Habemus Papam Franciscum

Tonight Catholics across the world are celebrating as we embrace our new Pope. Pope Francis the First, Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen by Conclave to be both the first South American and Jesuit Pope.

Millions around the world watched as the "Habemus Papum" announcement was made.

Our new Pope is a deeply humble man. He is doctrinally conservative with a strong commitment to social justice. I find that matches very closely with my own convictions so naturally I am delighted.

He is not of the Roman Curia which I believe is a good thing and he is a Jesuit. I have long had great admiration for the Jesuit order. It was founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a Saint I have always paid great devotion to.

The Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus, which our new Pope signed up to when he joined the order, is laid out below

"Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures and any other ministration whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of retreats, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments. Moreover, he should show himself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons or hospitals, and indeed, to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good".

I find the above a very noble cause and I hope our new Pope continues the good work of the Jesuit order throughout the Church as a whole.

I find myself in a very different place than I was at the end of the last conclave. The end of the last conclave had me in a very disappointed mood.

I am delighted by our new choice of Pope and I pray that the Holy Spirit and St Michael watch over our new Pontiff as he guides us through these dark days.

God Bless Pope Francis the First!!


A cause for concern?

So the results are in and as expected Francie Molloy is the new MP for Mid Ulster. I don't think that anyone with an ounce of sense expected anything different.

That said if we have a closer look at the results there may be a few interesting things happening within the political geography

1. Alliance Party

In 2010 they received 1% of the vote and 397 actual votes. This time out Eric Bullick received 487 votes. With less than 100 extra votes this is hardly impressive and confirms yet again that Alliance is an East of the Bann soft Unionist party, or at least the vast majority of their supporters are.


In 2010 Tony Quinn got 5826 votes (14.3%), which was a loss on 3% on their previous result. This time out Patsy McGlone took 6,478 votes (17.3%) in a reduced turnout. Thus making him the only main candidate to increase both his party actual and percentage vote. Now Patsy is a much stronger candidate compared to Tony Quinn and Francie Molly is no Martin McGuinness (not meant as an insult just a reality check).

That said the SDLP seem to have returned to their 2007 vote and for them this will seem like a victory but caution should be reached here. This was an election that was played as safe a houses and we had a massive drop in turnout so before they start proclaiming that they have turned the tide we would need to wait until the Euro election next year.

3. Sectarian Headcount AKA Agreed Unionist Candidate Nigel Lutton

Mr Lutton inherited a combined Unionist vote of 13,380 (32.7%) and in this election achieved 12,781 (34.2%). I don't care how anyone tries to spin this, this was a poor result. He took a reduced vote at a time when the entire story of this election has been about him. He had several combined party machines out supporting him and he took back a reduced Unionist vote. The % share may be up but only because Republican voters didn't come out in their usual numbers. Then Mr Lutton laughed about how someone described him as the "undertaker who resurrected unionism".

Oh dear God!

Sadly not Nigel, the Unionist vote fell by 599 votes compared to the 2010 Westminster election. In the 2011 local election the combined Unionist vote was 14,216 and the Assembly election was 13,611. This was not a good result and many in the UUP must be asking was a reduced Unionist vote worth the damage done to the party and the loss of two MLA's?

4. Sinn Fein

The winners of this election but perhaps only by winning the seat. I know that may sound weird but let me explain.  In 2010 Martin McGuinness took 21,239 votes (52%) but yesterday Francie Molloy took 17,462 votes (46.7%). On the face of it that is a 3,777 actual vote decrease or a 5.3% slip compared to 2010.

Now there were a few factors at play here for Sinn Fein. Martin McGuinness is one of the most popular members of the Sinn Fein leadership and the party is general and as such Francie was always up against it here. There was also the media commentary that made it clear this was a done deal, which it was, and that Francie was going to walk it to victory.

All that being said the Sinn Fein vote was down almost 4,000 votes from 2010 and the SDLP increased their vote 652 votes. This was despite a host of Sinn Fein party stalwarts and canvass teams from across the country helping out. Now in fairness we don't know where the SDLP votes came from, it could have been moderate Unionist voters annoyed at the lack of choice, it could have been soft Sinn Fein votes put off by the gruff nature of Francie or a million other reasons in between.

Only Sinn Fein will know how their Green Vote came out on Election Day.

For outsiders, Sinn Fein operates a three colour system when canvassing. Each voter is assigned a colour based on a myriad of factors including reaction to canvassers on the door steps, previous dealing etc.

Those colours are Green for those who will vote Sinn Fein, yellow for those who might be persuaded to vote or may at least offer a preference and then there is white. The white voter would not piss on Sinn Fein if they were on fire. These are dissidents, hard core SDLP, Unionists, hoods etc. In all of my canvassing previously for Sinn Fein the most fun was always with the white voter. As they launched into tirade after tirade you simply smiled at them, thanked them for their time and left with your dignity intact.

Anyway, I digress. After everyone has been marked green, yellow or white that information is keyed into computers centrally and a green canvass is formed. It is then the job of the Sinn Fein organisation in a specific area to ensure that the green vote comes out on the day. As such only they will know what % of their Green vote came out and if at all what % decrease they have seen in their Green vote.

Knowing how the party works post election time I can guarantee that this result will be analysed as will the tallies from the count. If Sinn Fein has picked up on any trends or causes for concern they will address them.


North Korea losing the run of itself

In recent days the rhetoric coming from North Korea is getting more and more farcical. It's actually starting to look like comical Ali has taken up residence in Pyongyang.

The North Korean's have threatened to end the Armistice agreement next week. The two Koreas remain technically at war in the wake of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an Armistice, not a formal peace treaty.

In a further racketing of tension ahead of a US Security Council resolution the North Korean's have vowed to exercise their right to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack against their aggressors.

"As long as the United States is willing to spark nuclear war our forces will exercise their right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike," said North Korea's foreign ministry, in a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, without giving further details.

This sort of bluster from North Korea is common enough but it has been coming thick and fast the last couple of days. The joint US and South Korea military drills seem to have been the instigator for the rise in tension.

I have mixed views on this issue.

I am not a supporter of North Korea, I think their elite live in luxury yet their people starve and no self respecting Socialist could have any truck with that. It reeks of Animal farm and is a world away from the protection of the working class.

That said I do find the issue of nuclear weapons a puzzling one. I don't want any country to have them but the country which is arguing they should not have them is the only country to have used them, twice in fact. Their use was also without justification and was simply revenge for Pearl Harbour. The US seems to be no problem with Israel having them and this from a country that sends missiles into refugee camps.

Are the North Korean high command crazy enough to start a war on this issue, I'm not sure but it looks like we won't have long to find out.


Adiós Señor Presidente

I was saddened to learn of the death of Hugo Chavez, the charismatic Socialist leader of Venezuela. He has fought a long hard battle with cancer for some time and it would seem that that battle has now ended.

A clearly emotional Nicolas Maduro, his deputy, made the announcement on Tuesday evening, flanked by leading Venezuelan political and military leaders.

He was a giant of a man and the poor of Venezuela have him to thank for lifting thousands and thousands of them out of poverty.

He has been President since 1999 and recently won a new 6 year term.

A man of the people, he introduced a system of Bolivarian Missions, Communal Councils and worker managed cooperatives, as well as a program of land reform, whilst also nationalising various key state industries during his time.

He was a fierce opponent of imperialism and neoliberals. He was a constant thorn in the side of American foreign policy and formed a strong South American partnership with the Castro's of Cuba, Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador and Ortega in Nicaragua.

He has been a firm supporter of Liberation Theology and viewed himself a Catholic Socialist.

My own hope is that Nicolas Maduro is allowed to carry on his legacy and that the people of Venezuela, the working poor are able to continue to advance under his ideals.

The international left have lost a major figure with his passing.

Tories take another swing at justice

It's another sad state of affairs from the Tory government and their Lib Dem poodles. The Tories have decided to abolish the right to a fair trial and the right to confront ones accusers by authorising the use of secret courts.

In a damming indictment from the "freedom" party they have decided that instead of admitting their acquiescence and collusion in the torture and criminal acts they would instead rewrite the rule book and institute secret proceedings in criminal cases.

This whole idea started with cases like Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who British judges ruled ended up being tortured in a Moroccan jail with the connivance of British intelligence, and then a string of others whom British ministers preferred to pay off and shut up before the facts could emerge.

As a result of these cases they went to the British Supreme Court and asked the judges to hear the arguments in secret. This was roundly rejected by the Judiciary and Lord Hope said that secrecy in judicial proceedings "cut across absolutely fundamental principles, such as the right to be confronted by one's accusers and the right to know the reasons for the outcome"

I would like to say that I am surprised about this attack on fundamental rights but I'm not. It's yet another example of the Tories standing up to their reputation.

It was Lord Sankey in 1929 who said that "Justice should not only be done, but should appear to have been done". Though it would seem that the British Parliament is not interested in this fundamental tenant of a democracy.

This absurd law will no doubt be challenged in the courts and the sooner the better.

It would appear that Edmund Burke wasn't far off the mark when he said that bad laws make the worst kind of tyranny.

You can't dance on the eye of a needle forever

I see that the DUP and the SDLP have decided to put pressure on Sinn Fein by introducing an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill relating to Abortion.

The amendment which is sponsored by Alban McGuinness of the SDLP and Paul Givan of the DUP would stop Abortions being carried out by private clinics and would only allow them in NHS facilities in exceptional circumstances.

This bill has attracted the support of the Catholic Church as well as well known and respected GAA manager Mickey Harte.

On the face of it Sinn Fein should not be opposed to this amendment as it is wholly consistent with their current position as mandated by previous Ard Fheiseanna.

For anyone who still isn't clear about Sinn Fein's position on Abortion it is thus, Sinn Fein opposes the introduction of the British 1967 Abortion Act. Martin McGuinness articulated the position well

"We believe that in circumstances where there is a risk to a woman's life, a risk to a woman's mental health and the grave dangers associated with that, in the final analysis a woman has to make her own decision."

So what can we garner from this position. Sinn Fein is opposed to abortion on demand and even where there is a risk to a woman’s life or her mental health there is no position taken by the party only that the final decision must rest with the woman.

You may have asked if this is the case why would Sinn Fein be opposed to the amendment if it is in line with current party policy.

Sinn Fein is a broad church in many ways; it is a mixture of hardcore Socialists, hardcore Conservative Catholic Republicans and every mixture in between.

On most issues there isn't a conflict but with certain elements of the party adopting more and more liberal stances in the South it may start to become an issue and vague policy positions will no longer cut it.

That was exemplified by the recent push by Sinn Fein in the Dail to legislate for the X Case and the refusal of Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin to support such an approach.

I can understand to some extent the reason why Sinn Fein are adopting a more liberal approach in the 26 counties, they are aggressively attacking Labours flank and believe this to be the best course but caution should be observed.

Across large sections of rural Ireland and indeed amongst a great many of their supporters and members in the North there is no appetite for this new found Liberal agenda. I also find it dishonest to try and keep the liberal and conservative social wings happy with vague sounding policy papers and positions.

In the long run you can't appease both masters and political opponents will always try and attack you when you are vulnerable.

ECHR and Judicial Overreach

I see that fresh from their humiliating defeat at Eastleigh the Tories are deciding if they should bang their right wing drums and lurch towards their traditional right base. This was articulated with their threat to pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights.

British Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said he was "absolutely certain" the Tories would go into the election in 2015 with a plan to change the existing legislation based on Labour's Human Rights Act.

And he refused to rule out the prospect that a majority Conservative government could withdraw altogether from the 60-year-old European convention - which the act enshrined into British law.

Mr Grayling said recent rulings of the court had moved a long way from the original aims of the convention which was drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World War.

"Anyone who sits down and reads it as a document would struggle to find a word they disagreed with. It is a sensible balance of rights and responsibilities, of principles for a democratic nation."

"To my mind human rights is about some of the appalling things happening around the world, people being brutalised for their political views, people being put in jail. It's not about saying a prisoner has a right to artificial insemination while they're in jail."

It's not too often that I agree with the Tories but this time I do have sympathy for their position though perhaps for different reasons.

I abhor judicial activism and have always believed that the law should be interpreted in a strict, plain text reading. I don't support unelected members of the Judiciary going off on an Alice in Wonderland search for hidden meaning and absurd interpretation to suit their own political motives, be they left or right wing objectives.

The people elect the politicians and rightly or wrongly they are the only ones who should be making the law of a country. It is the job of the judicial branch to apply that law, not to invent their own which is sadly becoming more and more the case with Strasburg.

The lack of a democratic mandate and the almost monarchial power they hold makes the whole process feel very alien to my Republican philosophy.

A Human Rights act or a Bill of Rights should be about defending a citizen’s indelible Human Rights. Things like the right to life, a fair trial, the right to privacy etc

Having the "right" to artificial insemination whilst serving a custodial sentence is not a Human Right. It is a luxury that should be denied if only for the reason that as they are serving a custodial sentence luxury should not be a state they are enjoying.


Your final resting place

Sorry for my lack of posting these last two weeks, I was over in the good old USA having returned at the weekend and I'm still working through the jetlag.

In the car today I was listening to a debate on RTE about cremation versus burial and people’s views on it either way. It was interesting to hear both sides’ impassioned arguments on the subject.

I suppose it brought home to me a topic I have a very real dislike of even thinking about, my own and my family’s deaths. Before I became more confident in my faith I admit that death scared me but now it doesn't. I have faith that death isn't the end but the beginning.

Both of my parents are still relatively young (mid 50's) but both of them have expressed to me their wishes for when they die. My mother wishes to be buried in the family plot with all of the traditional rites of the Church. My father on the other hand wants a cremation and then wants me, the eldest, to scatter his ashes.

I'm sure for a lot of people this wouldn't present a problem but as I am a Catholic it does. For many years cremation was banned in the Church but recently it has been relaxed yet with the stipulation that the remains must be buried in an urn within a consecrated grave or placed inside a mausoleum. The scattering of ashes or keeping them in a house is inappropriate to the Church's deep reverence for the body as a place where the soul has resided

The current Code of Canon Law (No 1176) "The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching"

So I suppose the issue will arise when my father departs this life for the next, do I follow my own desires and religious beliefs and have his remains buried in a consecrated grave yard or do I follow his wishes as his son and respect his beliefs.

It's the one thing that none of us can avoid but quite often the thing we are least prepared for or willing to talk about.