NUJ LIFE MEMBERS

VOTE FISHER #1. I received my NUJ Life Membership in Belfast in 2014. I am standing for election to the National Executive Council to represent the Republic of Ireland. So if you have not yet voted, please do so now. Use the reply paid envelope that came with the ballot paper. Thank you if you have already voted. If you did not receive a ballot paper please contact elections@nuj.org.uk. If the union does not have the correct up-to-date address for you then it will have been sent to an old address and you will need to inform Headland House so that they can update their records.     VOTE FISHER #1.

Michael Fisher presented with NUJ life membership by Seamus Dooley  Photo:  © Kevin Cooper

Michael Fisher presented with NUJ life membership by Seamus Dooley Photo: © Kevin Cooper

At a meeting organised by the Belfast and District Branch of the National Union of Journalists a number of reporters and a photographer were awarded life membership of the union, having belonged to the NUJ for over forty years. I was presented with my certificate by the Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley and somehow I managed to receive two of them! Seamus pointed out that my (late) father Des was also a long-time NUJ member (he helped to start the Irish South Eastern Branch when he started work in Carlow) as is my sister Carolyn who also worked in RTÉ.

Michael Fisher presented with 1913 lockout centenary coin by Gerry Curran  Photo:  © Kevin Cooper

Michael Fisher presented with 1913 lockout centenary coin by Gerry Curran Photo: © Kevin Cooper

The Cathaoirleach of the Irish Executive Council Gerry Curran presented me with a limited edition coin, issued last year to mark the centenary of the 1913 lockout in Dublin, which I was very proud to receive in recognition of my contribution to the NUJ in Ireland and Britain. I joined the union in July 1974, becoming a member of the London Radio Branch when I worked in the BBC Radio Newsroom at Broadcasting House as a News Trainee. I later joined the Birmingham Branch when I moved to the West Midlands in 1975. I then joined Dublin Broadcasting Branch on taking up a position with RTÉ News in Dublin in January 1979. I transferred to Belfast in August 1984, becoming a member of Northern Ireland Broadcasting Branch, subsequently amalgamated with Belfast and District.

NUJ life member Michael Fisher with former RTÉ News cameraman Bryan Drysdale  Photo:  © Kevin Cooper

NUJ life member Michael Fisher with former RTÉ News cameraman Bryan Drysdale Photo: © Kevin Cooper

I remember the Broadcasting Branch Treasurer at the time was Austin Hunter of BBC Northern Ireland (now deceased). He was awarded life membership (44 years a member), along with two of his former BBC colleagues, David Lynas and Noel McCartney. Noel who had served on the union’s National Executive Council, was congratulated on the achievement by Gerry Curran.

NUJLOGOA fifth life membership went to photographer Alan Lewis, a familiar figure in Belfast media circles. He joined the NUJ over 40 years ago. He received his certificate from the President of the International Federation of Journalists, Jim Boumelha, another NUJ stalwart.

 

ENTERPRISE TRAIN PROBLEMS

ENTERPRISESTATION

Enterprise Train at Belfast Central Station http://www.seat61.com

The refurbished Enterprise train was taken off the Belfast to Dublin service owing to safety concerns about its doors. The doors are reported to have opened on two occasions when the cross-border train was still moving.

The first of the newly-refurbished Enterprise fleet went into service on the Belfast to Dublin line in November. The £12.2m upgrade programme included an extensive safety approval process but issues around the doors saw the first train removed from service.

Update: On Wednesday (13th January) Translink said a detailed technical investigation and review of the door mechanisms by its engineering team, specialist door contractors and the train door manufacturer had been carried out and the train was now back in service.

Ian Campbell, General Manager, Engineering with Translink explained: “When these incidents occurred, all the appropriate safety and operational procedures were carried out. We immediately addressed the issue, removed the train from service and reported the event to the relevant safety authorities.  “We would strongly reassure our passengers and the wider public that there was no imminent danger for our customers travelling on board as a result of these two unrelated door faults.”

In light of the door faults, the Railway Safety Commission had banned the trains from operating in the Republic. Translink said it had satisfied the Irish rail authority’s concerns and the upgraded train would be returned into service.

“We will continue to collaborate with the Railway Safety Commission as we work to bring this significant Enterprise train refurbishment programme to fruition which will ultimately provide a much enhanced quality of service to passengers travelling on this important cross border route,” they concluded. The RSC said it had finished a review of evidence submitted by NI Railways and was satisfied that the circumstances which gave rise to the prohibition notice had been remedied.

A news release in September 2015 from the Special EU Programmes Body said the first newly refurbished Enterprise train had entered the ‘testing and commissioning phase’ of Translink NI Railways’ train upgrade programme which has received £12.2 million funding from the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme. The major service overhaul will improve the cross-border rail experience for customers travelling between Belfast and Dublin as well as ensure the long-term reliability of the service for the next 10 years.

The refurbishment programme has been financed through the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) with support from the Department of Regional Development and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) in Ireland.

Chris Conway, Translink Group Chief Executive, said: “The project continues to progress well as we enter this important ‘testing and commissioning’ phase in which this first fully refurbished train will be checked to ensure it complies with all necessary safety regulations and technical specifications. This will include ‘on-track’ testing of important new features such as passenger information systems, seat reservation systems and CCTV, as well as ensuring the reliability of all the train’s management systems.”

“Following successful completion of this important project phase and all necessary safety approvals, the first train can then be introduced into passenger service so that our customers can enjoy an all-new Enterprise journey experience with an emphasis on comfort, service and value. We would like to thank the European Union, Department for Regional Development and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in Ireland for essential funding to deliver this project.”

“We would also like to thank our customers for their continued patience and support as we work hard to complete this major rail project. We look forward to welcoming them on board their new Enterprise service and delivering passenger growth on this important route,” said Chris.

Paul Boylan, Programme Manager at the SEUPB which manages the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme, said: “Developing cross-border transport infrastructure is a key facet in the INTERREG IVA Programme, which aims to enhance co-operation for a more sustainable cross-border region. The improvements being implemented by the Translink NI Railways train upgrade programme will bring a wide range of social and economic benefits to people living and working along the Belfast – Dublin rail corridor and we look forward to the programme’s successful completion.”

On November 17th the first refurbished Enterprise set made the journey between Belfast Central station and Dublin Connolly, passing through Newry.

MCILVEEN

NI Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA and Chris Conway, Group Chief Executive for Translink chat with customer Edna Murray from Belfast as the newly refurbished Enterprise train left Belfast for Dublin in November

Transport Minister, Michelle McIlveen said: “The Northern Ireland Executive has invested significantly in railways and trains over the last decade with 43 new trains at a cost of around £200million in total. This has resulted in a tremendous growth in passenger numbers with a doubling of rail passengers in the last decade. Last year alone nearly 13.5million rail journeys were made in Northern Ireland.”

“I am confident that this major improvement in the Enterprise trains will encourage even more growth in rail passengers along this key strategic rail link.”

Welcoming the launch, (then) Finance Minister Arlene Foster said: “The Enterprise service between Belfast and Dublin provides an important infrastructure link for passengers travelling between the two cities. This delivery of this project, supported under the EU’s INTERREG IVA programme, will deliver social and economic benefits for citizens in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which will in turn contribute to economic growth and prosperity.”

Speaking at Belfast Central Station ahead of the train’s departure to Dublin Connolly Station, Translink Group Chief Executive Chris Conway said: “This is great news for our customers. The service looks and feels like a modern new train with the emphasis on comfort, service and value.”

“Customers will first notice the train’s striking modern new look with a stylish purple, red and grey livery. Stepping on board, the transformation is incredible with vibrant, eye-catching new colour schemes, attractive seating with power sockets, plush carpets, new tables and lighting. Once all trains are completed we will also have our new electronic seat reservation displays operating.”

RINGING IN THE NEW

DSC_1202New Year 2016 was rung in with friends at Glenmalure Lodge in County Wicklow, where I met a former colleague from RTÉ who works there in a senior position. After a meal in the dining room, it was time to listen to the band in the Michael Dwyer Bar and take part in the festivities. When they played Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl I felt I was back in Belfast!

A year ago my father Desmond Fisher died so the family was in mourning over the New Year period 2015.

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New Year 2014 Walk from Holywood along North Down Coastal Path near Seapark  Picture: Michael Fisher 

New Year 2014 was spent in Belfast. The day itself was marked with a walk along part of the North Down Coastal Path starting in Holywood and going towards Cultra, finishing with a drink at the Dirty Duck.

NEWYEAR2010

Lagan Towpath Walk New Year 2010  Picture: Michael Fisher 

A previous New Year 2010 was also spent in Belfast with the same group of friends. A walk along the Lagan towpath took us past the Lock Keeper’s Inn, before it became famous!

MAIRIA CAHILL

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Mairia Cahill arrives at St Mary’s for the Gerry Conlon lecture Photo: Michael Fisher

Sex abuse victim Mairia Cahill delivered the Gerry Conlon summer memorial lecture at the West Belfast Féile an Phobail festival in which she criticised Sinn Fein. Ms Cahill talked about the sequence of events in 1997 in which, while working for a radio station linked to the Feile festival, she alleges she was raped by a member of the IRA. The organisation allegedly later conducted a “kangaroo court” bringing her face to face with her abuser against her wishes.

Delivering the talk at St Mary’s University College, Ms Cahill said she disclosed the abuse to a Sinn Féin MLA between 1997 and 1998 but that subsequent to that the alleged abuser was still a member of the Féile management committee. However, Ms Cahill said that not all members of the committee were aware of the abuse.

Ms Cahill also said the First Minister had told her that if the MLA had not later resigned from the Assembly the Sinn Féin representative could have been investigated by Stormont’s Standards Commissioner. Ms Cahill said it was “unforgivable” that the man she alleges abused her was still involved in the Féile management committee after she had disclosed the abuse and added that as a result “children were put at risk”.

A court case against the alleged abuser collapsed after Ms Cahill withdrew her co-operation as a result of failings in the handling of the case by the Public Prosecution Service, who later apologised to Ms Cahill. In October 2014 Ms Cahill’s allegations were aired on the BBC (NI) ‘Spotlight’ programme.

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SDLP MLA Alex Attwood chaired the talk  Photo: Michael Fisher

In the lecture, Ms Cahill also claimed that the alleged abuser was able to go on a community group residential with children after senior Sinn Féin figures were aware of her disclosures. Around 150 people attended the Féile event, where Ms Cahill, a relative of the late republican Joe Cahill, said she would not back down to pressure from lawyers.

It has been reported that the organisers of Feile an Phobail were advised that some of those allegedly involved in the “kangaroo court” would hold the festival liable for any defamatory or abusive remarks against them.

Sinn Féin later replied to the News Letter that “anyone who has any information whatsoever about any child abuse should come forward to the authorities North or South and they will have the full support of Sinn Féin in doing so.”

 

GAA SAYS SAFETY RECORD IS EXEMPLARY

Casement Park GAA ground in West Belfast

Casement Park GAA ground in West Belfast

GAA SAYS SAFETY ISSUES ARE PARAMOUNT IN NEW CASEMENT PARK PLAN 

Michael Fisher    Northern Standard  Thursday 2nd July

GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Ó Dufaigh

GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Ó Dufaigh

GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Ó Dufaigh has told a Stormont committee that the Association has an exemplary safety record and it regards safety issues are paramount. He was giving evidence last Thursday to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly about safety fears which had been raised about the stalled plan for the redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast.

A safety expert had claimed he faced “undue pressure” to approve the proposals and had accused Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) officials of bullying. Paul Scott claimed a proposed 38,000-seat stadium could not be evacuated safely and warned of a potential tragedy similar to the Hillsborough disaster in England.

Mr Ó Dufaigh said the GAA would categorically reject any assertion that its supporters would ever be put at risk at any of its games, or within any of its stadia. He said the Association’s partners would engage continuously with the stadiums project Safety Technical Group throughout all steps of the planning process to deliver a state of the art provincial stadium at Casement Park in Belfast for use by Antrim and Ulster. The Ard Stiúrthóir was joined at Parliament Buildings by Danny Murphy, Chief Executive and Secretary, Ulster Council GAA, Tom Daly, Chair of the Casement Park Provincial Project, Oran McCloskey, Project Director, HBJV and project designer Mike Trice, Senior Principal Architect at Populous, a globally renowned company that specialises in developing sporting stadiums.

A GAA statement said that during the session the Association had expanded upon its impeccable health and safety record citing its management of a large number of major provincial and county stadiums built to the highest specifications and conforming to all of the relevant health and safety legislation across Ireland and Britain. The Committee was briefed on the GAA hosting over one million people at its stadiums throughout the 2014 championship season, with fixtures drawing crowds of up to 82,300 for major games.

Ulster GAA chief executive Danny Murphy said the comparison with Hillsborough made at an earlier hearing of  the Stormont committee was “wildly inaccurate, unfounded and hysterical”. During last Thursday’s hearing, Mr Murphy produced an email he claimed showed that the stadium safety expert Paul Scott had been largely supportive of the design for the new Casement Park.

Mr Murphy read out an email that he said Mr Scott sent to a Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure official in August 2013. In the correspondence Mr Scott wrote: “There appears to be a consensus that the latest proposals address the exiting concerns.” Mr Murphy said the GAA believed “that this confirms that everything we were doing was moving towards an acceptance that our plans were proper and correct”. It is unclear if Mr Scott was referring to emergency exiting or general exiting arrangements for the West Belfast stadium plans.

Commenting after the Committee session, Danny Murphy said:

“The GAA has reiterated that at all stages of the Casement Park Provincial Project the development had been scrutinised throughout the design process by the STG who signed off in principle, prior to the submission of the planning application. The ongoing work to date on the safety issues and exiting made progress and this is evident in a correspondence from the Chair of the STG dated 23rd August 2013 which states that as part of the developmental process, “there appears to be a consensus that the latest proposals address the exiting concerns”. At all stage boundaries, from outline business case to the appointment of the contractor the safety of the design was paramount and whilst some contingency planning were discussed, no red flag issues were ever raised with the GAA.

“The GAA examines all industry-recognised threats and develops contingency plans to allow safe evacuation of the spectators in 18 designated grounds within Ulster. The SGSA Safety Management guidance is a vital tool which recognises partial and phased evacuation dependant on the threat. We look forward to re-engaging with the STG to develop these plans with their full input as we move forward.”

Casement Park Redevelopment Group including Ulster GAA Secretary Danny Murphy (back middle) with NI Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and (right) Tom Daly, Chair of Stadium Project Board

Casement Park Redevelopment Group including Ulster GAA Secretary Danny Murphy (back middle) with NI Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and (right) Tom Daly, Chair of Stadium Project Board

Tom Daly Chairman of the Casement Park Project board commented:

“In the near future the GAA will announce its programme for a fresh planning application for Antrim and Ulster’s new stadium at Casement Park. At that time we will also outline our plans for local engagement and it is our intention again to work constructively and pro-actively with all relevant stakeholders.”

He said the emergency evacuation did not appear in the risk section of the independent business case. “The Ulster GAA believe that emergency exiting was not a showstopper and never was,” he said.

Earlier Noel Molloy, former director of the DCAL stadiums programme, said there was a feeling that the STG’s Casement work was “inconsistent” with previous stadium projects at Ravenhill for Ulster Rugby and Windsor Park for the IFA. He said claims that the Casement design could have led to a Hillsborough-type scenario were “disrespectful and disingenuous” to the victims of the 1989 tragedy. “There is not a potential to have a Hillsborough scenario unless the (safety certificate) licence is given incorrectly,” he said. In December 2014, a High Court judge in Belfast ruled that the North’s Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan had acted unlawfully in approving plans for a new Casement Park stadium. The GAA is to submit another planning application.

TALL SHIPS DAY FOUR

Michael Brogan skippers Mac Duach as she leaves Belfast Lough, followed by Naomh Crónán  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Michael Brogan skippers Mac Duach as she leaves Belfast Lough, followed by Naomh Crónán Photo: © Michael Fisher

On day four of the Tall Ships 2015 festival, it was time for the participants to depart and set sail for Portrush, where the race across to Norway would begin. I was delighted to get the opportunity to go to sea on board a Galway hooker, Mac Duach, which left York Dock on Sunday morning ahead of the main flotilla.

Passing the Stena Line ferry ready for departure from Belfast to Cairnryan Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Passing the Stena Line ferry ready for departure from Belfast to Cairnryan Photo: © Michael Fisher

I had never been to sea on such a vessel before and did not know what to expect but skipper Michael Brogan from Kinvara and his crew made me welcome. There was a bit of rain as we left Belfast Lough but by the time we were off Carrickfergus, passing the Kilroot power station, we were in an excellent position to enjoy the aerial acrobatics of the Red Arrows display team.

Red Arrows in formation passing Kilroot Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Red Arrows in formation passing Kilroot Photo: © Michael Fisher

With the sails up, the boat reached a speed of ten knots and made good time past Islanmagee, where the Gobbins coastal path is being repaired, and near Larne.

Is that a plane I see above me? Red Arrows planes pass over Mac Duach in Belfast Lough Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Is that a plane I see above me? Red Arrows planes pass over Mac Duach in Belfast Lough Photo: © Michael Fisher

Eight hours after leaving Belfast, Mac Duach was rounding Fair Head and the small harbour of Ballycastle came into view, where the Rathlin ferry was about to depart. There was some puzzlement about the colour of the water as we arrived: a large brown slick covered the area. This was caused by the heavy rainfall which had washed away sections of the banks along the river and caused manholes along the street in the town to be pushed up, requiring the intervention of the fire service.

Isle of Man ferry heads towards Douglas   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Isle of Man ferry heads towards Douglas Photo: © Michael Fisher

As we stepped onto dry land again, the sun came out and a rainbow could be seen above Ballycastle and also further away at Fair Head.

Ballycastle Harbour with Fair Head in background and Mac Duach in middle Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Ballycastle Harbour with Fair Head in background and Mac Duach in middle
Photo: © Michael Fisher

A nice end to a day’s sailing, marking a great maritime weekend.

Ballycastle Harbour with rainbow    Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Ballycastle Harbour with rainbow Photo: © Michael Fisher

TALL SHIPS DAY THREE

German ship Alexander von Humboldt in the Yord Dock Photo:  © Michael Fisher

German ship Alexander von Humboldt in the Yord Dock Photo: © Michael Fisher

Some pictures taken during my exploration of the Tall Ships in Belfast as a volunteer on day three of the event. The ships were concentrated around the Titanic Quarter, with many small ones berthed in the Marina. Other tall ships could be seen in Pollock Dock and in York Dock, as well as alongside Queen’s Quay and around the Clarendon Dock area.

Galway hooker from Kinvara Mac Duach alongside the Naomh Crónán from Clondalkin in the York Dock Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Galway hooker from Kinvara Mac Duach alongside the Naomh Crónán from Clondalkin in the York Dock Photo: © Michael Fisher

The traditional Galway hooker Mac Duach from Kinvara, skippered by Michael Brogan, arrived in Belfast on Thursday evening and berthed alongside a similar boat, Naomh Crónán, a replica built in Clondalkin, Co. Dublin.

The view crossing from the channel from the Titanic Quarter side across to York Dock by water taxi Photo:  © Michael Fisher

The view crossing from the channel from the Titanic Quarter side across to York Dock by water taxi Photo: © Michael Fisher

Meanwhile many of the visitors were enjoying themselves on the beach…yes, on the pop-up beach in Belfast city centre at Custom House Square. A touch of Belfast-sur-mer!

On the beach in Belfast Photo:  © Michael Fisher

On the beach in Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

And this is what the children (and some adults!) spent their time doing…a far cry from making bonfires! DSC_3665 (2) (450x800)Meanwhile over at the Lidl marquee, visitors were sampling local food and enjoying plenty of other activities including story-telling for children and cookery demonstrations introduced by Pamela Ballantine.

Pamela Ballantine introducing cookery demonstrations in the Lidl arena Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Pamela Ballantine introducing cookery demonstrations in the Lidl arena Photo: © Michael Fisher

Over the three days thousands of people came to see the Tall Ships in Belfast and they brought a truly international atmosphere to the city.

RNLI lifeboat moored at Belfast Marina for the duration of the festival. LE Creidne in background. Photo:  © Michael Fisher

RNLI lifeboat moored at Belfast Marina for the duration of the festival. LE Creidne in background. Photo: © Michael Fisher

TALL SHIPS DAY ONE

Cisne Blanco from Brazil moored at the SSE Arena drew the crowds on Day 1  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Cisne Blanco from Brazil moored at the SSE Arena drew the crowds on Day 1
Photo: © Michael Fisher

A great spectacle as the Tall Ships 2015 flotilla arrived in Belfast with crowds packing the area around the Titanic Quarter, over the walkway beside the Lagan Weir and across the quays past Clarendon Dock to York Dock and finally Pollock Dock, where the event was centred in 1991. Quite a contrast with the scale of this year’s truly international event.

Tall Ships 2015 Belfast  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Tall Ships 2015 Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

PRESBYTERIANS ON MARRIAGE

Reverend Ian McNie is installed as Presbyterian Moderator  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Reverend Ian McNie is installed as Presbyterian Moderator Photo: © Michael Fisher

The incoming Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Reverend Ian McNie has reaffirmed his church’s support for the traditional view of marriage. He spoke at a service tonight at Assembly Buildings in Belfast to mark the start of the church’s General Assembly.

Dr McNie, 64, of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney, took over as Moderator from Reverend Michael Barry. He was nominated by 12 out of the 19 presbyteries who met across Ireland in February. Dr McNie was formally elected and installed at the service. His son, Reverend Stephen McNie from Ballyalbany church in Monaghan, said one of the prayers during the service.

Dr McNie spoke of an increasing intolerance to the church’s world view on a range of issues from the beginning and ending of life, the family dynamic, freedom of conscience and the sanctity of marriage. In reaffirming the church’s commitment to “the biblical and historical position of marriage,” he also recognised society’s right to express its opinion. At the same time he said the church had “the right to expect the same level and proportion of tolerance afforded to us that other groups expect afforded to them. Tolerance is a two-way street”, he told the congregation.

Presbyterian Moderator Reverend Ian McNie Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Presbyterian Moderator Reverend Ian McNie Photo: © Michael Fisher

Earlier the outgoing Moderator Reverend Michael Barry also spoke in defence of the traditional view of marriage. He said:

“We are clear on what we believe about biblical marriage – that it is between one man and one woman. And there is much more. But our (Presbyterian) beliefs are grounded on Scripture as the Word of God, which is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Not everyone likes what we believe. But we do not conform to the world’s opinions. We do not change our beliefs to fit in with the ways of the world. There will be times we are out of step.”

Reverend McNie’s remarks can be accessed here and those of the Reverend Barry here.

Unlike some previous years, there was no official representative of the Roman Catholic church at the opening service. Tomorrow guests will be formally welcomed from the following churches:

  • Church of Scotland
  • 
United Reformed Church
  • 
Presbyterian Church of Wales
  • Church of Ireland (represented at the service by the Bishop of Clogher, Right Reverend John McDowell)
  • The Methodist Church in Ireland
  • Irish Council of Churches
  • 
Religious Society of Friends
  • 
Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian
  • Scripture Union Malawi
  • Presbyterian Church of East Africa
  • Presbyterian Church of Pakistan
  • The Christian Presbyterian Church of Portugal

TIME OF OUR LIVES

Colm Arbuckle  Photo: BBC Radio Ulster

Colm Arbuckle Photo: BBC Radio Ulster

A new programme on BBC Radio Ulster at 2pm ‘Time of our Lives’ is presented by Colm Arbuckle and produced by Owen McFadden. Tune in to hear the over 60s reclaim the airwaves! My contribution can be heard halfway in, around 30:30 on playback. If you think my voice sounds strange, it seems to have been slowed down to suit the potential mature audience! I think when they were doing a digital cut, the speed was altered and not restored to ‘normal’ setting! I hope they will invite me back so you can hear what my voice really sounds like! Apologies if you thought something strange had happened in the years since I left RTÉ News…

WPFG Volunteer Michael Fisher with Kim Harper, Las Vegas Guns & Hoses at the Odyssey Arena July 2013  Picture: © Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye

WPFG Volunteer Michael Fisher with Kim Harper, Las Vegas Guns & Hoses at the Odyssey Arena July 2013 Picture: © Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye

IN RETIREMENT

Well, how are you? What’s the weather going to be like today? It’s a question I continue to get asked, nearly five years after my retirement. Or, more correctly, since I gave up a staff job as a television news reporter and took a voluntary retirement package.

So where, you might ask, does the weather come in? My job was always about news. Since 1984 here in Northern Ireland, that inevitably meant covering sometimes daily killings, and several major incidents. Before that two of my biggest stories were in County Kildare: a train crash and also the disappearance of the racehorse Shergar.

It’s true that my first story on my first day as an RTE News reporter in January 1979 was weather-related, when the temperature dropped to a record low of -18C. The story concerned the transport disruption caused by the snow and ice.

Back then it took me a while to work out why people from the farming community I was introduced to by my then fiancée would usually start a conversation by asking me about the weather. 35 years on and now in semi-retirement, that same question was posed to me as I looked out over the stony grey soil of Monaghan.

NOW I realise that the sunshine or rain enquiry was not because my interlocutor had heard or seen my reports on radio or on the box; it was because he or she thought the famous BBC weatherman Michael Fish had landed in their midst! So if that is my solitary claim to fame when I finally retire, I will be happy in the knowledge that I did have some impact as a television celebrity!

What also pleases me at this stage of my life is to know that manners and respect for older generations can still be found amongst 21st Century youth. When you reach your sixties, and become eligible for the brown travel card, you are glad of the courtesy shown when someone stands up on a bus or train to give you a seat. Or when a stranger unexpectedly offers to carry something for you. I’m already looking forward to the next stage: the blue pass, which entitles the holder to cross-border free travel, as well as within Northern Ireland.

Retirement has given me more opportunity to travel. Two years ago I persuaded my other half to go on a cruise departing conveniently from Belfast to Norway. We already knew a few of those on the trip. By the end of it we had made a number of new friends. Many couples on board were retired. Some, like us, were taking their first cruise. But the vast majority who came from different parts of Ireland had experienced cruises before and were enjoying a new stage of their lives.

If my plans work out, I will do some travelling while my health is reasonable. I do not need to look far for inspiration. My neighbour, who turned 70 recently, loves climbing mountains. He was in Australia before Christmas and travelled to Thailand in February. In October he will be heading to central Nepal and is currently raising funds for the area affected by the earthquake.

I have found that fundraising for charity has been a very productive way of spending some of my retirement. Today I will be helping out at a 10k run that will raise funds for the Special Olympics Ireland team. Previous volunteering shifts included the World Police and Fire Games, which led in turn to the Giro d’Italia cycle race.

All this unpaid voluntary work is my way of putting something back into the community and enjoying a role as an ambassador for Belfast and Northern Ireland. Next week you might come across me in Newcastle, helping to look after the many visitors to the Irish Open Golf. But if they ask me about the weather, I reckon I will just have to check my mobile phone.