

 

Photo by Michael on flickr

 

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Is the Islamic State still a threat?

Is the Islamic State still a threat?

At the end of 2018, Donald Trump announced that the Islamic State had been defeated, and that the US was pulling its troops out of Syria. The defeat of ISIS was a hard won process of reclaiming territory over five years, until finally there was only one ISIS-held village left. After a siege lasting over a month, that village too was taken, destroying the last part of ISIS’s territory, or ‘caliphate’ as they called it, that had once been the size of Great Britain. 

On October 26th of this year the United States declared that the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, had been killed. On the face of it, the loss of territory and the death of a leader might sound like the threat from the Islamic State, which at its peak had 33,000 members from over 100 nationalities and launched attacks in almost 40 countries, is finally over. Sadly, things are not that simple, and the Islamic State is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Although ISIS has lost the territory it once controlled, that does not mean it has ceased to exist. It has just gone back to operating like a more “typical” terrorist group, as controlling as much territory as ISIS once did is unusual for a terrorist group. It is estimated that ISIS still has between 14 and 18.000 fighters left in just Iraq and Syria, and between 20 and 30.000 globally. Given that its membership peaked at around 33,000, a huge number of fighters are still active. Many of these are being held in detention camps in Syria, but there is a risk that some of these will escape because of Turkey’s recent attack on the area. 

While the destruction of the caliphate did slow down the flow of foreigners coming to fight for ISIS, there is still a small but steady stream arriving, and ISIS’s finances are still looking very healthy. ISIS also seems to be innovating somewhat, with increased reports of the use of female fighters, less likely to be suspected by security forces. Also, even though they don’t technically hold any territory, they still have de facto control over parts of Syria and Iraq as they have successfully intimidated and attacked town leaders. 

Worryingly, ISIS has a history of bouncing back from near defeat – in 2010, when the US pulled its troops out of Iraq, it had only 700 fighters left, but then grew to be one of the most powerful terrorist organisations. Given that the group is vastly more powerful now than it was then, it seems unlikely it will simply wither away, but will try to retake territory. The US pulling out of Syria could potentially mimic the conditions that their pulling out of Iraq did in allowing ISIS to gain a lot of ground, so the declaration of their defeat by Trump is likely to be very dangerous for the region.

Even the death of the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is unlikely to undermine ISIS too much. Al-Baghdadi was a very important figure in ISIS. When ISIS members, or those who weren’t actual members but were inspired by ISIS, committed attacks in foreign countries, they would typically record themselves making a pledge before committing the attack. This pledge was not to the Islamic State, but to Al-Baghdadi himself. However, there is some evidence that this pledge is now being made to the new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, suggesting that, while followers of the Islamic State may be shaken by the death of Al-Baghdadi, they are willing to continue under a new leader. Even if some fighters decide to leave ISIS, they will probably splinter into new terrorist groups as they remain radicalized. All of this means that we are unlikely to hear the last from ISIS any time soon.

 

DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster on CentCom

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

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