• April 9, 2015


It’s useful from time to time to reflect on just where the Celtic League is at, what it’s done and how it will perform in the future. Certainly there’s a lot to discuss at this years AGM in Dublin, so I suggest as well as looking forward we should also look back!

With that in mind I thought I would look back on what for me were some of the more memorable issues and successes over the years.

Necessarily my views will be conditioned by the period during which I have been active and I had meant to start by recalling one of our first successes which involved Mannin branch and the League Centrally.

However in researching back I stumbled on an item I wrote when our first General Secretary, Alan Heusaff, died and to me those words and more accurately Alan’s ‘mantra’ for want of a better word epitomise what the League is about and what service to it means.

Long before his death Alan had taken a ‘back seat’ in the League but that did not mean his work ended and when he died I wrote:

“In the days immediately prior to his death, he was liaising with me over the arrest of activists in Brittany, campaigning against the waveband reallocations being forced on an Irish language radio station and also promoting the rights of a Scottish child to be taught through the medium of Gaelic.

He recognised the value of the big issues without forgetting the small. He saw and appreciated the worth of the large Celtic countries without forgetting the efforts to maintain political identity, culture and language in the smaller countries like Mannin and Kernow.”

Alan Heusaff did not measure his contribution to the Celtic cause on the basis of how much impact or publicity it might generate. He simply dealt with issues and if that involved one child’s right to language education then that was equally as valuable in time terms as his great passion Brittany and the plight of activists there.

My own involvement with the League came about almost by accident. In 1976 angered by events in Ireland and the repressive behaviour of the British military with others I set up the Anti-Militarist-Alliance (AMA). By today’s standards I suppose our early efforts were amateurish (certainly the journal we produced was no CARN!). Very soon came membership of the League and the AMA eventually became the Celtic League Military Monitoring Campaign. It would eventually be one of the most successful campaigns the League ran and our first victory forcing the MOD to abandon plans to expand the Jurby sea-bombing range and uniquely a ban on low-flying over the land area of the Isle of Man.

“UK Parliamentary Question reference low flying over Isle of Man – 28-04-82
Questioner: Mr. Dafydd Wigley, M.P. for Caernarfon (Plaid Cymru)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether any assurances have been given by his Department regarding low flying by aircraft over the Isle of Man.

Answer from Mr. Jerry Wiggin for Ministry of Defence -05-05-82

Military low flying is forbidden over the land areas of the Isle of Man.”

Our liaison with Dafydd Wigley MP was a long one and he and many other MPs and TDs raised questions and pursued issues for the League. In addition some paid tribute to the work of the League as Hugh Byrne TD did in the Dail in 1989.

However I will set aside our Military Monitoring successes for the time and cast the net further back for one of the more defining issues in terms of the Celtic Leagues influence on the future of our languages.

It’s easy to take things for granted now with the Language Development programme funded by the Manx government or the recent FCPNM extension to Cornwall with all the potential that brings etc.

The 1960s was a much bleaker time in terms of the language. In all the countries at that time our cultures and languages were on the back foot so it was fortuitous that in 1965 the Celtic League delivered a 62 page memorandum to the United Nations Organisation in New York which made the case for ‘Self determination for Brittany, Scotland and Wales’ . The following year the League distributed the memorandum to all member states of the Council of Europe.

Over a decade later UNESCO (in the early 1980s) launched its own ‘Project for the Study and Promotion of Celtic Culture’. Disappointingly however some years later UNESCO failed to adopt the ‘Universal Declaration on Linguistic Rights’.

Both the early language campaigns on culture and the later military monitoring were long term projects and it is debatable if such campaign work will in these areas will ever cease as long as there’s a Celtic League.

“Gotcha!! The threat to mariners posed by submarines around our shores was one of our most successful military monitoring campaigns. Three photographs of HMS Porpoise taken by the Celtic League off the west of Mann in 1982 cost the MOD dear when it proved, despite their denials, that the submarine was in the Irish Sea when the MFV Sheralga.”

Certainly the next success for military monitoring was the submarine/MFV issue which ultimately led to International Maritime Organisation resolutions A599 and then A709.17.

Human Rights were also ‘part of our DNA’ and from the mid seventies onwards we campaigned on a range of issues. We campaigned for political prisoners and we campaigned for reform of the prisons. We campaigned against rubber bullets and when they scrapped them we campaigned against plastic baton rounds. That latter campaign was endorsed by the US Embassy in Ireland. We called ceaselessly for enquiries into the murders and deaths caused by British murder gangs – ultimately two decades later such enquiries were held. But the Celtic League was always ahead of the pack in the 1980s we circulated every single member of the UK Parliament with a leaflet criticising the UDR and alleging its complicity in sectarian killings. We also wrote to the US Government. In 1992 the UDR was scrapped!

“Ulster Defence Regiment: In mid 1980s we condemned the Regiments record and call for its disbandment. In 1992 it became history!”

One day in the late 1990s I got a call from the Air Ambulance Service in Hawaii! They said ‘I believe your organisation has written a paper on POST (air) CRASH MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES (PCMT)’. I explained that we had produced a ‘modest pamphlet’ on the subject and within days a copy was in the post to them. It was another example of the League being ahead of the game as virtually nothing had been publicised about the dangers associated with air crash sites in which (involving modern aircraft) high levels of carbon fibre contaminants were dispersed widely by explosion or fire.

Another environmental first for the League was exposing the dangers posed by contamination at military bases (we‘aquired’sight of a report by the Royal Engineers which had not been published outside the service). We again published a brief pamphlet.

An extremely lengthy and protracted period of activity ensued and in this instance our parliamentary facilitator was Labour MP George Foulkes. Eventually the (then) Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, was forced to concede that a staggering 600 military sites were polluted and order Land Quality Assessments to be carried out at each site. Our main focus had been Ulster (Bessbrook in South Armagh was one of the worst polluted sites) but it turned out the problem also effected sites in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man.

I could ‘drone on’ for ever so I will just list briefly some of the more memorable items that spring to mind (and remember branches also did their own campaigning and achieved National successes not always well publicised because of space constraints on CARN) and remember as well for many years prior to the Internet CARN was the only medium for a collective pan-celtic voice.

THE CALF OF MAN: Firmly in English hands until the England branch of the Celtic League turned up at the Offices of English National Trust one morning with that memorable slogan on their placards ‘Wanted for Calf Rustling’.

a) Calf of Mann returned to the Manx Nation by National Trust (Mannin branch and London branch) 1980s

b) Release of Roisin McAliskey (pregnant republican prisoner) (League Central and various Irish bodies)

c) Prison reform – Isle of Man (actually a new prison) (Mannin branch and MCCL) 1990s. Also campaign work on prison conditions in Scotland, Wales and Ireland (including the six counties) (General Council Officers).

d) MOD scrap plans to test GPS destabilising technology at Aberporth (Central – GS) 1996

e) Universal Declaration on Linguistic Rights (participation in framing same) (Central –main work by Convenor and AGS) mid 1990s

f) Hooded men appeal (Central and Irish branch) 2015

g) Double-Hulling of Oil tankers campaign prompted by Erika, Braer, Sea Empress and Prestige disasters (International Sec and GS) – originally told not economically viable now part of International law. 1990-2000

h) Related to the above campaign for pre-position of Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) at choke-points (The Minch, North Channel, Biscay – off Scillies) originally agreed and in place for over a decade but withdrawn two years ago as part of Conservative governments austerity cuts.1990-2000s

i) Scrapping of identity cards (League were one of just a small number of organisations that submitted opposition) planned dropped by Jack Straw Home Sec 1996 finally buried completely 5 years ago!

j) Participation in the NEW IRELAND FORUM (Allan Heusaff prepared our submission which was published in Carn). Sadly the eventual NI Peace Process fell some way short of the New Ireland Forum final conclusions

k) League vindicated in 2010 when RAF prematurely retire the Nimrod Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft on safety grounds (we had raised questions about its safety almost 8 years previously) (GS – DOI)

l) League stance over Chagos Islanders vindicated as UN support their case to be allowed home 2008 – previously the subject of an AGM resolution.

m) Support by League and others of IAEA boss Mohamed ElBaradei successful as he gets a further term in the face of US opposition (2005).

n) League campaigning (for almost a decade) over the sea dumping of munitions leads UK to release information on dumping of over 1,000000 tonnes of munitions at 22 offshore sites many near the Celtic countries 1984-1996 (AGM – GS – AGS)

“THE BOMBS OF BEAUFORT DYKE: Over a ten year period the Celtic League amassed a substantial file on sea-dumped munitions disposed of at 22 sites around the Celtic countries. In the late 1990s at the request of the Irish government a complete copy of our file was passed to the Department of the Marine.”

o) CPT agrees to consider complaint by the League about the detention and torture of a man from South Armagh 1997 (GS)

There’s a vast deal more on the languages, political rights, social justice, child poverty, justice human rights, the military etc. I have not focused too much on the past 5-7 years because its there on-line – like the Moore Street article just published.

Unfortunately however as yet all our archives are not on-line but you can get a good sense of the depth and breadth of campaigning (the successes and the disappointments) from the CARN Archive and the News Archive that’s currently available and I have the old 1990s archive in pdf if anyone wants to research it.

“OUR ARCHIVES: Fifty year of work by the Celtic League is archived at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Records on the Military Monitoring, Environmental (anti-nuclear) and human rights campaigns, with general material are stored at the Manx Museum Library.”

In addition to our on line records substantial files of documents on the work of the League are maintained at the National Library of Wales and the Library at The Manx Museum. Journalists, academics and political researchers periodically access the material.

One of the great successes of the past decade was the achievement (mainly through Rhisiart Talebots efforts) of UN NGO status. However are inter-action with the UNO goes back many years and first started in the 1960s (see above).

Nonetheless official NGO status was a symbolic achievement and recently questions have been posed (by Kernow branch) about how we are utilising this opportunity. A major focus has been on our inability so far to attend meetings at the UN Centres in Geneva and New York.

Whilst attendance at ‘sessions’ of the various bodies is desirable the main pre-requisite of an NGO is participation and when Rhisiart Talebot (or however is GS) comes to make the periodic report to ECOSOC he needs to be able to demonstrate that we have been active in respect of our ‘fields of activity’. He should be able to demonstrate this adequately as we have raised issues and submitted complaints to UN bodies such as the IMO. IAEA. CEDAW, UNCRC and various Special Rapporteurs over the past few years.

“We may not have ‘graced’ the manicured lawns of the UN building but we still play a full part in promoting UN Rights values and interact with a wide range on UN Bodies.”

In addition we have actively promoted UN Rights instruments e.g. the ‘Beijing Rules’, ‘Istanbul Protocol’ and ‘Riyadh Guidelines’.

In addition the UN recognise the physical and financial difficulties facing NGOs and they facilitate access by creating conduits whereby an NGO can feedback its views to a specific body (as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child did recently when they pointed us in the direction of Child Rights Connect).

Nonetheless we should aim to attend some sessions and as was demonstrated recently when we received an invitation (I think it was via CEDAW) to attend a meeting in London this would not be inordinately expensive (in addition Alistair Kneale of Mannin branch spends a far bit of time between Mann and London so – if he was willing – he could be mandated in an ex-officio capacity to present any League submissions at London venue meetings)

Our interaction is not however limited to the UN we also engage with the Council of Europe (COE), European Union and National governments and agencies. I have been asked to give evidence on several occasions to the COE/CPT.

We should, time personal and resources allowing, try to expand that direct interaction at all levels.

Sometimes as with the MCA Committee which looked at the withdrawal of ETV cover this interaction can be via email. Unfortunately in that case although initial protests led to a short term reprieve the vessels were eventually withdrawn

“OIL SPILLS AND THE ETVs: Following the Braer (1993 Shetland), Oil Tanker disaster we campaigned for action including Emergency Towing Cover (pic) in critical locations. After the Sea Empress (1996 Wales) and Erika (1999 Brittany) disasters it was expanded. In place for over a decade it was finally withdrawn due to UK austerity cuts in 2012 The League made submissions to the ETV Working Group which resulted in a brief reprieve but ultimately the service was axed. (Initial correspondence A Heusaff MCA 1990s – AGM resolution Breizh 1996)”

A great proportion of the League’s work over the years has been in support of the Celtic languages. Virtually every AGM has a resolution(s) on the languages which are then implemented.

However the greatest contribution to the languages we have made is to ensure that in print form for forty years articles all the Celtic languages (on a contemporary subject) were published in CARN. It is easy now with the advent of the Internet and social media to underestimate the critical importance of this act – but from 1970 onwards CARN was the only publication continuously fulfilling this role.

Also a major part of our effort was aimed at support for political prisoners in Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Mann. We may not have agreed with the actions they may have taken but we campaigned ceaselessly to ensure that the conditions of their imprisonment were fair and humane. That work continues to this day with the representations made recently about Maghaberry Prison in Ulster.

Our relationship with Governments and associated agencies has over the past twenty-five years developed considerably and because our approach is both professional and informed it leads to mainly positive feedback. I believe that in such dealings we have a degree of credibility that we must seek to maintain.

Neither is it the case that it is the Celtic League that is always seeking information occasionally the traffic is the other ways as happened some years ago when Cathal O Luain delivered a copy of our complete file on offshore munitions dumping to the Department of the Marine.

More recently the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland asked to be kept up to date with our enquiries from the UK about the use of CR gas in the north during the 1970s.

Neither should we neglect our links with other campaign groups and bodies. Eire branch has a long standing policy of co-operation with PANA and over the years we have usefully cooperated with bodies such as Greenpeace, Irish CND, Faslane Peace Camp, Farmers and Fishermen’s Organisations.

For any organisation image is important. Over the years the Celtic League identity has been synonymous with the Celtic knot and by the 1980s the first CL flag was produced featuring a green background with the Celtic knot in the centre.

Later this was changed to a design comprising the flags of the six Celtic countries with the Celtic knot superimposed in the centre and in 2011 the Breton branch procured a number of these for sale.

Also in the 1980s a series of other Celtic League themed items of merchandise were produced, badges, stickers, tee shirts and sweatshirts (an idea I think of the Alba branch).

Kernow currently have a range of merchandise incorporating the Celtic logo and the Manx branch are currently co-operating with Mec Vannin with a view to funding a further production of the CL flag.

“IMAGE IS EVERYTHING: The Celtic League flag with the six nation flag design with the centred knot succeeded the more sober green background centred knot design of the 1980s. Also in the 80s tee-shirts sweat-shirts, stickers and badges were produced.”

We need to encourage these efforts which as indicated above first started about 30 years ago.

Also periodically branches produced their own publications (newsletters). Cymru, Mannin and Alba for a time produced newsletters for members but probably the greatest exponents of branch publications were the US branch with their magazine Keltoi and the Celtic Calendar. The US branch also produced its own distinct merchandise and was very prolific in this regard from about 1980 to the mid 90s.

I think that over 50 years the Celtic League has achieved a great deal given the limitations of finance and resources. This is very much due to the dedication of those people who have filled positions on the General Council and in the branches for that period.

I just hope we have the committed people to carry on the good work going forward.

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League

4th April 2015


Complete detail news cuttings correspondence on all the campaign work mentioned above (and much more) can be found in the archived records at the Library of Wales and Manx Museum Library.

CARN is also an important repository of information and all National Libraries in the Celtic countries have complete sets of back issues


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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