Saturday, 17 December 2011

It's good to talk

Some folk rely on surveys and focus groups and others rely on the views of commentators and pundits but I always like to hear what real ordinary folk think about issues of the day and there is only one way to do that - get out and talk to them.

Over the past few weeks I have attended a lot of community events and they have been a great opportunity to chat to people about a wide range of political events.  Normally I do not do much shopping but over the last few days I have been 'coerced' into the shops by my wife and here again people stop to talk about political matters.

Some were concerned about Europe, with the general view that we would be better out of the EU altogether, while others were concerned about local issues.  Not surprisingly the behaviour of the Belfast Lord Mayor was raised by quite a number of people.  In general they are not the sort of people who go to protests and they do not join groups on Facebook.  However they have their opinions and their views on Niall O Donnghaile are absolutely clear.

They thought that his behaviour was appalling, especially as it was directed towards a young girl, and they can't wait to see his year over.  They also said that unionist councillors were absolutely right not to accept his first half-hearted attempt at an apology.  They said that their unionist councillors were right to hold the line and force Sinn Fein into a proper apology, with a public commitment that this would never happen again. 

We are often told that it is good to talk and talking to the people in our constituencies, especially the people who vote for us, is fundamental to politics.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Almost 4 million children in UK have no books

According to a recent newspaper report (News Letter 5 December 2011) 3.8 million children in the United Kingdom do not own a book.

The latest report by the National Literacy Trust, based on a survey of 18,000 children, reveals that a third of them do not have books of their own.  Ten years ago the figure was one child in ten but now it is one in three and so the figure is rising.  Moreover, children from poorer families are more likely to miss out and boys are more likely to be without books than girls.

Yes today children have access to information in a wide varety of ways, with new technologies emerging all the time, but the figure is a cause for concern.  Literacy is a basic skill and it is essential if a child is to attain its full potential in life.

I have always enjoyed owning and reading books, indeed my house has books in almost every room, with one room devoted entirely to them.  At times my wife can get annoyed when she falls over piles of books or has to move some of them to get access to a table, but she is very tolerant, most of the time!  That love for books goes back to my early years and has stayed with me ever since. 

For me, no visit to a town or village is complete without a visit to the local bookshop, wherever there is one, and probably a visit to the library as well.

My parents bought books for me and I got books as prizes in school and Sunday School.  Many of them were beautiful books written and published with boys in mind and beautifully illustrated.  They were an important part of my life and I gained hours of pleasure from them.

Even before I could read my parents took the time to sit down and read to me.  Books were always part of our home and there were regular visits to the library.  Those experiences introduced me to books at an early age and helped cultivate a love for reading.

About a year ago I visited Dungiven for the opening of the new library and one of the other speakers was a writer from Londonderry who spoke in similar terms of her experience of books and libraries in her childhood.  Her experience of books and libraries as a child had a profound influence on her and led to her career in writing.  She spoke of the library as a magical place that opened up new worlds for her to explore. 

So here are a few suggestions:
  1. At this time of year, as we select presents for children, picking a book that is interesting and attractive can be a good choice. 
  2. Children often copy adults, so a reading adult sets a good example to a child.
  3. It is good for parents to spend time with their children and to interact with them.  There is no better way to do that than sitting down to read to a child or read with a child.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Sinn Fein propagandists

Sinn Fein propagandists, such as Jim Gibney in The Irish News (8 December) have been busy weighing in behind Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile.  They have not directly tried to justify what he did, when he refused to hand over a Duke of Edinburgh award to a young Army Cadet.  They know that Martin McGuinness has already admitted that O Donnghaile was wrong and they can't very well disagree with Martin.  However they have been busy attacking unionist politicians and attacking the British Army, hoping that they can divert the focus of attention away from Niall's little disaster.

Jim Gibney engages in a bit of propagandist nonsense, claiming that the union flag has been 'flying illegally for more than 20 years ... on top of Belfast City Hall'  Now that is simply nonsense.  There is nothing 'illegal' about the flying of the union flag.

Gibney also indulges in a popular pastime for Sinn Feiners and that is trying to demoralise unionists, while at the same time boosting the morale of republicans.
There is a battle taking place inside the city hall, led mainly by Sinn Fein councillors, to secure institutional recognition of the cultural tradition of the nationalist people of Belfast.  This battle has been caused by the unionist parties' refusal to voluntarily accept symbols and emblems associated with nationalists on public display inside and outside the city hall.
Unionists might bluster as they did at the city hall about the mayor's handling of the Duke of Edinburgh awards.  But the winds of change continue blowing through that particular chamber.  Before the night was over the unionist (sic) lost a vote to erect an Irish language sign.  And that is the enduring and unending story - unionists continue to resist to no avail.
This is rather like the repeated claims by Sinn Fein that a 'United Ireland' is inevitable.  It is propaganda designed to demoralise unionists by suggesting that there is nothing they can do and that it is not worth trying.  The only thing that is inevitable is death.  There is nothing inevitable about a 'United Ireland' and indeed it is less popular than ever but that does not stop Sinn Feiners trotting out the old line time and time again.

Jim Gibney has been at it in The Irish News and Martin O'Muilleoir has been at it in the Andersonstown News.  Of course no sensible unionist will believe a word of it.  I don't believe Gerry Adams when he says he was never in the IRA, I don't believe him when he says a 'United Ireland' is inevitable and I don't believe his acolytes when they tell me this or that is 'inevitable'.

However this smug and patronising attitude from Sinn Fein is certainly poisoning the atmosphere in the City Hall.

I have talked to many moderate unionists over the past few weeks and the behaviour of the Lord Mayor, along with Sinn Fein demands to take down the union flag, has certainly antagonised them.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Ethnic cleansing along the border

On Sunday afternoon I was in Lisnaskea parish church for the funeral of the father of my party colleague Arlene Foster.  During the service the minister reminded us that her father had served in both the B Specials and the RUC.  He had lived out in the country near Rosslea but after the IRA attempted to murder him he had to move in to Lisnaskea.  He carried the scar from an IRA bullet until the day he died.

At the end of the funeral, as I was coming out of the church, I noticed a memorial to ten UDR soldiers who had been murdered by the IRA.  It was a solemn reminder of the intensity of the IRA's terrorist campaign in that part of Ulster and of the many who had given their lives to preserve law and order in the face of republican terrorism.

The funeral left Lisnaskea and went out to the graveyard at St Mark's parish church at Aghadrumsee, close to the border with the Irish Republic.  The little church sits up on a hill and beside it there is a primary school and there is also an Orange hall.  As we waited to speak to the members of the family I noticed two graves close to the door of the church.  One was that of an RUC officer, who had been murdered by the IRA, and the other was that of a UDR officer, who had also been murdered by IRA terrorists.  There were other memorials inside the church.

The graves at Aghadrumsee and the memorial in Lisnaskea remind us of the campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the IRA in that border community.  It was a systematic and sectarian campaign designed to drive the minority Protestant community out of that area.

I doubt very much if anyone has been tried for those crimes but are they not worthy of the same attention as the murder of Pat Finucane or any of the other high profile deaths?  Republicans demand to know the truth but here is a truth they would prefer to keep hidden.  They are trying very hard to rewrite history but the memorials in churches and graveyards tell the true story of the Troubles. 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

An early use of the term Scotch-Irish

In his Colonial New York: A History (p 238), Professor Michael Kammen describes the growth of Presbyterianism in New York.
The years between 1745 and 1760 were years of rapid growth for the Presbyteriana - growth based upon the influx of groups quite diverse in social origin.  There were Puritans from New England and Log Island, Scots-Irish immigrants from abroad, converts drifting in from the divided Dutch Reformed communities, and members such as the Livingstons from intermarriage between Scottish and Dutch families settled in the colony since the seventeenth century.  Such amalgamation could not occur without strife.  Pemberton's congregation in New York City, for example, had received by mid-century an influx of what Mrs Pemberton described as 'bigotted Scotch Irish Presbyterians.'  When the elders and deacons suggested introducing Isaac Watts's version of the Psalms (then widely used in New England) instead if the various versions causing some confusion in New York services, they urged that anyone who objected bring the matter to Pemberton. The newcomers decided instead to organize themselves as the 'Scotch Presbyterian Society' and formally charged the minister with neglecting the Westminster catechism when he administered baptism, failing to pray at burials when so requested by the family, and permitting the singing of anthems. Although Pemberton resigned in 1753 and moved to Boston for the remainder of his career, the Presbyterians of New York grew steadily in strength and numbers anyway.
Rev Ebenezer Pemberton was born in Boston and pastored the First Presbyterian Church in New York for 26 years.  During his tenure, the great revivalist George Whitefield came to the city to preach and Pemberton was the only minister to open his pulpit to him.  Whitefield preached there many times and drew vast crowds.  after his years in New york Pemberton returned to Boston and pastored the New Brick Church until his death in 1777.

The quote from his wife about the 'bigotted Scotch Irish' is taken from a letter she wrote in 1755.  The Pemebertons were 'new light' Presbyterians whereas it seems that the Scotch-Irish were mainly 'old light.  This reflects a wider theological division in Presbyterians.  Both sides were very committed to their position and Mrs Pemberton regarded those who opposed her husband as bigoted.  It is also noteworthy that she described them as Scotch-Irish.  This is another of the early examples of the use of the term Scotch-Irish.

Jane McCrea

Recently I bought a book entitled Colonial New York: A History by Michael Kammen.  In it I came across a reference to a woman named Jane McCrea:
In 1777 the scene of action shifted upstate.  On the military side, Burgoyne invaded New York from Quebec on June 1.  A series of actions during July went largely in England's favour: the conquests of Ticonderoga, Skenesborough, and Fort Anne.  The brutal murder of Jane McCrea by Burgoyne's Indian allies on July 27, however, did much to galvanize the Mohawk Valley farmers into action.  General Schuyler found that recruiting became easier, and his army swelled in size.
The murder of Jane McCrea was obviously a significant event in the course of the war but who was this young woman? 

Jane McCrea (1752-1777) was one of the younger children in the large family of Rev James McCrea of New Jersey and his wife Catherine Rosebrugh and her family was thoroughly Presbyterian and Ulster-Scots on both sides.

Her father James McCrea, a Presbyterian minister and an Ulster-Scot, was born in Lifford in county Donegal and emigrated from Ulster to America with his father, William McCrea, who was an elder in White Clay Creek Church, near Newark, Delaware.  James McCrea trained for the ministry at the Log College, which was founded by another Ulster-Scot, Rev William Tennent.  Her mother Catherine, also an Ulster-Scot, was the daughter of Rev Robert Rosebrugh and niece of Rev John Rosebrugh.

After the death of her mother and the remarriage of her father, she lived with her brother John near Saratoga, New York, and there she became engaged to David Jones.  When the War of Independence started three of her brothers joined the revolutionary army but her fiance fled with other loyalists to Quebec. The war divided the McCrea family with some of the brothers serving on the loyalist side.

During the summer of 1777, as John Burgoyne's expedition neared the Hudson River, Colonel John McCrea took up his duty with a regiment of the Albany County militia.  Meanwhile her fiance was serving as a lieutenant in one of the loyalist militia units accompanying Burgoyne and he was stationed at Fort Ticonderoga, after it was captured.

Jane McCrea left her brother's home and set off to join her fiance at Ticonderoga.  She reached the village beside the old Fort Edward and was staying at the home of Sara McNeil, who was a loyalist and an elderly cousin to the British General Simor Fraser.

On the morning of 27 July 1777 a group of Indians, an advance party from Burgoyne's army, descended on the village of Fort Edward.  The two women were taken captive and they were separated.  According to the traditional account, there was a quarrel among the Indians as they were bringig Jane to the British camp and one of them killed and scalped her.  She had beautiful long hair and later her distinctive scalp was recognised.

News of her death was published in Pennsylvania on 11 August and in Virginia on 22 August and the story spread across America.  Her death and those of others in similar raids inspired some of the resistance to Burgoyne's invasion, leading to his defeat at the Battle of Saratoga.

The story of Jane McCrea became part of American folklore and an anonymous poet wrote The Ballad of Jane McCrea, which was set to music and became a popular folk song.  John Vanderlyn painted a picture of the death of Jane McCrea in 1803 and this and James Fenimore Cooper described similar events in his book The Last of the Mohicans.

Jane McCrea's body was first buried outside Fort Edward and a monument at the site marks that original grave.  Her remains were later moved to the Union Cemetery at Fort Edward and they were moved a third time to the new Union Cemetery, which lies between Fort Edward and Sandy Hill.
  1. Alexander Macrae, The History of the Clan Macrae: Dingwall, 1910
  2. William Leete Stone, Ballads and Poems Relating to the Burgoyne Campaign: Albany, 1893
  3. Richard Webster, A History of the Presbyterian Church in America: 1858
  4. Jane McCrea, Notable American Women

Saturday, 10 December 2011

An 'off day' for Alf McCreary

Several evenings this week I have been at community meetings with DUP councillors from the Castle area.  Then this morning I was in our constituency office at Ballysillan to catch up on some paperwork.  The two DUP councillors from the Oldpark area were there as well, meeting a some residents from Carr's Glen Park about a number of issues.  That was on top of the normal round of council meetings, DPP meetings and partnership board meetings.  Politics is not a 9 to 5 job and it is not a five days a week job either.  It requires real commitment and long hours and a six day week are not unusual.

I was disappointed therefore by an article in the Belfast Telegraph tonight in which the 'churches correspondent' Alf McCreary painted a thoroughly disparaging picture of Belfast councillors.  He ended the article by describing them as 'mostly ridiculous' and saying that 'Belfast people deserve better'.

Yes, I am sure we could all do better and that includes journalists as well as politicians but I think his comments were unfair and unfounded.  Our politicians are very much a reflection of the people and I suppose that is how it should be.  We live in a deeply divided society and it is not surprising that our societal differences are played out from time to time in the council chamber, just as they are played out in other spheres.

There are good councillors as well as poor councillors and some are mediocre but to describe them as 'mostly ridiculous' is a sweeping condemnation and is simply untrue.  I expected better from a churches correspondent'.

Alf McCreary's article was developed around a debate about an Irish language sign but it was clear that he had not understood or else had chosen to ignore the context of the debate, for he did not mention it at all.  Earlier in the meeting all parties had agreed an aproach to contended cultural issues, such as the Irish language, but later in the meeting three parties, the two nationalist parties and Alliance, decided to ignore that decision in relation to the Irish language signage.

The article was patronising and served to demonstrate that all of us, including Alf McCreary, have our 'off days'.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Alcohol abuse

Last weekend I came across several newspaper articles about the effects of alcohol abuse.

Ministers pledge to stop booze ads aimed at young
Officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London have reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring that alcoholic drinks are not targeted at young people.  'It is imperative that we have robust, evidence-based alcohol advertising rules in place to ensure appropriate levels of consumer protection, especially for children and young people.'
The pledge comes after calls from doctors to introduce new curbs on alcohol advertising.  In an open letter to The Guardian, a team of consultants said people in Britain were facing an 'epidemic' of liver disease caused by a binge-drinking culture and cheap booze.
Figures showed medics in north-east England were struggling with a 400 per cent increase in the number of hospital admissions for people in their early thirities with alcoholic liver disease.  In the open letter the consultants, mostly liver specialists and gastoenterologists, blamed the problem on Britain having created 'an excessively pro-alcohol culture by selling alcohol for pocket money prices.'
[Irish News 3 December 2011]

Rise in morning-after drink-drive accidents
Morning after drink-drive accidents have risen by 60 per cent because drivers remain ignorant about how long alcohol stays in their system.  Night-time crashes have fallen over the past ten years as drink-drive campaign messages get through but analysis of the official statistics shows that 18.2 per cent of all accidents caused by drink-driving in 2010 occurred between 5 am, when many people would be driving to work, and 1 pm.  This compares with 11.4 per cent in 2000 and only 6.9% in 1990. 
Hunter Abbott, the managing director of AlcoSense said, 'If you drank four pints of medium strong beer or four large glasses of wine between 9 pm and midnight, it could take as long as 14.8 hours for the alcohol to leave your system.  You could easily still be over the limit at 11 am the following day.' 
[Daily Telegraph  2 December 2011]

Surge in cocaine use has been side effect of 24-hour drinking, says drugs officer
The drugs coordinator for Kent Police said that the introduction of 24-hour drinking led to a rise in cocaine use so people can 'stay awake' .   The most common excuse for taking the Class A drug since 2005 has been to not fall asleep or 'keep going on a night out'.  PC Adrian Parsons also disclosed that up to one in ten bank notes, when tested, was found to contain traces of cocaine, compared with around four per cent six years ago - a signal of the rising popularity of the drug. 
[Daily Telegraph 2 December 2011]

Across the United Kingdom there is a serious and growing problem of alcohol abuse and it is causing terrible damage to the health of many people.  That situation must be addressed and we do well to listen to the advice of those doctors and other experts who deal with the effects of alcohol abuse.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Earl of Antrim and his Scottish tenants

There is a good article tonight in the Belfast Telegraph about Hector McDonnell, an artist who grew up in Glenarm Castle and whose father was the Earl of Antrim.

The article recalls some of the history of this old Ulster family and includes an important point about the Scottish settlement of Antrim and Down at the start of the 17th century.
The present Glenarm Castle, which sits within one of the oldest estates in Northern Ireland, was begun by the 1st Earl of Antrim, Sir Randal McDonnell,  in 1636.  McDonnell became an important figure in the Plantation of Ulster, settling his estate with large numbers of Protestants from the Scottish lowlands.
Sir Randal McDonnell was the leading Roman Catholic landowner in Ulster and yet he brought Scottish Protestants across to Ulster as his tenants.  This is an aspect of the Scottish settlement which is little known and yet these Scottish settlers were among the earliest Ulster-Scots.

The Belfast Telegraph article refers to 'the Plantation of Ulster', but the official plantation, which began around 1610, did not include Antrim Down.  Unofficial Scottish settlement had already started in Down in 1606, under Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery, and that settlement has been described as the Scottish 'bridgehead' in Ulster.

The Scottish settlement is often portrayedby Irish nationalists and republicans as Scottish Protestants 'stealing' land from Roman Catholics but in the case of the later Scottish settlement under the Earl of Antrim, it was a wealthy and powerful Roman Catholic landlord who brought lowland Scottish Protestants across as his tenants on his estate.  That is a very different story and one that corrects some of the Irish nationalist narrative of that time.

A small step by Sinn Fein

During my time in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure I held an annual  reception at Stormont to celebrate the success of Ulster sportsmen and women and each year this included young folk from the GAA.

I have criticised aspects of the GAA and will continue to urge that organisation to embrace the vision of a shared and better future.  However the young folk from the GAA were treated in exactly the same way as all the others.  I did not snub anyone or discriminate against them.

I was thinking of those and other events when I reflected on the recent controversy about the way in which the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast snubbed a young Army Cadet.

Hopefully, however, Sinn Fein have learned a lesson and that is a small step forward.  The Lord Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile made a sort of 'apology' last Thursday but then appeared to backtrack when he refused to answer a journalist who asked what he would do in such a situation in the future.

However yesterday Cllr Jim McVeigh, the leader of the Sinn Fein group on the council, was pressed about it on the Nolan  Show and he said that it wouln't happen again.  Then in the afternoon Martin McGuinness commented on the matter in the Assembly.  After those statements there can be no going back by Sinn Fein.  The next time there is a Sinn Fein Lord Mayor he or she will not snub an Army Cadet and will present an award.

I welcome that small step and it has been a hard lesson for them because it has certainly tarnished Niall O'Donnghaile's carefully polished image.  It is only a small step and Sinn Fein have still a long journey ahead of them but every journey is made up of single steps.

During his presidential campaign in the Irish Republic Martin McGuinness said that if elected he would meet Her Majesty the Queen and now Sinn Fein have said they would present an award to an Army Cadet.  The common factor in these cases is that progress came in response to pressure.  Martin Mcguinness was pressed by the media in the Irish Republic and Niall O'Donnghaile was pressed by unionist councillors.  That is the lesson for public, press and politicians and it is one that we should all remember.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The role of the Communist Party

Over the weekend my attention was drawn by two separate newspaper articles.

The first was an obituary in the Irish News for Paddy Murphy (1940-2011), who died on 17 November.  After serving in the Eire Army and then the British Army he joined the IRA.  According to the obituary:
The 1970s and 1980s saw Paddy eke out a living in a variety of jobs and he found expression for his socialist and internationalist  instincts in the Communist Party of Ireland as well as joining Sinn Fein and becoming active in republicanism.
He lived in Ardoyne and was 'an active communist who regularly went to Mass'.  He was also 'a fluent Irish speaker with a passion for Russian history'.  In 1989 the police raided his house and seized a wheelie bin full of explosives.  Paddy Murphy was sentenced to eight years in prison and served his time in Magilligan.

The second article was about Ciaran Farrell, a brother of the notorious IRA terrorist Mairead Farrell.  Ciaran pleaded guilty  to providing the get-away car for the dissident republicans who bombed Newry courthouse last year.  However this reminded me that Mairead Farrell had another brother Niall Farrell, who was a senior member of the Communist Party of Ireland.

The role of the Communist Party in the Troubles, especially its association with Irish republicanism, is one that has received only limited attention but it is one that is worthy of research.  The party is very small but some of its members have played a significant role in the events of the past forty years.

A poisoned atmosphere in City Hall

The actions of Belfast's Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile and the way that he snubbed a young Army Cadet are but one aspect of a rather unpleasant atmosphere that Sinn Fein has introduced into Belfast City Council.

At the local government elections in May there was a significant change in the team of Sinn Fein councillors and this has resulted in a much more abrasive approach which is poisoning the atmosphere.

Sinn Fein are the largest party but they have only 16 of the 51 seats on the Council.  The DUP have 15, the SDLP have 8, Alliance have 6, the UUP have 3, the PUP have 2 and there is one Independent Unionist.  There are 24 nationalists (SF and SDLP) and 21 unionists (DUP, UUP, PUP and Ind U) and so the 6 Alliance councillors hold the balance of power.

Nevertheless Sinn Fein are trying to bully the Council into following a Sinn Fein agenda.  Moreover that is not just about symbolic or iconic issues such as the Union flag and the Irish language.  It is also about Council programmes and expenditure.

Sinn Fein want equality, which is something they often claim to espouse, set aside as they bully their way forward and the net result has been to poison the atmosphere in the Council.

And another view on Niall

In a letter to the News Letter on Saturday (3 December) the writer addressed the 'disgraceful and discriminatory' action of Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile in refusing to hand over a Duke of Edinburgh Award to a young girl who was a member of the Army Cadets.  The letter writer drew an interesting parallel:
Picking and choosing those to be honoured on the basis of political ideology reminds me of Hitler's refusal to present Olympic medals to black athletes in the 1936 Munich Olympic Games.  Such totalitarianism has no place in the new Northern Ireland and, unless the prejudice and discrimination meted out by Sinn Fein is challenged, then we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Another view on Niall O'Donnghaile

In her regular column in the Belfast Telegraph tonight (5 December), Nuala McKeever commented on the 'non-apology' by Lord Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile:
Well, its been a week of backhanded apologies .. First it was the Lord Mayor of Belfast.  He's had a rough week and is probably considering renaming the position 'Nightmare' as opposed to Lord Mayor.
Niall O'Donnghaile refused to shake the hand of a young Army cadet at the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in the City Hall last week.
If he was in the running for consideration on an Olympic Mayoral Team, he'd probably just have missed the cut.  He turned up, he appeared able, but at the last hurdle, he backed off and got four points for a refusal.
But when the crowds complained, he 'apologised'.
That word is used rather too loosely.  Because when someone apologises, but it's clear that they don't actually think what they've done needs an apology, then it's not really an apology, is it?
He said he was sorry for offending the young girl and her family and was prepared to meet her and then to reassure them that his actions were 'nothing personal'.
Well doesn't that rather negate the apology right there and then?
Of course it was personal!  It was him.  It was her.  Then it was her and not him.  It was her and his stand-in.  There was a hand shake but not from the Lord Mayor.  His hand did not touch her hand.  His individual hand refused to touch her individual hand.  Can you get any more personal than that?

A bad week for Sinn Fein

Last week was a very bad week for Sinn Fein.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) confirmed that the IRA knew they would be targetting innocent civilians when they exploded the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb.  They dismissed IRA claims that the mssacre of civilians in November 1987 was a mistake.  The atrocity, perpetrated by the IRA, killed eleven people and another victim died after 13 years in a coma.  The front page headline in the Belfast Telegraph read 'Enniskillen: it was no mistake'. 

Another HET report, due to be released later this month, has confirmed that the IRA fired first when they attacked Loughgall RUC station in May 1987.  Sinn Fein have always claimed that the SAS fired first in the incident in which eight IRA terrorists were killed, along with an innocent civilian.  However the HET report has rejected that claim.

The third disaster for Sinn Fein was the PR disaster known as Niall O'Donnghaile, who is the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast.  When you are in a hole it is best to stop digging but not Niall.  When a Belfast Telegraph reporter asked him whether he would repeat his snub to a young Army Cadet he refused to answer.  The newspaper carried the story under the headline 'Embattled Lord Mayor refuses to rule out repeat of cadet snub' and it also carried a column on the subject by Malachi O'Doherty.

Niall failed the first test when he refused to hand over the award to the young cadet but instead of learning from that, he has done it again.  If his initial apology had been a sincere apology, rather than a carefully worded excuse for an apology, he would have been able to answer the Belfast Telegraph's question.  The fact that he didn't confirms what we suspected, that his 'apology' was not a real apology at all.  If you are really sincere when you apologise then you will seek to demonstrate that by not doing the same thing again and you will be able to say that.  Clearly Niall does not understand what an apology is.

Now Sinn Fein know the importance of PR and they take it very seriously.  But this past week has not gone well for them at all.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Gifts of the Wise Men

In the New Testament the wise men from the east came to Bethlehem and brought gifts for Jesus (Matthew 2:11).  They were wise men and they were also wealthy men for they brought expensive gifts.  It's hard to choose presents, they should be appropriate for the person, but the wise men were wise in their choice and each of their gifts was appropriate for Jesus.

Frankincense for the Son

Frankincense was obtained by cutting a particular tree and collecting the sap.  It is first mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 30:34-36 'Take for yourself spices with pure frankincense ... with it you shall make incense.'  There was an altar of incense in the Tabernacle and the Temple and the incense was an offering to God.

Jesus is the Son of God.  He is Emmanuel - God with us.  'The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1:14).  In one of his hymns Charles Wesley wrote, 'Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.'  He is divine - only the Son of God could feed the hungry, raise the dead and calm the stormy sea.

Myrrh for the Saviour

Myrrh is an Aramaic word meaning 'bitter'.  There was myrrh at His birth, at His bleeding (Mark 15:23) and at His burial (John 19:39).  Myrrh speaks of death and He was born to die. 
   His name shall be Jesus, the angel told Mary,
   God's Son sent to save lost mankind from his sin.
   So let's tell the story of Christ and His glory.
   No time to lose, let's shout the news, He died to save.
The myrrh tree has many long thorns and they remind us of the crown of thorns that was placed on the head of Jesus at Calvary.  Myrrh was an appropriate gift for a Saviour who would die for the sin of the world.

Gold for the Sovereign

Gold is a gift for a Sovereign - a royal crown will always be made of gold.  Gold is mentioned only in Matthew, the gospel of the Sovereign, and it is mentioned five times.  Matthew records the question of the wise men, 'Where is he that is born king of the Jews?' (v 2)

In the Tabernacle and Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, the golden altar of incense, the lampstand and the utensils were either made of pure gold or acacia wood covered with gold.  The streets of heaven are made of 'pure gold (Rev 21:18,21).

He is the king of kings and the lord of lords and He who came as Saviour will come again as Sovereign.  He who came in meekness will come again in majesty.  He who came in grace will come again in glory.  The government will be upon His shoulders and His reign will never end (Isaiah 9:6,7).

He is the Son, the Saviour and the Sovereign.  How important it is for each one of us to know Him personally as our Saviour and our Sovereign.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

John Wesley as a Social Reformer

This morning I spoke at a conference organised by the Community Faiths Forum in Belfast.  Afterwards I came across this paragraph in an article about the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, and it has some relevance to the theme of the conference.  It was written by John Telford and is taken from his  book The Popular History of Methodism, which was published in 1897:

As a Social Reformer, Wesley was far in advance of his time.  He found work for the deserving poor, provided them with clothes and food in seasons of special distress, established a lending stock to to help struggling business men with loans.  He opened dispensaries in London and Bristol, and did everything he could to assist debtors who had been thrown into prison.  Some of the most stirring stories of Wesley's life are connected with these labours of love.  In visiting the prisons, in temeperance work, in care for the debtor, and in opposition to the slave trade, Wesley was far in advance of his time.  He was a lvoer of all good work, and a hearty supporter of those who were seeking to redress time-crying wrongs of the world.

Wherever he went, Wesley preached the gospel without fear or favour.  He spoke about the law of God and the sin of man and he also declared the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ but he also cared for the poor and needy.  He did not see a contradiction between the one and the other.  Rather his love for God led him to love others and to address their needs, spiritually and physically.

Many of the great social reformers of the past, such as Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce, were inspired to social action because of their saving faith in Jesus Christ.