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.