News from Yn Commeeys Celtiagh – Celtic League Mannin:
One of this year’s anniversaries was that of the Windscale Fire of 10th October 1957. Because of the wind direction at the time, a radioactive cloud drifted across the Irish Sea, away from the coast of England but towards the Isle of Man. If the fire hadn’t been stopped, the Isle of Man could well have been severely contaminated by radiation, perhaps necessitating the removal of all of us living here. Fortunately we escaped that, but decisions on our fate would not have been decided in Tynwald, but Westminster.
Windscale was set up to produce Plutonium-239 for the UK’s nuclear weapons programme. This followed the breakdown of an agreement in 1944 between USA President Franklin D Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill to share information on the development of nuclear weapons and energy. In 1946 US Congress passed the MacMahon Act which made it a serious offence for information on the USA nuclear programme to be shared with other countries, including the UK, hence the UK’s desire to produce its own nuclear material.
Another anniversary a year ago was the fiftieth of a more recent agreement between the UK and USA. The USA was seeking a base in the Indian Ocean, regarding one on an island without an indigenous human population as being better for security. The UK and USA executed a 50 year agreement on 30th December 1966 for the USA to operate a military base on an uninhabited Diego Garcia. However, people lived on Diego Garcia but, to facilitate the USA wish for an uninhabited island, the UK forcibly removed the 2000 people living in the Chagos archipelago against their will in the years following 1966. Tactics included not allowing people back if they had been away for medical treatment or other reasons, and the UK military killed family pets, including gassing their dogs in front of them. The people were dumped on quay sides in Mauritius and the Seychelles with minimum resources.
The appalling treatment of the Chagossian people has concerned the Celtic League for many years, it being an example of the brutality of colonialism which small countries and populations have endured. The Celtic League AGM of 2000 passed a Resolution on Diego Garcia, and our concerns have been reiterated in recent years on Facebook by the Celtic League Mannin Branch.
This year’s International AGM of the Celtic League, held in Peel, passed an additional Resolution about Diego Garcia, the text of which is:
Recalling the resolution adopted at the 2000 Celtic League AGM (also held in Mannin) that condemned ‘the forced removal, between 1966 and 1969 of the population of the island of Diego Garcia from their home by the British and American governments, as one of the most shameful examples of colonial exploitation’ and being aware that the military lease on those Islands is due for renewal, calls for the Chagossian people to be allowed to return to their homeland.”
Following the passing of this Resolution, the Mannin Branch wrote on behalf of the Celtic League to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We received a reply from the FCO which stated that the UK Government recognises that the manner of the removal of the Chagossians from the British Indian Ocean Territory was wrong. It added that what it described as substantial compensation (stated as being about £15.5 million at current prices) has been paid to the Chagossians since that time. However, that compensation wasn’t immediate, and the Chagossians were left destitute for a long time, little being paid until after the 1970s.
The FCO reply continued that British courts and the European Court of Human Rights have confirmed that compensation has been paid in what it described as full and final settlement.
The UK Government announced in November 2016 that it had decided against the resettlement of the Chagossian people to the BIOT on a number of grounds including defence and security interests, as well as costs and feasibility. We know full well whose defence and security interests this refers to. The Financial Times article (link above) mentioned the difficulty of small populations living on small remote islands, but other similar small populations live on very remote islands elsewhere on the planet.
The FCO letter continued that the UK Government is determined to address the aspirations of Chagossians, their desire for better lives and to maintain a connection with BIOT. In November 2016 the UK Government announced that it will implement a support package which it says will be worth approximately £40 million over 10 years. This is to help the Chagossians living in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles attain better lives in the communities in which they currently live. The support is also intended to enable Chagossians maintain a connection with BIOT through a programme of heritage visits there, with 3 planned over a period of 6 months.
Thus, we read that the UK acknowledges their wrong doing in the brutal way they deported the people of the Chagos Islands and are belatedly endeavouring to improve matters for the survivors and their descendants, but one thing that isn’t clear from the letter is the reaction of the Chagossians themselves. Do the measures announced by the UK Government really address their wishes?