And It’s Goodbye From Him

I have seen the Future…and I dont really like it. So I dont want to work for it. And I am too tired to work against it.

It might be sixteen years ago since I saw a BBC journalist touring USA as part of reporting the 2000 Election campaign. It was suggested that the new-fangled Internet would change Politics for ever. It has….it has changed it for the worse.

Donald Trump would not have been possible without the Internet. And Brexit (thankfully) would not have been possible without the Internet.

Like William Caxton’s printing press, it changes the nature of Discourse. Cheapens it. The politics of Facebook. The politics of the Hashtag. The politics of the Blog. There is a lot of fun in being a wee, old, fat man with an ipad. If I was ever right about one thing, it was the title of this Blog…Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia is exactly what I have been doing.

It started out on 11th August 2011 as an alternative to blogging. But somehow it became serious with occasional quirkiness. A Blog only rises above the level of a “Journal” when people read it…comment. And in a strange way, it is the “commenters” who forced the Blog to become more serious. …more (dare I say it) “responsible”.

But Politics is going in directions I dont like. Five years ago, I believed in the Good Friday Agreement. Today…I dont. I voted for Brexit on the basis that it might be a game-changer….the point at which the Good Friday Agreement can be put in the dustbin of HIstory. Whether it was the Agreement itself or the outworking of it or sabotage from London is almost irrelevant.

It wont deliver for Nationalists. Sinn Féin is in office without power and is satisfied. SDLP are pouting that they are not in power but really they should shoulder some of the blame. They were out-played after 1998. And seem to have embraced a form of words “progressive nationalism” as a form of words to cover internal divisions. While some advance SDLP, others seem intent on changing SDLP to advance a different agenda. The Party is best served at Council level but are undermined by a faux professionalism and those that purport to see abig picture of PES colleagues in western Europe and British Labour and Irish Labour. Avoiding niche campaigns like student loans and roaming charges for mobile phones in Europe might be a good idea.

Brexit gives SDLP an opportunity to advance nationalism. Will they take it? Probably not.

Too many people seem satisfied with DUP-Sinn Féin. The one party State with two wings (as Mark Durkan put it) is the “new normal”. For fifty years, journalists went along with the Stormont regime. For thirty years they were uncritical of the British Administration and now they just go along with the new regime at Stormont.

This DUP-SF government is actually a Constitution and I see no way of changing this in the short or middle term. This will outlive me.

Peace is of course a big prize. I dont underestimate it. And I like a  police service which is at least modern and reasonably decent. Ten years ago, I would have encouraged young men and young women to think of PSNI as a career.

Undoubtedly police serve the “Community” but it is increasingly obvious that PSNI serve the needs of the DUP-SF “State” as much and as enthusiastically as the old RUC served the unionist “State”.

The police will fight Crime….except that in which the State is or was involved.

I really dont want to give it credibility by supporting it. I want to ignore it.

So….Time to move on.

Thanks to the people who have read and supported this Blog.

It is now an ex-Blog. I will be closing it down after the weekend and de-activating Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Slán!

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Rt Rev Monsignor John Murphy RIP

Monsignor John Murphy died at 8.10pm on Saturday night. You have probably never heard of him. He would be pleased about that. Because he did not seek or like the limelight.

He was in his mid 80s. A priest for 57 years. Ordained originally for the Diocese of Salford in the north of England. He served in Burnley and Bolton. He also spent a lot of time at Old Trafford watching Manchester United. He was friends with some of the coaching staff and players.

In the mid-1960s, his father died and he returned to County Antrim on long term compassionate leave to look after his widowed mother. He was an only child.

Like so many temporary arrangements, it turned out to be permanent. He was assigned to the Parish of Hannahstown but based at the small country church of “The Rock” in the hills above West Belfast. As the name suggests, during Penal Times in the eighteenth century, Mass was celebrated on rocks in remote areas. Catholics in Belfast would be alerted to “illegal” Mass by the lighting of a fire in the hills.

In the late 1960s, Hannahstown was a three-priest parish spread over three churches at Hannahstown, the Rock and the “Barn” at Hillhead on the fringes of West Belfast….and West Belfast was spreading out…new churches were built and the new parishes at Lenadoon, Twinbrook and Poleglass were established from Hannahstown in the 1970s.

But things were changing fast in Norn Iron. Internment without Trial was introduced in August 1971 and a prison camp established at Long Kesh near Lisburn. It later became the Maze Prison. In 1976, Father Murphy was appointed Catholic chaplain at Long Kesh/Maze.

You maybe think that there are other better known chaplains. Fr Murphy was THE chaplain. Others were at best “assistants” to him…priests who had no parish responsibility (perhaps schoolteachers) who were recruited to help. As the prison population increased, it was deemed a security risk to have too many prisoners…members of IRA, INLA …either internees or convicted of “terrorism”….murder, bombing, kidnapping….attending just one Sunday Mass.

Fr Murphy served as prison chaplain from 1976 to 2001…twenty-five years …accompanying prisoners on compassionate leave for family occasions such as funerals, carrying out his duties in prison cells, where the walls were smeared with excrement as part of the “Dirty Protest”. Negotiating on behalf of families, including the various Hunger Strikes and being with some of the ten hunger strikers who died. It was also dangerous. His church at the Rock was bombed. His home beside it was also bombed in  a seperate incident.

All the time he operated under the radar. Of course his family….he had no siblings. But his cousins knew something of his work and the need for discretion. The less detail they knew, the better for all.

Of course the older cousins knew him as “John” and the younger ones as “Father John”.

Yet at the event in 2009, to commemorate his fiftieth anniversary as a priest, all were surprised at the video which filled in some of the detail.They saw him making presentations to the United Nations, to European Union and Human Rights organisations. Private audience with the Pope. A leading voice in prison chaplaincy at local, national and international level. He talked to people in the Norn Iron Office and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. But he never spoke to journalists.

Certainly when journalists approached him, they were sent away.  The Catholic Church wanted to record it all. He declined. Relatives with a sense of the historic events he had witnessed could not get past his sense of extreme discretion. Few without a sense of “spirituality”, will understand the reason….he was a “Marian”priest with a sense of discretion modelled on the Mother of GOD. SHe witnessed historic events and said nothing.

His great friend Bishop Edward Daly died yesterday. And in Bishop Daly’s book, you will see one of the few references to Father Murphy, the Long Kesh priest. In other books, you will read about “The White Fox” and “Murph”.

Is there a legacy to the chaplaincy at Long Kesh/Maze? AWell certainly at An Féile event three years ago….at ironically St Oliver Plunkett Church (a church dedicated to an Irish bishop hanged, drawn and quartered in London), part of the audience was a row of men who described themselves as “ex prisoners and athiests” who told us that the Catholic Church had done nothing for them. A report I wrote on that lecture by Dr John Brewer is in this Blog’s archive.

That’s how it goes. Yet I think today’s funeral at the Rock presented an alternate version. Ex-prisoners were among the mourners. And a leading member of Sinn Féin, prominent at the time of the 1981 Hunger Strikes sat in a reserved seat across the aisle from the elderly cousins.

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The funeral Mass was concelebrated by three Bishops and six other priests. There were about forty priests in the congregation.  His chaplaincy during the Troubles necessarily impacted on fellow priests and families all over the North…in Belfast, Derry, South Armagh, West Tyrone etc a lot of parishes were represented in Long Kesh.

There was something moving in seeing four fully robed priests carry the coffin from the church and  gently laying him to his rest in the graveyard. Moving to hear his friend Father Gerry McCloskey give the main address. Last night, I struggled to find words that really got the essence of Monsignor John Murphy. But I think Bishop Noel Treanor got it right….”he was demure to the point of anonymity”.
Yes …that’s it.

Like I said his dwindling number of older cousins called him “John”. They knew him as a contemporary and as playmate.  and his younger cousins, who first knew him as a priest called him “Father John”.

Rest in Peace “Father John” ….you deserve it.

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Orange Parades: The Obvious Solution

I am glad I am giving up Blogging next week. Blogging has given up on me already. Satire is dead.

I am not sure if I heard the News correctly earlier in the week. A former member of the Orange Order (Adrian) who used to protest about Gay people is now a transgendered woman called Adrienne? Have I got this right?

He now wants to rejoin the Orange Order…Womens Section? Am I still right?

Being a fully paid up member of the “liberal elite”, I have never had much time for the Orange Order. I tend to empathise with residents who find their parades offensive.

But on the other hand, I feel I should have a certain sympathy with Adrienne.

The problem with being a “liberal” is that I am used to living with Angst. I have always believed that we can live long enough to cure all Fears….eg as a retired man, I dont fear Unemployment.

But I think I have finally out-lived Angst. I just dont care enough anymore. Plenty of young SDLP people to do Angst for me.

I can certainly understand my colleagues getting irritated that PSNI are not enthusiastically enforcing the laws on drinking in the street during Orange parades.

Indeed I can understand “family” residents in the Belfast Holylands getting annoyed when thousands of Queens University students are partying in their streets for St Patricks Day …St Patricks Week….and indeed every night of the year.

It  is one of those odd things about Policing that if a passing police patrol sees you urinating against the wall of a Catholic Church on a night in February or a British war memorial on a night in December…they will quite rightly arrest you. If on the other hand several thousand people decide to do this in broad daylight, not everyone will be arrested.

Thats how Crowd Control works….the easy option. Walk down the street alone drinking a can of Budweiser, you will be told to stop. Party with thousands in University Avenue on 17th March or walk with thousands thru Shaftsbury Square with several boxes of Harp and….well, the chances are that no body will arrest you.

The normal rules are suspended. So it is hypocritical for people, including SDLP voices to point up that the PSNI are not going to tolerate excessive anti-social behaviour during the Pride (formerly Gay Pride) celebrations in Belfast this weekend. Much as I like to see young people with their rainbow flags and painted faces….there is an undercurrent of anti-social behaviour. Last year I saw two Rainbow Warriors smoke a substance which was not Benson & Hedges.

Of course the key is ….is the behaviour legal and does iit cause offence. In this and in all respects, LGBT should be treated fairly…indeed thats what they and all reasonable people want.

Supporters of Orange Order and indeed militant Republicanism claim that their behaviour does not cause offence. The only people who can judge are people who are or not offended. Likewise the LGBT people will say they dont cause offence. But the best judges might be casual passers-by in Belfast City Centre.

Obviously we should tolerate these expessions of (as they all claim) “Culture”. More obviously we should not encourage illegal or anti-social behaviour….and be adult enough to realise PSNI will (in part) be pragmatic in respect of enforcement.

For a person like myself who finds that painting kerb-stones red, white and blue….or green, white and orange is tacky and offensive, I am not in any way uplifted to see kerb stones painted  in rainbow colours. That is crass and a disgrace. Likewise I am not convinced that street murals celebrating good stuff like Marriage Equality is somehow more acceptable than murals about Hunger Strikers and King Billy.

This behaviour merely divides the City further. There is no single drumbeat that represents Belfast.

Yet maybe Adrienne….the transgendered Orange supporter is the unlikely representative of Belfast. Is it actually possible to support Orange culture and Rainbow Culture. After all Orange and Green are in the Rainbow.

Adrienne is getting a good press in the Blogosphere

Maybe if all Orange-men became transgendered, they would be more acceptable marching past Ardoyne.

It must be worth a try.

 

 

 

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A Quiet Hero: Mrs FitzjamesHorse

No greater love has a retired man than getting his working wife out to her work every morning at 7.30am…before he goes back to bed for a couple of hours.
On Friday, I did that for the last time. Mrs FJH retired on Friday.
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Unlike me…Mrs FJH has actually been working for nearly four decades making lives better in West Belfast. Unlike me…Mrs FJH is not lazy. I spent most of my working life, looking out for a raindrop so that I could phone in saying that I was trapped in a flood, a snowflake so that I could report a blizzard and a sneeze that could lead to six months off with pneumonia. I am married to a woman who has a work ethic and a devotion to making lives better. At times, it has been downright embarrassing.
But on Friday she retired. She has done her time.
Welcome to my world.

I think the dynamic has changed for both of us. Working five days a week means that there are “windows” available from 5pm on Friday to 9pm on a Sunday….hardly more than a few hours for grocery shopping, visiting family, going for a drive etc. It all seems to end too quickly with getting diesel for the car around 7pm on a Sunday night.
Initially…I dont think that my wife will notice much difference. I guess this feels like an ordinary weekend. Tomorrow will feel like a normal day off. And this week. And this month.
But there will be a dawning that this is how it is…forever. And its generally good. Actually…its always good.
For this is exactly the weekend we planned and lived for.
There was a time when we loaded two babies into a car and drove over the mountain into Belfast…twice a day.
And now those babies have babies or are about to have babies of their own.
And there are great joys and sad tragedies shared.
And more to come.
Thats the good thing about Retirement. Windows open.
The alarm clock has been disconnected. If we take a notion to go to Tesco at 2pm on a Tuesday, thats what we will do. And if we want to go on the train to Derry for the day, we will do it. Or if inlaws visit on Wednesday evening, we wont be watching the clock, thinking its an early start. If the grandchildren come to visit on a Thursday, it wont be unusual. I will no longer be the sole grandparent at the school nativity play, sports day and summer evening under-14 GAA match.
MY retirement was a good thing.
OUR retirement…an entirely different dynamic…will be a lot better.
It is empowering for us both…and the things I used to do to kill a few hours like going to An Féile, the annual festival in West Belfast to watch assorted spoofers from Sinn Féin and their admirers in the blogging community appear artistic and cultured, well it holds little appeal in 2016. But you can still read about it on Slugger O’Toole.
The Future is not a “public” thing.
The Future is surprisingly “personal”.
Others think the EU Referendum was about “our children and our childrens children”. Which is rhetorical bollix.
Our childrens future involves a son becoming a father for the first time.
Their childrens future involves a 3year old getting a pair of shoes to start “big school”.

We intend to enjoy it.

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Moore Street, Dublin

Most times when I visit Dublin, I find myself in Moore Street. The ILAC Shopping Mall is handy enough for a snack…McDonalds, Burger King, O’Briens, Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Coming out of the General Post Office, I tend to cross Henry Street and go down the alleyways and into Moore Street and ILAC.
It feels like a pilgrimage. In 1916, my nation was born in the GPO and less than a week later, crucified in Moore Street. The men and women from the GPO took refuge in the warren of alleys, streets and houses before the decision to surrender.
Impossible for me to make that casual 200 metre stroll without thinking about making that journey from a blazing GPO under a hail of machine-gun fire.
The most romanticised incident of the Rising is the charge led by Captain O’Rahilly (“The O’Rahilly”) and his bleeding to death in a small alleyway, now grandly named O’Rahilly Parade. His last letter to hiswife immortalised in stone.
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Moore Street has been allowed to decay. Grand plans for memorials seem too little too late.
Moore Street is doubly iconic. I am not a great believer in the romanticised version of Dublin in the Rare Aul Times. I am not a great believer in tales of people being the “salt of the earth”. So when I see YouTube video clips of Ronnie Drew engaging serenading and being serenaded by the street-vending women …fruit and veg, flowers etc…I am not overly impressed.
The DUBLINERS and the Dubliners…so to speak…they kinda needed each other.
I am never impressed by lovable Dubliners and “Molly Malone”…lovable Belfast people with a quick chorus of “Black Velvet Band” , lovable Scousers ferrying across the Mersey, lovable Cockneys getting their knees up for Mother Brown and lovable New Yorkers “so good they named it twice”.
Yet Moore Street has changed. Possibly the massive shopping mall dating from the 1980s is the reason. But it has changed more in the last decade as some “ethnic” businesses cater for a migrant population from West Africa and Eastern Europe.

Yet for more than two decades, going into the ILAC Centre has meant passing tenor twelve people who only say one word…”Tobacco”.
I am not a smoker. So I never stopped. And any academic interest I might have in finding out why ten or twelve people say or shout the word “Tobacco” quickly goes away. I could of course stop and try asking them to explain the connexion between them and tobacco…but casual enquiries might not be welcome.

I suspect something not quite legal is going on. But I have never seen a Garda in Moore Street…ever. Yet it is not very likely that the local Garda Station does not know that people stand outside ILAC shouting “Tobacco” at nobody in particular.
Even successive Garda Commissioners must have been off duty and shopping at ILAC . I daresay successive senior officials at the Revenue Commissioners have shopped at ILAC. Do Dublin journalists not shop at the ILAC? Maybe even Cabinet Ministers. Maybe even Ministers of Finance. Is Moore Street in the constituency of Mary Lou McDonald, the Deputy Leader of Sinn Féin? Maybe she has canvassed outside ILAC. I know that she is very keen on the historical importance of Moore Street.
I know Mary Lou is very pissed off at the problem of Tax Evasion. Although she did describe a big supporter of Sinn Féin (Mr Slab Murphy) the convicted tax evader and smuggler as “typical country man”.
Maybe Mary Lou is confused.

I KNOW that I am confused.
I dont exactly know whats going on. It doesnt appear legit.
As these enterprising folks have been doing this for twenty years, it eems unlikely that successive shipments of cigarettes have fallen off trucks at Dublin Docks. Nor does it seem likely that occasional tourists to and from Europe have made a small profit on the personal allowance on cigarettes bought in France and Spain. Maybe these are counterfeit cigarettes made in such places as China and Vietnam and not subject to the same Health and Safety concerns of western European governments.
It may or may not be organised by criminals like the Kinahans and the Hutches.

I dont really understand the choreography of it all. The salt-of-the-earth Dubliner shouting “Tobacco” doesnt actually seem to have any in his/her possession. I dont know what happens when a passer-by says “yes Id like 100 Embassy Regal but I am not aware of cigarettes being legitimately sold in Tesco, Super Valu, Centra or thousands of other outlets in the Dublin Metropolitan area”.
So where is the Tobacco?
Well I have eyes. It doesnt take long to work it out.
But why isnt something done?
If the Revenue Commissioners…ie the Irish Citizen…ie the Republic of Ireland ….is being short-changed (on Moore Street for GODS sake!!!) then it is a slap in the face to the men and women who were under machine-gun fire a century ago.
The decayed buildings is not the biggest scandal in Moore Street in 2016.

Yet there is a curious connexion between Tax Evasion and the establishment of Republics. Look at Boston pre-1776…a Republic was founded with Tax EVasion as its core value. Arguably in a wing of American Republican Party, Libertarianism and militia men in Montana, that is still a big thing.
Arguably the Republic of Ireland was post-Enlightenment but there is certainly a (smaller) anti-government feeling in Ireland….so that Fianna Fáilers and Fine Gaelers might be occasionally “cute hoors” and Sinn Féiners can be “typical country men”.

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Where Are All The “Je Suis” People?

It is now eighteen months since the horrible incident in Paris, when several journalists on the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” were murdered by Islamist terrorists.

The great and the good of Belfast society…ie journalists and Bloggers gathered at Belfast City Hall, holding placards. The placards proclaimed “Je Suis Charlie” and our journos and bloggers held up pencils to symbolise their support for the Free Press. Being journalists and Bloggers…they all took selfies. I didnt go to the City Hall that night. I can only take hypocrites and hypocrisy in small doses.

As the days passed, it became clear that the Charlie Hebdo journalists had a mixed record on Decency.

But journalists love victimhood…as long as it is somebody else getting victimised. Thus at An Féile, the West Belfast festival, I have sat thru journalists telling lecturing on me how bad it is for journalists around the world. Patrick Corrigan from our local Amnesty International was in the chair on a couple of occasions.

A reaonable person might suggest that in Britain, the public is more at risk from having their rights abused by journalists than journos are at risk from the general public. Thats what the Levenson Inquiry found out anyway.

An Féile festival starts next week. I dont know if Patrick Corrigan and Amnesty will be .presenting a lecture on Press Freedom and the Risks to Journalists. If they do, I doubt Ciaran Barnes of the Sunday Life will be the main speaker on behalf of his oppressed colleagues around the globe.

Social Media is supposed to increase Empathy. I am not sure that it does. I am not sure if the City Hall protests for that Saudi Arabian Blogger in prison and being flogged was before or after “Charlie Hebdo” but I do know that  the familiar cast of journos and bloggers were outside City Hall, taking photographs of each other.

It is of course true that Journalism can be a dangerous profession in totalitarian states. But there is something about Journalists that makes them love their own victimhood.

Grief …Disgust at murder….should not be selective. Nor should it be divisive. Inevitably the “Je Suis …” placards get overtaken by events. The nightclub in Paris….the airport at Brussels….but few in the west get overly upset about the airport in Ankara or the street market in Baghdad.

We have to feel a connexion to the victims groups. But curiously the torture, rape and murder of Christians in Syria and Iraq is not on the western radar. There are no Twibbons on Twitter. There are are no flags on Facebook profiles. As the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower and Belfast City Hall lights up for Paris, Brussels, Nice, Munich….Orlando…..we might want to see Belfast City Hall light up in Vatican colours for an 84 year old Catholic priest, murdered today.

Maybe not.

Or maybe I am misjudging our local branch of Amnesty and the usual suspects who solemnly carry placards at the gates of the CIty Hall. Maybe, Patrick Corrigan is organising a vigil as I type this.
And lest we forget…nineteen Japanese people with disability were murdered today. Anyone gathering at the City Hall?

Is there a “hierarchy” of Victims?

Fr Jacques Hamel RIP.

 

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The Longest Journey…And A Single Step

I feel like a new phase of my life is beginning tomorrow. For a long time, I have wanted to travel all around Ireland.

Of course, I have done this before. I reckon that I have been in every town and village in Ireland at least five times in my adult life.

Back in the 1970s, weekends in Dublin were an escape from West Belfast…and not just Dublin at weekends but longer trips to Galway, Tralee, Wexford.

Later in the 1980s, it was a matter of packing our children into a small car and just going …somewhere…anywhere. Like noon on a Saturday when we went via Monaghan, had lunch in  Ballymahon (County Longford), a cup of tea in Clonmel (County Tipperary) and driving up a County Waterford.mountain to see a statue of the Virgin Mary (one of the moving ones…and…it didnt) at 8pm.

On the return journey, we had not driven the three miles into Cappoquin and the babies had fallen asleep. And stayed asleep until 5am Sunday when we got home. They missed out on fish and chips in PortLaoise and another snack at a garage in Balbriggan.

The strange thing is I never learned to drive a car. Our sole driver up and down Corkscrew Hill in County Clare and the Ring of Kerry was Mrs Fitzjames Horse.  And the boys got to see castles from Dunluce (County Antrim)  to Bunratty (County Clare). And stood on battlefields at Aughrim (County Galway) and Vinegar Hill (County Wexford). Thats how we were then.

And I want to do it again. It is a “bucket list” thing. The Farewell Tour. And I intend to finish it when I am 70 years old.

Ideally I would like to do this on foot. Walking. Thirty years ago, I ran marathons and half marathons. Distance walking holds no fear. My feet will be fine. I wont have respiratory problems….but  my knees might be a problem.

Of course I do have my famous Translink (train and bus) pass. Free travel in Norn Iron. And from May 2017, this will be extended to cover the whole island.

Can I manage it?

Well I have a cunning plan.

Say….walking from Belfast to Lisburn. Should be possible to cover that eight miles in a day, especially with a tea break in Dunmurry. Then the train home to stay overnight…and then a day or so later resume the journey in Lisburn.

Day 2….Lisburn-Moira….Train home.

Day 3…Moira -Lurgan. …Day 4 Lurgan-Portadown….Day 5 Portadown-Armagh….Day 6 Armagh-Dungannon.

Yes with lunch breaks and spending the night in my own house, it is certainly possible. And there is always Plan B….get the bus to travel. After all the walk from Coalisland to Cookstown via Stewartstown is not that great.

I have been wanting to do this for a long time and six years seems enough time to do it.

There IS Life after “Keeping An Eye On The Czar of Russia”.

 

 

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