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


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.



Lives Remembered: The Irish News Saturday 10th January
Desmond Fisher 1920-2014

My father was one of two Derrymen heading RTÉ News on the day of the banned Civil Rights march in the city on October 5 1968. The other was his former Irish Press boss Jim McGuinness, who had been instrumental in bringing him back to Dublin in 1967. That was eighteen months after my father’s resignation on a matter of principle as Editor of the Catholic Herald over his coverage of Vatican II. His articles from Rome, although acclaimed internationally, were regarded as too progressive by members of the English and Irish hierarchy, including Bishop Farren of Derry, his former headmaster at St Columb’s College.

Jim McGuinness, according to my father, “made the cogent argument that posterity would never forgive RTÉ if it failed to cover, as well as the BBC did, the historic developments in the North, which we claimed to be part of our own country”. Thus it was that news cameraman Gay O’Brien obtained remarkable footage of the Derry demonstration including protestors being hit with batons by the RUC.  The film was offered by RTÉ to other television stations via the Eurovision news exchange. Those scenes put the North’s problems on the international agenda.

In August 1969 my father was the senior RTÉ executive on duty when Taoiseach Jack Lynch arrived to address the nation, following the outbreak of serious rioting in Derry. He arranged for the annotated script to be typed out. For the record Mr Lynch said: “It is clear…that the Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse” (not using the word ‘idly’). Many years later my father recalled how Mr Lynch had privately asked him what he thought would happen if he ordered the (Irish) army to go into the North, as some had advised. Des told Lynch he thought the army would get some 20 miles across the border into Derry or Co. Down before suffering heavy casualties in a fight with the British. Mr Lynch told him he had come to the same conclusion.

My father’s parents lived in West End Park, Derry, and moved to Dublin with their three children when he was 11. He won an all-Ireland scholarship for Good Counsel College in New Ross. He took the education, but decided the Augustinian priesthood was “not for me”. He began and ended his active career with the Carlow Nationalist. His knowledge of Irish, Greek and Latin was exceptional. At 94, he had just completed a book, typed by himself, containing a new translation of the Stabat Mater.

DESMOND FISHER who died in Dublin on December 30 is survived by his wife Peggy and four children: Michael, Carolyn, Hugh and John.


My father Des Fisher was Editor of the Catholic Herald when Arthur Jones worked there. Their paths crossed again when Dad was guest Editor of the National Catholic Reporter in Kansas City MO in 1980. Arthur kept in touch over the years and recently sent my father a copy of his new book on the history of NCR, which he read with interest.

In September 2011 Arthur Jones visited Desmond Fisher in Dublin. He then travelled to Belfast to meet me and he gave an interview to the BBC Radio Ulster ‘Sunday Sequence’ programme presented by William Crawley. He wrote to me before departing from Baltimore, Maryland, on the trip:


Liverpool-born journalist Arthur Jones entered Catholic journalism in America in 1962 on the Catholic Star Herald in New Jersey, before the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council began. The Ruskin College, Oxford-educated Jones was soon covering the “social gospel” issues: poverty, racism, traveling with the migrant farmworkers. At the highest levels he covered the first meetings between the US and Latin American hierarchies. In 1963 he used his British passport to report from Cuba on the suppression of the church under Castro. The following year he wrote the first extensive coverage of the Pius XII and the Jews drama. In 1965 he was on Fleet Street writing for the Catholic Herald where Irish journalist Desmond Fisher, later RTÉ Head of Current Affairs, was editor. Forty five years later, “we’re still fighting with one another, trying to outdo each other’s stories and jibes.” They lunched together in Dublin last Saturday (September 3rd **2011**): combined ages 166.

In 1975 he became editor of the independent National Catholic Reporter and expanded the newspaper’s range and investigative reporting in Central and Latin America, Rome and, most particularly, the United States. After serving also as the paper’s publisher and president of the company, in 1980 he stepped aside to return to reporting as editor-at-large, covering the globe, acting periodically as Washington correspondent, moving back to national and by the mid-1980s,  building the case regarding clerical sexual abuse.

in June 1985, seventeen years before the first secular U.S. national coverage, Jones broke wide open the American sexual abuse crisis in the National Catholic Reporter…Jones is the author of a dozen books, and has a separate career world as an economic and financial writer. He’s a former New York associate editor and European bureau chief of Forbes Magazine, a business magazine, a former FT correspondent, and, he says, “more besides.” He has worked for the National Catholic Reporter for 35 years, beginning as editor and after serving as editor-and-publisher, slowly worked his way down the ladder to become a reporter again.

Vatican II reporter Desmond Fisher dies at age 94

With the death on Dec. 30 of the noted Irish Catholic writer Desmond Fisher at age 94, the legion of writers who covered the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), has thinned practically to vanishing point.
Desmond Fisher  Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Desmond Fisher Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Fisher, as editor of The Catholic Herald on London’s Fleet Street, was in Rome in 1962 before the council opened to set up the Herald’s coverage. (His anecdote of Pope John XXIII from that time appeared in NCR’s 2012 Vatican II anniversary special. Fisher was also NCR guest editor for three weeks in 1980 and an occasional contributor.)

Fisher himself covered the 1963 and 1964 sessions of the council for the Herald and the Irish Press Group. Vienna’s Cardinal Franz König said in a note to Fisher that he learned “more of what is going on at the council from your superb reports” than he heard “while on the spot.”

In equal measure, Fisher’s council coverage offended some cardinals, not least Cardinal John Heenan of Westminster, England. The Catholic Herald’s owners — whether pressured by Heenan or not — recalled Fisher to London.

When Fisher resigned in 1966, an anonymous article in Herder Correspondence described the backdrop. Many bishops in England and Scotland, plus Dublin’s over-bearing Archbishop John McQuaid, had strongly opposed Fisher’s interpretation of council events — McQuaid called it “very objectionable.” When Fisher resigned, dozens of other bishop-attendees wrote to say quite the opposite.

Desmond Fisher in NCR Newsroom 1980  Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Desmond Fisher in NCR Newsroom 1980 Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Fisher was born Derry, Ireland, on Sept. 9, 1920. Ireland was still a united land: This was prior to the “partition” that created Northern Ireland.

His father, who worked for a firm of wholesale wine and tea shippers — which explains in part Fisher’s own fondness for and knowledge of wine — moved to Dublin to establish an office there.

At age 11, Fisher won the all-Ireland scholarship that provided five years of secondary education at a school run by a religious order. He took the education, but not religious orders. His Irish, Greek and Latin were exceptional, and at 91 he completed a new translation of the Stabat Mater.

With a bachelor’s degree from University College Dublin, his first job, at age 25, was assistant to the editor of The Nationalist and Leinster Times. He became an experienced copy editor and reporter. His first editorial said, “True peace cannot be based on fear. For true peace transcends the bounds of policy and diplomacy. … It must be founded on freedom and justice, on the recognition that man is a spiritual being created for an eternal destiny and not a pawn in the game of power politics.”

Sixty-five years later, Fisher remarked, “It was a bit full-blown for an Irish provincial newspaper. But I would change very little. Pope John XXIII said much the same 18 months later in Pacem in Terris.”

Fisher and his wife, Margaret (Peggy), wed in 1948 and marked their 65th wedding anniversary in (September) 2013.

For four years, Fisher was with the Irish Press, and in 1952 became its London editor and daily columnist. He became the Press political correspondent and traveled widely overseas in the early 1960s. That began with a three-month United Nations Fellowship. He was present at the U.N. General Assembly during the famous scene when Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the desk.

In 1962, in his first Catholic Herald editorial, he wrote that a lay-owned and independent Catholic paper had “a freedom that is journalistically necessary if it is to carry out what it conceives to be its function and which relieves the hierarchy and the clergy generally of any responsibility for opinions expressed in its columns.”

Recruited by RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) as deputy head of news, by 1973 Fisher was head of current affairs. There, after several years of bureaucratic infighting over an unhonored agreement to make current affairs its own division, Fisher was promoted sideways to director of TV development.

For 14 years, he was also Ireland correspondent for The Economist. He left RTÉ on “early” retirement and returned to his origins, as editor and managing director of The Nationalist and Leinster Times, where his career had begun.

The Fishers lived in Dublin. Survivors include Peggy, four children and four grandchildren. Desmond Fisher had outlived practically all his journalistic contemporaries.

[Arthur Jones, NCR editor from 1975 to 1980, worked for Fisher at The Catholic Herald from 1964 to 1966.]


Des Fisher interviewed by John Bowman Sept. 2011 Photo: RTÉ

Des Fisher interviewed by John Bowman Sept. 2011 Photo: RTÉ

Desmond Fisher was not just a noted Catholic religious commentator. He was also a senior RTÉ executive during an important time in Irish history that saw the outbreak of the troubles in 1969. He was a former Head of Current Affairs and Deputy Head of News at RTÉ and died last week, aged 94. In this article specially written for RTÉ News Online, RTÉ’s Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent Joe Little looks back at his career… 

Mr Fisher was one of the last surviving journalists to have reported from Rome on the Second Vatican Council which ended half a century ago.

His family had asked that his passing on 30 December last should not be made public until after his cremation which, in accordance with his wishes, took place after a private family Requiem Mass was celebrated last Friday, 2 January.

In a document released by his family, he described his experiences as a senior editorial manager at RTÉ in the early years of the Northern Troubles as the most stressful time in his working life.

Before coming to broadcasting, Des as he was widely known, had worked on the Nationalist and Leinster Times and with the Irish Press where he served as London Editor and Political Correspondent.

In 1962, as Pope John XXXIII was convening the Second Vatican Council, he took the helm at the Catholic Herald in London.

A graduate of UCD, he belonged to a post-revolutionary generation of thinkers hungry to learn about the wider world and particularly about stirrings of change in the universal Catholic Church which were stifled by the hierarchy here, thanks largely to the ultra-conservative Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who was appointed in 1940 when Des Fisher was 20 years old.

“It was alienating modern men and women and losing many existing members…”

Writing for this website two years ago, he described Pope John’s motivation in calling the Vatican Council which was to bring the Church face-to-face with the modern world: “He had seen that the Roman Catholic Church was not fulfilling the task for which Christ established it.

“Instead of motivating more and more new members to follow Christ and come to love and worship God, it was alienating modern men and women and losing many existing members.”

He described how most of the 2,500 Council Fathers or church leaders who favoured change had to reckon with a highly regimented traditionalist minority: “They took their lead from the Roman Curia, which was against change from beginning to end of the Council and is still opposed to implementing the Council’s decisions.

Desmond Fisher photo for RTÉ News Online article taken on his laptop Oct. 2012

Desmond Fisher photo for RTÉ News Online article taken on his laptop Oct. 2012

Despite the obstacles the Council produced five major documents.

Taken together, they portray a new kind of Catholic Church very different from the 16th century Counter-Reformation version that still prevails.

The Vatican II Church abandons the existing portrayal of the Church as a pyramid with the Pope on top of descending tiers of cardinals, bishops and priests sitting on a bottom layer of lay Catholics whose only function, as a bishop told the Council, seems to be “to pray, to obey and to pay”.

The Vatican II version of the Church is a “communion” of members sharing a common task to convince all the people of the world that God loves them and that Christ is the example of how to love and serve him.

In this Church lay people are not the passive onlookers they are seen as now but the most active workers at the coalface.”

Mr Fisher’s reference to the Curia’s ongoing opposition to reform foreshadowed the yet-to-be-elected Pope Francis’ scathing attack last month on Vatican’s administrators for being infected with careerism, scheming, greed and “spiritual Alzheimer’s”.

Not surprisingly, the veteran journalist welcomed the Argentine Popes election in 2013.

Des Fisher interviewed by John Bowman about RTÉ Sep. 28 2011 Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Des Fisher interviewed by John Bowman about RTÉ Sep. 28 2011 Photo: © Michael Fisher

Extracts relating to RTÉ from Desmond Fisher’s own summary of his 70-year career in journalism have been released by his family.

They recall that one year after the Council ended, he left the Catholic Herald and freelanced to support his family in London.

But 18 months later, his former Irish Press colleague and fellow Derry man Jim McGuinness, Head of News at RTÉ, suggested he should apply for a job, about to be advertised, as his deputy.

After short attachments with the BBC and ITV in London in 1967 he came to Dublin in early 1968 to take up the job and to live full-time with his family which had moved to Dublin months earlier.

In October 1973, he was appointed Head of the Current Affairs Grouping, a new area in RTÉ responsible for all current affairs programmes on radio and television.

He wrote of this period: “What I do remember most about my time in RTÉ is that it was the most stressful time in my working life. My time there coincided with external pressure on RTÉ from a Government intent on denying publicity to the IRA and internal conflict between RTÉ producers and journalists working on current affairs programmes.”

“It was probably inevitable that a disaster would occur…”

Those twin pressures soon took their toll: “In the circumstances of the time, however, it was probably inevitable that a disaster would occur. The Current Affairs area is the most vulnerable in broadcasting, especially in a public service organisation with staff of divided political and trade union loyalties at a time when the country is in turmoil.

“On the night of October 17, 1974 while I was in Galway at the Annual Conference of the Labour Party, a seven Days programme on internment in the North was rushed on to the air…replacing the programme which I had cleared for transmission. It later transpired that the filmed programme included a sequence from a London agency, which had been brought in a short time before transmission, edited at the last moment and put out without my clearance.

“This led to a public attack on me on two successive evenings by the then minister in charge of RTÉ, Dr Conor Cruise O’Brien.

The inquiries that followed judged that I should have previewed the programme which, in my view, had been deliberately put out in my absence.

“I offered to resign if this would serve the institutional interests of RTÉ.

“This was refused but in April 1975 I told the then Director-General, Oliver Maloney, that the grouping would have either to be established as a full division with its own resources or closed down.

“He rejected the first alternative so I resigned and the Grouping was disbanded.

“Following my resignation, I was appointed Director of TV Development, a title later changed to Director of Broadcasting Development, a sideways move that really left it to me to determine what I would make of the job.”

He chaired the Planning Group for the station’s second television channel and continued to research and publish material for the public service broadcaster on a range of topics, including its relationship with government.

This was a particularly thorny subject given that in 1972, while he was Deputy Head of News, a Fianna Fáil government had fired the RTÉ Authority after the News Division broadcast a radio interview recorded with Seán Mac Stíofáin, then chief of staff of the Provisional IRA.

The then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, justified the dismissal saying the Authority had  breached a government directive, given under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, ordering them “not to project people who put forward violent means for achieving their purpose”.

The Fine Gael-Labour administration, elected in 1973, had continued to implement the directive.

And this was the context in which Fianna Fáil’s new appointees to the RTÉ Authority and senior RTÉ management figures like Des Fisher, had to handle the seven days debacle in October 1974.

Des Fisher left the national broadcaster in 1983, less than two years before reaching the mandatory retirement age.

He became Editor and Managing Director of the Carlow Nationalist and Leinster Times.

In 2009, approaching the age of 80, he contributed to the RTÉ documentary “If Lynch Had Invaded” about his role with RTÉ in 1969 when the Taoiseach Jack Lynch made a dramatic television broadcast to outline the Government’s response to the security forces attacking nationalist communities in Derry.

In 1967, his book on the Second Vatican Council, “The Church in Transition” was published by (Geoffrey Chapman and) Fides.

He is survived by his wife Margaret (Peggy), daughter Carolyn, and sons Michael, John and Hugh, other close relatives and a wide circle of friends.

Extracts relating to RTÉ from Desmond Fisher’s own summary of his 70-year career in journalism are kindly reproduced courtesy of the Fisher family and are copyright  © 2015 


Jim Dougal 1945-2010

He was a kind boss. A gentleman and a gentle man, as John Dunlop described him. Jim Dougal was buried after a requiem Mass at St Brigid’s church, Derryvolgie Avenue in South Belfast. Jim had the distinction of working for all three major broadcasting organisations in Northern Ireland, UTV, BBC and RTÉ, where I knew him for seven years as Northern Editor until he joined BBC in 1991. He battled cancer in recent years and his death at the age of 65 is sad loss for our profession. One of his achievements while at RTÉ was to find a place for unionists to put their case to an audience in the Republic. Former MP Ken Maginnis was among the politicians who attended the Mass. Another was the former SDLP leader John Hume. The fact that a Protestant minister, former Presbyterian Moderator John Dunlop, was chosen to give the address was a sign of how Jim had always done his best to reach across the religious divide. His children gave fine tributes about their Dad at the end of the Mass. Burial took place in Carryduff. To Deirdre and all his relatives, deep sympathy on your loss. May he rest in peace.