Miriam Lord: God snubs Armagh event marking partition

NI First Minister slammed by a minister in his church for attending ‘unbiblical’ event

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney and British prime minister Boris Johnson were among those in attendance at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh for a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland. Video: Reuters

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Supt Ted Hastings, Adrian Dunbar’s character in Line of Duty, called it right on this week’s commotion to mark 100 years of partition in Northern Ireland.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee donkey, can we just move this thing along before it drives us all round the bloody bend?”

Eh, no.

Not yet, because a retired Free Presbyterian minister has a bone to pick with Northern Ireland’s First Minister. (And this column won’t write itself.)

The DUP’s Paul Givan, also a member of the Free Presbyterian Church, was among the VIP guests at Thursday’s cross-community service, and Rev Ivan Foster is not amused.

According to Allan Preston’s excellent report in Friday’s Belfast Telegraph, Rev Foster slammed Givan for taking part in an “unbiblical” event “held under the auspices of the combined apostate denominations here in Ulster”.

The reporter tells us Givan attended despite public objections from his own church, which is “grieved” that this week’s service was “deliberately planned to promote the unbiblical ethos of religious ecumenism”.

In the run-up to the event, Free Presbyterian moderator Rev John Armstrong declared it was “arranged to promote the purposes of unscriptural ecumenism when it ought to have been a service of celebration and thanksgiving for the Lord’s hand upon our country over the past 100 years”.

Rev Foster, a former minister at Kilskeery church in Omagh, says failure to sanction the First Minister for his “blatant breach” would make a mockery of their church. “May the Lord have mercy on His people in Ulster who have been given such poor spiritual and political leadership in these evil times,” he said.

Preston asked Rev Foster why Paul Given was wrong to attend when Queen Elizabeth felt it appropriate before illness forced her to cancel.

“The queen is not a Free Presbyterian. The queen is not someone who has sat up and said ‘I believe in the doctrines of the Free Presbyterian Church,’ ” he replied.

“She’s the head of the Church of England, which is a dogsbody for every form of filthiness. That’s the truth, theologically speaking.”

Right so.

No royals in Royal Hillsborough

A guard of honour by the Hillsborough Fort Guard before a ceremony at Hillsborough Castle to officially rename the village Royal Hillsborough. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A guard of honour by the Hillsborough Fort Guard before a ceremony at Hillsborough Castle to officially rename the village Royal Hillsborough. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Hillsborough was a hamlet without the prince this week, much to the disappointment of many in the picturesque village in Co Down.

The ecumenical service in Armagh’s Church of Ireland cathedral wasn’t the only gig lined up for 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth. She was also due in Hillsborough to confer “royal” status on the town. When it was confirmed on the day before the ceremony that she would be unable to attend, there were high hopes that another member of the family might turn up instead. But this was ruled out by Buckingham Palace.

So no queen, prince or princess was on hand to celebrate the granting of a royal prefix. Despite this setback, the flag-waving children and proud local burghers somehow managed to contain their unbridled delight when Northern secretary Brandon Lewis arrived to unveil the letters patent – an official scroll that formalises the village’s royal status, which was announced earlier this year.

The granting of letters patent in Northern Ireland’s centenary year was in recognition of Hillsborough Castle, the official royal residence for Northern Ireland.

“This is fantastic news for the village of Hillsborough, a truly wonderful place that deserves this special honour,” said Lewis, who also counts Hillsborough Castle as his official residence. “The unveiling of the letters patent not only bestows a special honour on the village, it also recognises the unique history and close connections the area has to the royal family.”

No wonder he was thrilled. At least he didn’t have the queen and her entourage moving in to his gaff for the night on Thursday and disturbing everyone.

The new “Royal Hillsborough” sign went up immediately, and DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, along with First Minister Paul Givan and Donaldson’s predecessor, Edwin Poots, posed for photos beside it. Apparently the village now joins Royal Leamington Spa, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Royal Wootton Bassett in the royal prefix club.

Coughing into the flag

Staying south: President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Staying south: President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Michael D Higgins won’t be losing any sleep over his decision not to attend the controversial church service in Armagh. He got a nice round of applause from the crowd (mostly young girls) when he arrived at Tallaght Stadium for the World Cup qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Sweden.

League of Ireland soccer fan Higgins saw Ireland’s women lose by a single goal after a promising display against the country currently second in the Fifa world rankings. He was happy as Larry with his night of football after a scintillating day hosting a Statistical Society of Ireland event in Áras an Uachtaráin.

Also in the crowd was Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers, back from his trip to St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral earlier the day. He was the Fianna Fáil TD delegated by his boss to go up to Armagh and take one for the team. He looked relieved to be back in Dublin, although he is still shipping unmerciful abuse on social media for attending the service.

We hear there was annoyance in Irish Government circles when the British prime minister arrived wearing a facemask adorned with the union flag. The understanding had been that no emblems would be on display, but Boris Johnson flaunted one anyway. In his world, agreements are there to be broken.

But back to Michael D.

The President’s Centenarian Bounty is awarded to people on the island of Ireland when they turn 100. There is also a congratulatory letter and a commemorative coin. Perhaps he could have sent the €2,540 (about £2,000) bounty in lieu of his attendance on Thursday, addressed to Royal Hillsborough.

The Healing-Raes

Danny Healy-Rae. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Danny Healy-Rae. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Cross-Border Healthcare Directive was raised in the Dáil on Tuesday by Danny Healy-Rae, who pointed out that it had been used with great success by people needing joint replacements or urgent cataract surgery. The Kerry TD , his brother Michael and their Rural Independent colleague Michael Collins have a great interest in this issue as they have been to the fore in arranging transport to the North for elderly patients who require these services from their respective counties of Kerry and Cork.

On the same day, the Seanad Special Select Committee on Brexit was also talking about the directive. Cathaoirleach Lisa Chambers chaired a discussion with Department of Health officials on the directive that provides for the reimbursement of the costs of receiving treatment in an EU member state for a patient who would be entitled to this same treatment in his/her home state.

But since Brexit, the directive no longer applies to the UK, including Northern Ireland. This situation was behind Danny’s question to the Taoiseach.

He was told the Government was “very anxious to ensure that the €350 million available under the waiting list initiative is being spent and every effort will be made to procure treatments for people in various locations” and he would get back to him with the latest information in December.

Meanwhile, witnesses were asked by the Seanad committee for a breakdown on the numbers of people availing of cross-border healthcare. It was noted that most of the patients came from the Border counties but that a higher than usual number came from Cork and Kerry.

One official explained that was as a result of “organised logistical assistance”.

A rather Sir Humphrey description of the Healy-Raes’ famous Cataract Bus.

Service for late MP David Amess

A Mass for David Amess at St Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
A Mass for David Amess at St Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Members of the Oireachtas attended a Mass for MP David Amess in Clarendon Street Church at lunchtime on Thursday. The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, delivered the first reading and prayers of intercession were led by TDs and Senators from across the political spectrum.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr Vincent O’Hara, a member of the Carmelite Community in St Teresa’s.

The attendance included British ambassador Paul Johnston and Australian ambassador Gary Gray.

Hymns during the ceremony reflected Irish and British traditions and included compositions by Ronan McDonagh (organist and director of music at St Teresa’s), St John Henry Newman’s Lead, Kindly Light and Charles Wesley’s Jesus, Lover of my Soul. The cantor was Méav Ní Mhaolchatha.

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