Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year Prayer

A New Year Prayer

Holy Father,

God of our yesterdays, our today, and our tomorrows.

We praise You for Your unequaled greatness.

Thank You for the year behind us and for the year ahead.

Help us in Your new year, Father, to fret less and laugh more.

To teach our children to laugh by laughing with them.

To teach others to love by loving them.

Knowing, when Love came to the stable in Bethlehem, He came for us.

So that Love could be with us, and we could know You.

That we could share Love with others.

Help us, Father, to hear Your love song in every sunrise,
in the chriping of sparrows in our backyards,
in the stories of our old folks, and the fantasies of our children.

Help us to stop and listen to Your love songs,
so that we may know You better and better.

We rejoice in the world You loved into being.

Thank You for another new year and for new chances every day.

We pray for peace, for light, and for hope, that we might spread them to others.

Forgive us for falling short this past year.

We leave the irreparable past in your hands, and step out into the unknown new year knowing You will go with us.

We accept Your gift of a new year and we rejoice in what's ahead, depending on You to help us do exactly what You want..

I say it again, we rejoice!

In Jesus name,


Prayer To Saint Matthew

O Glorious Saint Matthew, in your Gospel you portray Jesus as the longed-for Messiah who fulfilled the Prophets of the Old Covenant and as the new Lawgiver who founded a Church of the New Covenant. 

Obtain for us the grace to see Jesus living in his Church and to follow his teachings in our lives on earth so that we may live forever with him in heaven.


A year of terrifying hallucinations

Over the past 12 months, the unimaginable became the new reality. 

We began the year with a banking crisis and ended it with our entire public culture on the brink of bankruptcy

IF A PHRASE can sum up Ireland in 2010, it is the title of Alan Moloney’s brilliant online political comic: Wheel Spinning, Hamster Dead . 

The wheel of events was turning ever faster, as one unprecedented occurrence followed another. Things spun so dizzily out of control that time seemed to speed up into a blur.

Last January already seems a very long way away: things that were still unimaginable back then have not just come to pass, but have been accepted as the new normality.

But if we were to go further and compress the year into a single word, it would have to be something weird and exotic. 

The Tibetan Buddhist term “bardo” comes to mind. It is the state of being stuck between two earthly lives, one existence over, the other not yet begun. In this state, apparently, the soul is subject to great depression and terrifying hallucinations.

We lived in bardoland. 

To borrow a phrase from Antonio Gramsci, “the old was dying but the new could not yet be born”. 

A whole public culture – political, administrative, moral – had lost the last vestiges of its capacity to command credibility or respect. The desire for something to take its place, however powerfully felt, had not yet taken any clear form.

These two notions – a sense of time being speeded up and a sense of being stuck in doldrums of depression – are, of course, contradictory. 

But so was Ireland itself. 

The contradiction might be explained by the relationship of most Irish people to the idea of living in historic times. 2010 was undoubtedly a historic year, one of the most significant since the foundation of the State. 

But it felt, not that we were making history, but that history was happening to us.

There have been three periods in the last century when Ireland could be said to have mattered on the international stage. 

The struggle for independence was one – it resonated throughout the still-vast British empire. 

The period from 1995 to 2007 was another – the co-incidence of the peace process and the Celtic Tiger made it look like Ireland was providing a model to be emulated in other conflicts and other economies.

And the third period in which Ireland transcended its natural position as a small and marginal place is the one we are living through now. 

This time, however, the significance is entirely negative. 

It may be a bit of leap to look at Bertie Ahern’s humble base of operations, St Luke’s in Drumcondra, and imagine a blue plaque on the side: “From this house began the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the European Union in 2012”. 

But the notion is not entirely whimsical. 

In 2008 and 2009, we learned the consequences of petty Irish gombeen politics for Ireland. 

In 2010, we learned that they have consequences for Europe. 

It is not quite the kind of global significance our patriots dreamed of.

The idea that Ireland could unravel the euro and hence threaten the EU itself might, rather perversely, have given the Government some real bargaining power: save us or we bring the house down. 

Unfortunately, by the time the crisis came to the boil, the State itself seemed to have lost the will to live. 

The spectacle of the Two Stooges (Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey, who both later declared their intention to shuffle off the stage) telling the world that rumours of a bailout were a “fiction” merely confirmed the impression of utter haplessness.

Under the care of the Two Brians, Ireland felt like a patient who went into hospital for a hip replacement and ended up needing a heart transplant. 

The Government had an uncannily cack-handed ability to make bad situations worse, transforming a banking crisis into a sovereign-debt crisis and a sovereign-debt crisis into a genuine crisis of Irish democracy. 

What began with Seanie and Fingers and Bertie and Charlie ended up with Ajai Chopra and Olli Rehn. 

What began with delusions of grandeur ended up with humiliation and powerlessness. 

The fall was in direct proportion to the overweening pride.

There was something weirdly symbolic about the way the Irish passport itself made the news: the revelation that Israeli intelligence had used forged Irish passports in carrying out a murder, the long queues at the passport office in March and the 40,000 backlog of applicants. 

If a passport is a symbol of sovereignty, ours were becoming symbols of fraud and failure.

This was also the year when the absurdities of Irish politics ceased to be entertaining. Everywhere one looked, there were instances of an entire political culture in chaos. 

George Lee’s decision to walk away from the 27,000 people who had voted for him in the Dublin South by election. 

The botched coup against Enda Kenny in which no one even pretended that any ideas were at stake, and the main concern seemed to be the divvying up of the spoils of a victory that was assumed to be inevitable. 

Willie O’Dea’s resignation after he urged a journalist to ask an opponent whether “the brothel is still closed”.

Trevor Sargent, long seen as the epitome of the political idealist, resigning because, like a classic clientilist hack, he had urged gardaí to drop a case against a constituent. 

Ivor Callely’s astonishing powers of bilocation and defiant brazenness. 

And, of course, Brian Cowen’s invention of a new euphemism (“hoarse and congested”). 

In previous years, many of these stories would have added to the gaiety of the nation. 

This year, they added to the nation’s very public implosion.

In the wider culture, too, there were reminders that all heroes have clay feet. 

Gerry Ryan’s death in April produced genuine grief and loss and heartfelt tributes to his brilliance as a broadcaster. His inquest in December revealed the man behind the public façade – anxious, indebted, stressed-out, leaning on alcohol and cocaine to get him through the week – to be in an unhappy way even closer to his listeners than most of them can ever have imagined.

One of the few people everybody seemed to agree is a saint, a gentleman and a national treasure is Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh – and he was leaving us with that saddest of thoughts: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

The depth of the malaise was revealed nowhere more clearly than in the public attitude to the intervention of the IMF and European Union. 

If, a decade ago, anyone had suggested that a substantial part of the population would be glad to see a Brussels-based Finn and a Washington-based Indian take charge of “independent” Ireland, the assumption would have been that magic mushrooms were doing their worst. 

There was in fact a sense of relief (enhanced by the contrast between our ministers’ fleets of black chauffeur-driven limos and Mr Chopra’s ability to hail taxis and, astonishingly, actually walk on the ground). 

It was cruelly illusory – the bailout had very little to do with saving Ireland and everything to do with saving the euro and European banks. 

But the desire to see the Bogeyman as Santa Claus did reveal the depth of Irish people’s contempt for their own institutions.

The ease with which the Republic was surrendered pointed, perhaps, to a widespread belief that it did not really exist. 

And this belief was not just about money.

If we looked beyond the fiscal humiliation for a source of collective pride in our republic, it was not easy to find.

How well, for example, had the State lived up to the first two priorities set by the democratic programme of the First Dáil in 1919? 

The first was “to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children”.

The reverberations from the Murphy report into the abuse of children by Catholic priests in the Dublin archdiocese continued to sound throughout the year, coming to the surface again in the horrific story of Tony Walsh and those who repeatedly let him loose on children.

We learned that an extra 27,000 children were pitched into consistent poverty in 2009 – a number that is likely to have risen sharply in 2010.

Children make up 26 per cent of the population but 42 per cent of those are in consistent poverty.

The names of Tracey Fay and Daniel McAnaspie emerged from the obscurity of anonymous abandonment. 

The revelation in April that at least 37 children had died in State care since 2000, seemed shocking.

But it got much worse, as the figure was revised upwards to 188 and then to 199. 

Not only had these children died while being minded by the HSE (109 of them from “unnatural causes”) but the State seemed incapable of even enumerating them. 

Not only were they not names, they were hardly even numbers. 

The collapse of Ireland’s performance in the literacy of 15-year-olds (from fifth to 17th place in the OECD) told a similar story.

And the second duty of the Republic, according to the democratic programme? 

To develop a “sympathetic native scheme for the care of the Nation’s aged and infirm”.  

Prime Time’s reports on Alzheimer’s care (in May) and on the lack of standards for home care of the elderly (in December) raised uncomfortable questions about the degree to which those promises had been kept.

All of this served to underline the degree to which the political project that had emerged from the early 20th century – the creation of a successful republic whose fate would forever be in its own hands – had run its course.

The State that was the concrete expression of that project had lost the capacity to command the trust and confidence of its citizens.

Its credit (both financial and moral) had been gambled on the banks. 

In 2010, it became amply clear that the gambler was compulsive and desperate, upping the stakes again and again in an attempt to recoup past losses.

If there was any upside to this spectacle, it was the loss of all illusions.

Sport and pop culture – the usual outlets for escapism – didn’t help very much as we watched the World Cup we were not at and The X-Factor final that Mary Byrne didn’t make. 

It was striking that, unlike in the 1980s, even religious visions didn’t provide much consolation. 

Joe Coleman had his moments, with his claims of personal messages from the Virgin Mary at Knock Shrine, but it was a passing phenomenon. 

The intervention we looked for was not divine.

It came from quiet men with briefcases rather than from supernatural forces.

And it was not the answer to our prayers.

There is something to be said for disillusion, however. 

This time, Romantic Ireland really is dead and gone, and given where our grand delusions got us, that may not be a bad thing.

We will go into a new year, blinking in the harsh light of reality but knowing that we have little choice but to begin again.


Priest welcomed back to ministry

The Diocese of Down and Connor has welcomed back a priest who left ministry in 1973 to be married.

In a ceremony on the fourth Sunday of Advent at the weekend, Bishop Noel Treanor officiated at the re-admission of Fr Michael McConville, almost 50 years after his original ordination in 1961.

Having studied for the priesthood in St Patrick's College, Carlow, Fr Michael ministered in Down and Connor for 12 years before applying to leave in order to marry Imelda Byrne, which he did in 1975, having three children in the years to Imelda's death in 1981.

Very actively involved in his parish and diocese in the intervening years, including the annual Lourdes pilgrimage as a volunteer with the Brancardier team, Michael's application to re-enter ministry was made possible through a petition for priestly reintegration presented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and which was approved by Pope Benedict.

In the interim, Michael assisted in pastoral work at St Patrick's parish in Belfast and engaged with a formation course at All Hallows in Dublin.

Leading the ceremony for Fr Michael at the Oratory of Nazareth Care Village in Belfast, Bishop Treanor said: ''I rejoice at Michael McConville's decision. I wish him many years of fruitful service in the Diocese, every happiness and blessing in his ministry.''


A shameful Thought for the Day (Contribution)

Was it for this that I broke the habit of years and accepted the Guardian's invitation to listen to Thought for the Day

Was it for this that the BBC, including the director general himself, no less, spent months negotiating with the Vatican? 

What on earth were they negotiating about, if all that emerged was the damp, faltering squib we have just strained our ears to hear?

We've already had what little apology we are going to get (none in most cases) for the raped children, the Aids-sufferers in Africa, the centuries spent attacking Jews, science, women and "heretics", the indulgences and more modern (and tax-deductible) methods of fleecing the gullible to build the Vatican's vast fortune. 

So, no surprise that these weren't mentioned. But there's something else for which the pope should go to confession, and it's arguably the nastiest of all.

I refer to the main doctrine of Christian theology itself, which was the centrepiece of what Ratzinger actually did say in his Thought for the Day.

"Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross."
More shameful than the death itself is the Christian theory that it was necessary.

It was necessary because all humans are born in sin. 

Every tiny baby, too young to have a deed or a thought, is riddled with sin: original sin. 

Here's Thomas Aquinas:
". . . the original sin of all men was in Adam indeed, as in its principal cause, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 5:12): "In whom all have sinned": whereas it is in the bodily semen, as in its instrumental cause, since it is by the active power of the semen that original sin together with human nature is transmitted to the child."
Adam (who never existed) bequeathed his "sin" in his bodily semen (charming notion) to all of humanity. 

That sin, with which every newborn baby is hideously stained (another charming notion), was so terrible that it could be forgiven only through the blood sacrifice of a scapegoat. 

But no ordinary scapegoat would do. 

The sin of humanity was so great that the only adequate sacrificial victim was God himself.

That's right. 

The creator of the universe, sublime inventor of mathematics, of relativistic space-time, of quarks and quanta, of life itself, Almighty God, who reads our every thought and hears our every prayer, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God couldn't think of a better way to forgive us than to have himself tortured and executed. 

For heaven's sake, if he wanted to forgive us, why didn't he just forgive us? 

Who, after all, needed to be impressed by the blood and the agony? 

Nobody but himself.

Ratzinger has much to confess in his own conduct, as cardinal and pope. 

But he is also guilty of promoting one of the most repugnant ideas ever to occur to a human mind: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22).


One last collection for Black Santa

The streets are white. 

Ice sparkles in the sunlight and there are icicles dangling from St Anne’s Cathedral. 

Before the steps of the imposing Cathedral stands a man draped in black, freezing, but cheerfully accepting donations from passers-by.

This is the Dean of St Anne’s, the Very Rev Houston McKelvey.

And this is his final year acting as the ‘Black Santa’, following on from a tradition started in 1973 by Dean Sammy Crooks.

Dean Crooks had concerns about the ‘expensive but necessary’ work being done to the Cathedral, and decided to stand at the Cathedral entrance on Donegall street to beg for the poor and charities.

The press coined the phrase ‘Black Santa’ because of the black Anglican clerical cloak he wore as he stood by the steps.

Set to retire in 2011, Rev Houston McKelvey’s thoughts turn to his time as Dean, his role as Black Santa and his life before entering the Church.

He studied at Royal Belfast Academical Institution, before completing an honours degree in Geography at Queens University, then studied theology at Trinity College.

Dean McKelvey was ordained in 1967.

The Very Rev McKelvey is not ignorant of the work of journalists, having worked as one for a short time while at Queens University. He writes for the Church of Ireland Weekly Gazette and St Anne's produces its own monthly magazine.

He is married to Roberta and they have one son, John, who lives and works in America.

He said: “I came to St Anne’s 10 years ago. I succeeded the Very Rev Jack Shearer.

“I suppose, amongst the highlights of my time here, the visit of the Queen and the Duke of York in the Jubilee year rates highly.”

Apart from the annual Black Santa appeal, he has been moved by the generosity of the people of Belfast when faced with the suffering of others — notably after the devastating tsunami which hit Indonesia in 2004 and claimed an estimated 230,000 lives.

Dr McKelvey organised a special collection that year.

“In about nine days the people of this community gave £1.6m.

“We’ll never forget the sight of people on Donegall street coming out of the rain and giving money,” he added.

He has also enjoyed developing friendships across the divide in Northern Ireland.

“One of the best things about St Anne’s is the partnership we have with St Peter’s Catholic Cathedral and the friendship I’ve enjoyed with Monsignor Tom Toner and Dr Hugh Kennedy,” he said.

We retire to his office to thaw out for a bit and Dr McKelvey quips: “If I had known what the weather would be like this year I’d have retired last year.

“At least it hasn’t rained but it is very cold. You really need a sense of humour for this weather,” he added.

Of the Black Santa appeal, he said: “The good thing about the Black Santa sit out is that while it takes place outside a Church of Ireland Cathedral, it is owned by all of the community.

“Each year we bring in between £220,000 and £250,000 and that is distributed among a wide range of charities and community groups who deal with the young, the elderly, medical research and medical support.

“By tradition, at the beginning of our Christmas service ‘Nine lessons on carols’ we give a cheque to the Christian Aid charity, which is usually a minimum of £20,000.

“The donations come from individuals, schools, businesses and churches, but it is a team effort.

“We have a good team of volunteers at the Cathedral who help in counting the donations, setting up gift aid and dealing with tax.

“Two Bishops and cannons together with former clerical members of staff stand at the barrel to collect donations,” he added.

“Cheques are usually given on the first Sunday in February at our ‘Good Samaritans’ service, when representatives of community groups and charities are present,” he said.

“The stained glass window of the Cathedral shows the parable of the Good Samaritan and I’ve always been impressed by the quality of people who come along on that day.

“I believe there is more involved than simply a cheque: there is a recognition of the effort and contribution their effort makes to the community.”

He said of his life as a member of the clergy: “I was ordained in 1967. From 1967 to 1970 I was the curate assistant in Dunmurry.

“The Bishop sent me to Seymour Hill where there was a church extension project and a church to be consecrated.

“I had 14 years or so there, and following that I served as secretary |of the General Synod Board of Education for Northern Ireland.

“In that role I was |responsible for advising the church on matters of education and the church’s response to government policy.

“We established links with the Presbyterian church and the Catholic church. Together, we sponsored the common program in religious education.

“Within my church, with the help of Archbishop Robin Eames who was on the Church Board of Education, we played a leading role in child protection policy,” he added.

His retirement, he hopes, will bring respite from the cold.

“I want to see a little sunshine in January,” he shivered.

He added: “I have been working on a website, it’s a project I started while in the church and will take me into my retirement.

“It was started for church news and for church leaders, the website is and brings news from the home countries and worldwide into one website for ease.

“It is basically a parish support resource.”

And even more importantly, involves long periods in a warm room. 


Little singers bring a bit of Heaven to Vatican

Five thousand “little singers” lifted spirits in the Vatican Thursday with the pure notes of Christmas carols new and old, delighting Pope Benedict XVI who greeted them in the Paul VI audience hall. 

They are the boys and girls of the International Pueri Cantores Federation, ranging in age from 7 to 17, who had come to Rome to sing and pray for peace this Christmas.

Greeting them in eight languages, from English to Russian, Pope Benedict XVI said that seeking the right notes and words to sing to God means bringing a little bit of Heaven to those who listen. 

The Pueri Cantores is a federation of children’s choirs dedicated to sacred music.

He told them “Always remember that your singing is a service. Firstly, it is a service to God, a way of giving him the praise that is due. It is also a service to your fellow worshippers, helping them to raise their hearts and minds to the Lord in prayer. And it is a service to the whole Church, offering a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy that is the goal of all true worship, when the choirs of angels and saints unite in one unending song of love and praise”.

The full text of the Pope’s greeting:

Dear young members of the Pueri Cantores Federation,

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to welcome you today as you celebrate your thirty-sixth International Congress here in Rome and I thank you for the commitment you have shown to the apostolate of choral singing in the liturgy. 

In Saint Augustine’s words: “singing is an expression of joy and … love” (Sermo 34:1). 

As you use your talents and your faith to sing God’s praises, you give voice to the natural desire of every human being to glorify him, with songs of love. It is hard to find words to convey the sheer joy of the soul’s loving encounter with God, indeed the great mystics could only remain silent before the mystery.

Yet beautiful music is able to express something of the mystery of God’s love for us and ours for him, as we are reminded by the theme chosen for your Congress, Deus Caritas Est.

Always remember that your singing is a service. 

Firstly, it is a service to God, a way of giving him the praise that is due. It is also a service to your fellow worshippers, helping them to raise their hearts and minds to the Lord in prayer. 

And it is a service to the whole Church, offering a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy that is the goal of all true worship, when the choirs of angels and saints unite in one unending song of love and praise.

I greet especially the groups present today from the United States, Sweden, Ireland, Latvia and South Korea. 

I encourage you to persevere in your good work, I assure you of my prayers, and I gladly invoke upon you God’s abundant blessings.


Pope told to 'face the facts' of China's religious freedom

THE VATICAN must “face the facts” about religious freedom in China, the foreign ministry said in the first official reaction to the pope’s Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi message condemning the persecution of Chinese Catholics.

Pope Benedict denounced limits on freedom of worship in China and encouraged Catholics here to persevere.

“We hope the Vatican can face the facts of China’s religious freedom and the development of Catholicism in China and take concrete actions to promote positive conditions for China-Vatican relations,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference.

An editorial in the English-language edition of the Global Times, run by Communist Party organ the People’s Daily, said the pope had acted “more like a western politician than a religious leader”, but this was the first official commentary from Beijing.

Broadly speaking, relations between Beijing and the Holy See have been poor since the communists kicked foreign clergy out in the 1950s and severed ties with the Vatican.

China’s officially atheist government requires that Christians worship in state-registered churches, and China’s eight to 12 million Catholics are divided into official and unofficial camps.

Catholics are required to join the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, set up eight years after the 1949 revolution, which has five million members and which repeatedly angers Rome by naming bishops without the Vatican’s approval.

On the other hand there is an underground church wary of government ties. 

The Vatican estimates about eight million Chinese Catholics worship secretly in underground churches not recognised by the government.

In recent years, under Pope Benedict, relations have improved and disputes over appointments in China’s official church have been avoided by quietly conferring on candidates, which means that most state-approved bishops have a Vatican blessing.

The policy of appointing religious leaders without consulting with the titular heads of the religion in question is something that the Chinese have also done with the Tibetan Buddhists.

The current Panchen Lama, second in command in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, was appointed by the Chinese government after the Panchen Lama named by the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, was kidnapped.

Negotiations are ongoing to improve the status of the Catholic Church in China, probably by no longer recognising Taiwan diplomatically in favour of Beijing. 

The Vatican is one of the few countries in the world that gives diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province. 

This is a key irritant to relations between the Holy See and Beijing.

While relations tend to simmer, they do flare up every so often.

A schism would be hugely difficult for Chinese Catholics, as they would be forced to either ally themselves with the Vatican, and choose underground worship, or tie themselves to the patriotic association, which could involve excommunication.


National Archives: Britain lobbied pope to intervene in IRA hunger strike

British diplomats lobbied Pope John Paul II repeatedly to secure his assistance in ending the IRA's 1980 hunger strike, exchanges between Margaret Thatcher and the Vatican reveal.

Documents available at the National Archives from today also demonstrate how, as part of the propaganda war against the republican protest, UK embassies were instructed to discover whether prisoners around the world had to wear uniforms. 

Even the releaxed dress code of Liechtenstein's inmates was recorded.

The Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) members had launched a hunger strike in the Maze prison with five demands for their political status to be recognised, including the right not to wear a uniform or do prison work.

In the run-up to the confrontation, the Foreign Office asked diplomats to report on the use of uniforms in other countries.

"The practice of wearing prison uniforms in Spanish goals was discontinued," a diplomat in Madrid wrote.

In Italy, prisoners dressed in "khaki-coloured suits". 

In Austria, convicts had uniforms "of quite good quality and by no means blatantly distinctive". 

In Portugal, the suits, it was said, "would not attract attention since [they were] the sort worn by the average labourer".

Swiss criminals, the embassy in Berne noted, were not required to wear uniforms and "the foregoing also applies to Liechtenstein". 

Convicted prisoners in Turkey were not obliged to wear prison uniforms, a diplomat in Ankara added, "if only because the government does not provide any".

Humphrey Atkins, the Northern Ireland secretary, cannot have been reassured. 

Secret cabinet minutes on 23 October record him proposing to issue a statement making clear "that the government [was] in no circumstances prepared to grant special status to the PIRA prisoners but that as part of the continuing process of penal reform they were prepared to allow all prisoners to wear approved civilian clothing.

"[Atkins] considered that a statement on those lines would deprive the protesters of a great deal of public sympathy … and would be better made now than at a later stage when it could be presented as a surrender to the prisoners' action."

The prime minister agreed but insisted that "once the government's position had been made clear, no further concessions should be offered." Similar comments – such as "We cannot make any concessions" – appear in the margins of other cabinet documents on the hunger strike in Thatcher's charcteristic blue felt pen.

The government's slight shift in position did not deter the hunger strikers. Seven republican volunteers in the H-Blocks refused food on 27 October 1980. A report sent to the cabinet in early November warned that republican families "are very willing for their kin to die for the cause".

There was also disappointment in the cabinet that while "individual priests (such as Fr Faul) are undoubtedly doing their best, the church is not being particularly helpful. Cardinal O'Fiaich and Bishop Daly have not as yet taken a very constructive line."

But there were plans to stiffen the resolve of the Catholic church. Sir Mark Heath, the British ambassador to the Vatican, had been summoned to convey a personal message from the pope to the prime minister.

"I would ask you to consider personally possible solution in order to avoid irreversible consequences that could perhaps prove irreparable," the pope's letter to Thatcher pleaded.

The ambassador added a covering note: "When I asked what further practical steps he thought we could take in addition to the concession on clothing, he was silent. [The pope] said that the clergy would continue to urge the prisoners to give up their strike and [that] the message was a personal one from the pope himself."

On 24 November the prime minister flew to Rome and met John Paul II. On her return she penned a grateful letter. 

"I derive encouragement, instructions and inspiration from our discussion," she told him. 

"Your wisdom and experience are of inestimable value to us all. I will continue to reflect for a long time on what you said."

She continued: "I and my colleagues in the government are firmly resolved that it would be utterly wrong … to take any steps which could be regarded as conceding that political motives can excuse murder or serious crimes.

"In view of the sensitivy of the issue involved, I have asked HM minister to the Holy See to seek an early opportuinity to explain matters more fully to the cardinal secretary of state; and for that purpose I am arranging for a senior official … in the Northern ireland Office to go to Rome to assist Sir Mark Heath."

The prime minister also told the pope: "You may be sure we very much welcome the efforts of the clergy in Northern Ireland to persuade the prisoners both to give up the strike and to end their protest; and I hope you will be able to give full support to this objective."

In mid-December, after a plea from Cardinal O'Fiaich as one of the hunger strikers approached death, the protest was called off. 

The recriminations soon began; a second – and more deadly – hunger strike was launched the following year.


Ambassador accused of suppressing Birmingham Six case

An influential priest accused the Irish ambassador to the US of trying to thwart attempts to raise the case of the Birmingham Six.

Fr Denis Faul wrote to Ambassador Sean Donlon, and copied it to Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Lenihan, claiming he was interfering in efforts to highlight the miscarriage of justice.

In a letter dated November 25 1979, and released for the first time, the priest alleges Mr Donlon tried to stop a Congressman raising the case.

Fr Faul said it had been intimated that the Ambassador tried to thwart Congressman Hamilton Fish Junior from pursuing interest in the Birmingham Six.

“The allegation that you were working against us in this matter and trying to thwart our efforts to obtain justice has caused us deep distress,” he wrote.

Two other priests also signed the letter – Fr Brian J Brady, St Joseph’s College, Belfast, and Fr Raymond Murray, Armagh City.

The letter went on: “That distress has been made even more acute by the further allegation that your representations to Congressman Fish implied that Fr Murray’s credibility was in question.”

Fr Faul accused the Ambassador of the “attempted denigration” of Fr Murray and alleged he had quoted the Grand Master of the Orange Order Martyn Smyth and former SDLP leader Gerry Fitt.

He said: “That you should be prepared to quote the opinions of the leader of Orangeism and of a politician aptly described as ’going for the jugular’ of those whom he disagrees, in order to discredit a Catholic priest in good standing in his own diocese, would, if true, be gravely disturbing.”

In a cover letter to Mr Lenihan, Fr Faul said he hoped the Ambassador “will cease thwarting our efforts in the cause of justice and peace in the north of Ireland”.

Mr Lenihan hit back insisting he had full confidence in Ambassador Donlon.

He stressed that the top diplomat had “not touched” on the Birmingham Six case during conversations with the Congressman.

“They have been about the Congressman’s interest in promoting contacts between elected representatives from both parts of Ireland and US.”

Fr Faul offered the Ambassador a chance to respond but there is no evidence in the file that he did. No further evidence was put forward by the priests for the basis of the allegations.

The Birmingham Six walked free from jail in 1991 after 16 years in jail when their convictions for the murder of 21 people in two pubs were quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker, between them, served 96 years for a crime they did not commit.


Protesting students call on archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been called on to help end a dispute between a university and students who are continuing an occupation in protest at rises in tuition fees. 

The students have been staging a sit-in at the Senate building at the University of Kent in Canterbury since December 8 and have remained there throughout Christmas.

University officials aim to regain control of the building by seeking a possession order at a hearing at Canterbury County Court on January 7.

But the five-strong group of students vowed to stay put indefinitely to highlight their opposition to the rise in tuition fees and cuts in higher education.

The students want the university and its vice-chancellor Julia Goodfellow to condemn the Government's plans publicly.

They said their occupation was a reaction to Prof Goodfellow signing a letter, published in the Daily Telegraph on December 8, endorsing a hike in tuition fees.

Prof Goodfellow has since written an open letter in which she said she deplored cuts to higher education funding, but the students said this did not meet their demands.

The students have now written to the Archbishop, Rowan Williams, in the hope that as a visitor to the university he will act as mediator to help resolve the impasse.

No response has been received, one of the occupiers, 20-year-old philosophy student Ben Stevenson, said today.

The occupiers said in a statement that the "savage cuts and substantial rise in fees should not be under-estimated".

Their statement added: "We feel that education should be seen as a public good and therefore a crucial investment, and that if education has to be perceived as a commodity, then it is one of our last great exportable commodities, and deserves to be protected.

"We oppose cuts that will result in university institutions being a privilege accessible solely to the few.

"Our occupation is completely peaceful and we maintain consistency in our objectives and feel this is imperative until our demands are met."

The students alleged that the heating was turned off during the cold weather, that they have been unable to leave the building for fresh air and that their internet connection has been cut.

People have been turning up with food donations for them and they have been passing the time watching films and maintaining contact with supporters via Twitter and Facebook using a 3G dongle.

The students intend to issue a letter to universities encouraging students and staff to sign as a counter-measure to the letter signed by Prof Goodfellow and other board members of Universities UK.

Their statement went on: "We have also been in contact with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. Due to his capacity as Visitor to the University of Kent, we hope he may act as mediator in our current dispute with the university administration." 

Fellow campaigners at universities across the country, including Bristol, University College London and Leeds, all staged occupations but most ended after two weeks.

A candlelit vigil will be held at 5pm on January 1 outside the occupied Senate building to show support for the protesters.

The students added: "Our university occupation is now officially the last running in Great Britain and we are aiming to maintain action throughout the Christmas and New Year period until we feel that our demands have been met.

"We stand in solidarity with all those who are fighting the cuts and will stand behind those sectors of the society who feel the force of the Government's austerity measures which are wholly unnecessary, as these reforms will not just impact educational institutions but all areas of welfare.

"The struggle against cuts is ongoing and this occupation is one form of opposition to the Government's austerity measures.

"If the movement against cuts is to have any impact then it will need to be diverse in its methods, dedicated to its aims and well coordinated between the various sectors of society."

Nobody from the university was available for immediate comment today.

In a previously-issued statement, it said the university had sought to establish common ground with the students.

As the students had indicated no intention to leave, they felt it necessary to take legal action and seek a possession order through the courts.

The Senate building is due for essential maintenance work and will be needed for university meetings after the Christmas closure, it added.


ESB donates one million euro to Society of Saint Vincent de Paul

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) received a welcome boost for its Annual Appeal with an €1 million donation from ESB just before Christmas.

“It will help make a real and valuable difference to families and individuals who are struggling in these tough times. It will be used to provide much needed basics for families to help them get through Christmas and the remaining winter months,” said Mairead Bushnell, SVP National President. 

“ESB has a long history of working with SVP, with particular focus on helping and advising consumers on staying well and warm over the winter months.”

She said that the generous contribution reflects the great response from the public to the 2010 Annual Appeal.  

Calls for assistance to the SVP this year have increased nationally by 35% and in some areas, calls to regional offices are up 50%.  In this context, she encouraged people to continue to make much-needed donations as there are so many people in need throughout the country.

Speaking about ESB’s donation, Liam Molloy, General Manager, ESB Electric Ireland said, “In view of the particularly challenging times that families and individuals are dealing with at the moment, ESB is making an immediate contribution of €1 million to St. Vincent de Paul’s Annual Appeal to help assist those in need.  The current cold weather is placing extra stress on families, especially so close to Christmas, so we hope our contribution will provide some 
further relief to those most in need.”

The SVP Annual Appeal had another unusual donation just before Christmas when toys and children’s presents arrived in Dublin from students at the Saarland University in Germany.  

Over 130 shoeboxes of toys and gifts were delivered to the SVP National Office in Dublin from the English Department at the German University. 

The students and their Professor, Bert Hornback, were studying the situation in Ireland and decided to make a contribution to an Irish charity.  

The delivery and collection was sponsored by the Irish-German Fellowship, Saarland.

The New Year is getting off to a good start with Jam Café Bakery Deli launching their inaugural 2011 charity calendar, with all proceeds from sales going to SVP.  

The chain has branches in Kenmare, Killarney, Tralee and Cork

“I hope it will be the first of an annual fund raising project and that it will win the support of our customers and friends and hopefully deliver a nice fat cheque to St Vincent de Paul"  said James Mulchrone of Jam.  

"We wanted to do something that would have immediate and local impact. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is always a very worthy charity and never more so than at this challenging time for everyone in our community.”

Brendan Dempsey, Cork Regional President, SVP, welcomed the initiative, in times when people are feeling the pinch and the stress rates seem much higher.  

“The general public and companies have been tremendous, the good will is so obvious that we can’t remember a time when we received so many calls offering help in one form or another, its appreciated and every little helps,” he said.

The Jam Charity Calendars is available from any Jam Café, with a suggested donation of €4.50.