I AM not what you would call a regular church goer, in fact the last time I attended a religious service was last year when myself and a Moslem and Jewish friend went to a Christmas service in a Lutheran church in Berlin, and very pleasant it was too.
I am more of your hatchings, matchings, despatchings and carols sort of attendee.
Usually when I go into a place of worship for a religious service it belongs to one of the Protestant denominations and the lower the church, the happier I am. (I have Quaker ancestry). I have attended a handful of Roman Catholic masses and, as a stranger in a strange land, found them to be quite beautiful pieces of theatre.
I did not grow a tail, nor was I struck down by a thunderbolt, and while I admire Cardinal Ratzinger's intellect, joining friends for a "papist service" has not stilled my instinct to protest the authority of the Church of Rome.
Attending an occasional mass, or sitting in the odd mosque during prayers, does not worry me in the slightest but I also absolutely respect the position of DUP MLA and Culture Minister Nelson McCausland not to attend a Roman Catholic service. To me this is the essence of civil and religious liberty. If that is what Nelson believes, then fine. So what?
He is not seeking to deliberately offend Roman Catholics nor their church; he is not stopping anyone from attending the church they want to go to.
Had Sinn Fein not made an issue about the minister's sincerely held religious beliefs no one would have known and no one would have been offended. By stirring the pot the republicans have ensured lots of people have been offended and the executive has faced yet another petty squabble.
Nelson McCausland's stance seems to me less offensive than would-be SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie's public remarks regarding Protestant loyal orders.
But for offence-giving, this month's runaway winners are the Alliance party; Northern Ireland surprise new "nasty party". Maybe they feel that there are nationalist tactical votes going begging because they are certainly do not seem to be particularly worried about unionist sensitivities this weather.
First we had Belfast Lord Mayor Naomi Long refusing to toast the Queen during her installation dinner. Apparently she thought it "not appropriate" to pay due respect to our head of state; Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take the oath of allegiance at Westminster in a similar fashion.
Naomi is said to harbour ambitions for Peter Robinson's seat at the next general election: I trust she will be telling the good people of East Belfast whether or not she considers the oath of allegiance to be "not appropriate" before they cast their votes.
When reports emerged that some Ulster Unionists in her South Belfast constituency were sounding out the potential for a single unionist candidate for the next general election, Alliance MLA Anna Lo immediately put two and two together and came up with 1690.
She assumed that it was all about nasty sectarian unionists opposing Peter McCann, the Roman Catholic man that the Conservative party have named as a potential candidate for the seat as part of the newly formed Conservatives and Unionists electoral pact.
Anna huffed and puffed: " …UCUNF remains mired in the old politics of sectarian headcounts…Conservatives need to reflect on what they have shackled themselves to."
The issue had arisen well before Mr McCann had been given the nod by the Tories and that the Ulster Unionist guys were not as much seeking an alliance with the DUP as they were hoping that they might be persuaded to stand aside.
Mr McCann was once the producer of Top Gear, the world's greatest television show. Ms Lo could equally well have accused the unionists of being anti-car, the criticism would have been just as relevant (or equally irrelevant).
There is talk that the Alliance party would take the ministry for policing and justice if it is devolved. If the attitudes of Ms Long and Ms Lo are reflective of their party as a whole, then that is another very good reason to leave the responsibility for the cops and the courts across the water.
TAKE IT WITH A PINCH OF SALT
A BUS passed me the other day with advertising plastered with the slogan: "Salt - is your food full of it?" It was part of an advertising campaign commissioned by the Food Standards Agency. You may have seen the associated television adverts featuring a smug and unfunny comedian. In a press release the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland bragged that "The advertising campaign will go live on 5 October with the first TV advert aired on ITV1 at 7.15pm during Emmerdale."
Decorating whole buses and prime time TV slots do not come cheap. The national campaign is costing 3.5 million including a spend in Northern Ireland of 128,000.
So how can it be that with the nation's finances in the hole, with hospital beds being closed and everyone scrambling around to cut budgets to meet swine flu costs, that the nanny state still can find 3.5 million to tell us to go easy on the salt shaker?
FLYING THE FRIENDLY SKIES
THERE are few joys as great as that that experienced when a sinner repents.
I do not know if Belfast International Airport is actually repentant, but after many months of criticism regarding the overly officious nature of airport's security procedures it seems that management have taken notice and got their act together.
This column and the letters pages of local newspapers have repeatedly drawn attention to the attitude and behaviour of the airport's security staff that many passengers have considered unnecessarily harsh and rude.
Now I am pleased to report that things have changed for the better. I have been through the airport a couple of times in recent weeks and something akin to a miracle has happened. The staff have become friendly and helpful. The result? Less stressed-out travellers and happier looking workers – and we are still as safe as were ever were.
This is what is known in management circles as a "win win scenario".
A flight out of Belfast International used to be something to dread, but with a few pleasantries and a bit of common sense flying from Aldergrove has once again become something to look forward to; not quite a return to the golden age of air travel, but definitely a step in the right direction.
We will have to wait and see how the on-going redevelopment and refurbishment work at the airport pans out. Hopefully it will not end up like John Lennon Liverpool Airport where a pleasant and customer friendly departure lounge was turned into a cross between a tacky shopping mall and an obstacle course.
However, if Belfast International is really on the path towards improving customer standards, there is no longer any rational case that can be made for allowing further expansion at George Best Belfast City Airport.