Amid the tributes, don’t lose sight of the opponent of the physical force tradition

Apologies to Eamonn for this separate post. For some reason I can’t add comments to exisiing posts at the moment. Some years ago, I enjoyed a long reminiscence with Cardinal Daly in St Patrick’s Cathedral. His personal warmth was genuine rather than formal. Fortunate not to have been in office for the peak of the abuse scandals, he was a conventional ecclesiastical conservative. But even at faraway Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, he spoke out on the Troubles. Labelled the Mekon by republican critics (quite funny actually) after Dan Dare’s wizened little alien enemy, he drew clearer boundaries for republican activism than his south Armagh predecessor as primate and spoke out more directly than his equally scholarly but more dessicated Down and Connor predecessor William Philbin. While he was politically adroit, he lacked that exaggerated fear of internal criticism that afflicts so many clerics of all denominations. It’s impossible to imagine either of those predeccessors saying as he did that he was “doomed to be seen by some as a betrayal of one’s own community” and a dereliction of one’s pastoral duty towards “one’s own people”. Although cordially disliked by the Sinn Fein establishment who were wary of him throughout, he encouraged their involvement in the fledgling peace process. Amid the formal tributes, Martin McGuinness has been forthright enough to recall at least some of the mutual antagonism. Cahal Daly eserves to be remembered as the most distinguished Catholic prelate of our times, who at 73 unfortunately came to the top job one primatial term too late. It was as if the Vatican had belatedly realised that Cardinal O’Fiach’s sympathies with a republican analysis needed counterbalancing after so many of the Church’s appeals for peace had been rebuffed. If they did, they chose the right man and the choice seemed to bear fruit. As the Irish Times obit records, he maintained a difficult balance.

In January 1995, he made his own striking gesture to the cause of reconciliation between Britain and Ireland. Invited to become the first Irish Catholic Church leader to speak from the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral since the Reformation, he used the occasion to ask the British people for forgiveness for the wrongs and hurts inflicted upon them by the Irish people. He also warned British politicians that political expediency should not be allowed to jeopardise the peace process.

However his frustration was evident after the failure of Church leaders to mediate a solution to the Drumcree Orange parade stand-off in July 1995. Using language of anger and betrayal, which he has always tried to avoid, he said the decision to force the parade down the Garvaghy Road had “totally shattered” mutual trust and confidence between Catholics and the RUC.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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