Tomás O Fiaich
THE sudden death of Cardinal Tomás O Fiaich removes a lone nationalist voice from the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy. While he was certainly no political friend of the Republican Movement he was, as Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams pointed out this week, a confirmed nationalist, a friend to the prisoners, a Gaeilgeoir and scholar of Irish history and culture and an Irishman who was deeply rooted in the heritage of his native South Armagh. As such he stood apart from the rest of the Irish establishment and in particular from that section which is so eager to abandon any aspiration to Irish unity and Irish culture.
That West British attitude was summed up by RTÉ presenter Olivia O'Leary on the Today Tonight progamme after the cardinal's death was announced, when she asked former Dublin premier Garret Fitzgerald the loaded question: ``But wasn't he a bit of a fanatic about the Irish language?'' Similar prejudice lay behind the question: ``Do you think he was critical enough of people who voted for Sinn Féin?''
What annoyed them so much was that he always expressed his aspiration to Irish unity and eventual British withdrawal and he often highlighted the plight of prisoners at the hands of their British jailers. While republicans had much cause to criticise him as his condemnations of violence were not always even-handed, nonetheless he recognised realities that other members of the Irish establishment refused to recognise.
The most recent example of that was his call on the British government last November to say that it would not remain in Ireland indefinitely.
Phoblacht, Thursday 10 May, 1990