Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Faul guy

Monsignor Denis Faul, devoted Catholic priest and consistent thorn in the side of unaccountable state interrogators and violent Irish Republicans alike, has passed into the hereafter.
In my Unionist childhood surroundings, the view of Denis Faul in the dark days of the Maze hunger strikes 25 years ago was that of an apologist for IRA violence, vociferous as he was in promoting the human rights of IRA prisoners locked up in the Maze prison for - after all - planning, committing and being complicit in the ultimate human rights abuses, namely murder. (Not that they were alone in that). But Denis Faul's concern was for the lives and wellbeing of people and those people included the victims, both actual and potential, of Republican terrorism. So it was that his outspoken criticism of the IRA and other groups caused Sinn Féin to brand him "a conniving, treacherous man". Perhaps history will look upon him as a true humanitarian.
Interestingly, he was not convinced that Irish unity was a priority for Northern Catholics. When the 1994 ceasefire was announced he maintained that 60% of them would prefer "unity within Northern Ireland" to mere disappearance of the Irish border.
Regulars here will know this is a concept I find quite captivating. There is much evidence to suggest that, due to the vigorous movement of people to and fro' between Ulster and Scotland over the last 1,500 years (resulting not least in the name Scotland being derived from Scotti, as Ancient Romans called the Irish), Ulster people of both flavours have, genetically, far more in common with each other than, respectively, with Londoners or Kerrymen.
There were several things, though, on which Denis Faul and I would not have seen eye-to-eye. He criticised the Éire President, Mary McAleese, quite heavily for taking Church of Ireland Holy Communion, and he took a dim view of integrated education, insisting that Roman canon law required Catholic parents to send their children to Catholic schools. (Worth noting that Free Presbyterian ministers say similar things to their flocks).
So there are some issues I might have debated with him, but despite our religious and cultural differences, I think he had an open view of politics and a heart for people - Big things indeed. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Debate is the norm

I've just got back from my first trip to Italy in 20 years. It was brilliant, but more of that some other time.
One great thing about getting away from it all is the space you have to think about bigger issues, and it occurred to me as I sat enjoying my 2nd cappuccino of last Friday morning how angst-ridden politics are in the North of Ireland. On bad days it seems like whatever one side says will be felt by the other as a knife in the ribs. Republicans see themselves living under a big cloud they think will only lift the day Northern Ireland is annexed to Éire. And Unionists feel they've their backs up against the wall with nowhere to go, watching their heritage being eaten away bit by painful bit.
So much for single-issue politics. (As an aside, maybe we should welcome mainstream British and Éireann political parties to Northern Ireland).
The rough-and-tumble of political debate is normal and healthy in a democracy. Sometimes I think we see it as a necessary evil that will be slain like a dragon the day one side wins the partition battle for good. But that isn't so.
Debate is necessarily an uncomfortable process but can be made easier and more pleasant if participants are prepared to change their minds - or soften their stances - in response to cogent cases. Do your favourite politicians want to win at all costs, ultimately presiding over a trounced and bitter enemy, or do they want to engage confidently and find workable compromises?
If it's the latter they'll need to soften their stances from time to time on issues that are important to the other side. Political considerations, of course, always mean that softening is never admitted openly lest one's standing be weakened, but I want to encourage it nonetheless because it'll get us further faster than playing our grandparents' broken records.
The Big question for today is: do you regard the noun 'compromise' as desirable or as a sell-out?

Monday, June 12, 2006


Time for a rest, so I'm hauling myself off to Italy to raise the water level in Lake Como. And maybe catch up with Lucky Luciano. Back early next week.

The pressure's on

I see the UK government has said a devolved government will be able to decide on academic selection, aka the 11-plus, Qualifying or Quali. As things stand, a bill awaits in Westminster and is set to be passed.

This is an obvious attempt by Downing Street to force the DUP, normally a fan of the Quali and generally in favour of maintaining the status quo, to get off its high horse and into a devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Obvious attempt or not, who cares? They need pushing, and I reckon we'll be seeing more of this over the summer.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Stormont, take note

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that DUP councillor Thomas Kerrigan has been elected chairman of Strabane District Council, somewhere so green the grass looks pale. SDLP councillor Eugene McMenamin said, "Times have changed, times are moving on, we are all moving into a new phase ... If the people at the higher level can get together the way we have here in Strabane, I think we'll have a bright future ahead for everyone in Northern Ireland."
Certainly a Big statement. But even Bigger is the fact that Cllr McMenamin said 'Northern Ireland', not 'the Six Counties' or 'the Occupied North'. No doubt he'll come under fire for that from the more revolutionary elements of Irish nationalism, but he and Cllr Kerrigan should be applauded for working together in this way - in Strabane of all places. Well done, all.
Meanwhile I see MLA's have failed to agree, not on a power-sharing government, but on who should chair the committee tasked with bringing about such a power-sharing government. Isn't it pathetic? My congratulations (and sympathy) go to all those MLAs of various colours who are trying to reach out and break the deadlock.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Where's the Irish coast?

If you answered 'Wherever the land meets the sea', then congratulations. Not so the BBC. Reporting on the Kilkeel trawler ablaze 22 miles off Howth Head this morning, BBC NI tells us the incident was 'off the Irish coast'. Well of course (duh). But I think we all know what they're trying to say is that a Northern Ireland lifeboat went to the aid of 'one of its own' off the Éire coast. (Otherwise why say it was the Irish coast?).
So, following on from last week's post on Irishness being a shared blessing, north and south, I have to ask the BBC: is the Ards Pensinsula not the Irish coast as well?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Things that never happen in Garvary, Part 3

In response to popular demand, mainly from Garvary, here's another aberration of the modern world yet to be foisted on the good burghers of Fermanagh (unless, of course, you know different) ...

Straight men to marry Context! Read on ;-)

Two heterosexual Canadian men are to tie the knot to enjoy the tax benefits of being a married couple. Bill Dalrymple, 56, and best friend Bryan Pinn, 65, are taking advantage of Canada's new same-sex marriage legislation. "I think it's a hoot," Mr Pinn told the Ottawa Sun.

But the two, both previously married to women, insist there is a serious issue behind the stunt. "There are significant tax implications that we don't think the government has thought through," Mr Pinn said. Mr. Dalrymple has been to see a lawyer already and there are no laws in marriage that define sexual preference. The 'couple' have still to set the date.