Monday, 31 December 2012

A guid new yeir

A Guid New Year Tae Ane an Aw’

This old song is sung by Scots at Hogmanay after the bells which ring in the New Year. I can recall it being sung many years ago by Andy Stewart on the BBC Hogmanay programme.

A guid New Year tae ane an' aw’,
An' mony may ye see!
An' durin’ aw’ the years tae come,
O happy may ye be!
An' may ye ne'er hae cause tae mourn,
Tae sigh or shed a tear!
Tae ane an' aw’, baith great an' sma’,
A hearty, Guid New Year!

A guid New Year to ane an' aw'
An' mony may ye see,
An' durin' aw' the years tae come,
O happy may ye be.

O time flies past, it winna wait,
My friend for you or me,
It works its wonders day by day,
And onward still doth flee.
O wha can tell when ilka ane,
I see sae happy here,
Will meet again and merry be
Anither guid New Year.


We twa ha'e baith been happy lang.
We ran about the braes.
In yon wee cot beneath the tree,
We spent oor early days.
We ran aboot the burnie's side,
The spot will aye be dear,
An' those that used to meet us there,
We'll think on mony a year.


Noo let us hope oor years may be
As guid as they ha'e been,
And trust we ne'er again may see,
The sorrows we ha'e seen.
And let us wish that ane an' a'
Our friends baith far an' near,
May aye enjoy in times tae come
A hearty guid New Year!


Sunday, 30 December 2012

A hymn for Ulster

Songs of Praise concluded tonight with a medley of four hymns reflecting the four nations within the United Kingdom. 
W Y Fullerton
They started with the Welsh hymn Guide me O Thou great Jehovah which was written in Welsh by William Williams and published in 1745.  It was then translated into English by Peter Williams in 1771.  The tune Cwm Rhondda was composed by John Hughes in 1907.
The medley continued with the hymn Spirit of God, unseen as the wind, which is sung to the Scottish tune 'The Skye Boat Song'.  The words were written by Margaret Old.
The third hymn was I cannot tell why He whom angels worship, which is sung to the tune known as the Londonderry Air.  The words were written by the Belfast-born pastor, preacher, author and hymn-writer William Y Fullerton. 
The medley finished with Jerusalem, with words written about 1808 by William Blake.  The tune we use today was composed in 1916 by Sir Hugh Parry.  The poem was inspired by the tradition that during his youth and before he began His public ministry, Jesus visited England with Joseph of Arimathea and came to Glastonbury.
William Young Fullerton was born in Belfast on 8 March 1857.  He was brought up in a Presbyterian church and converted as a young man.  However he was influenced by the Baptist preacher Charles H Spurgeon, who became his friend and mentor, and he joined the Baptists.  He compiled several hymnbooks and wrote several hymns including his best-known, 'I cannot tell'.  Fullerton died on 17 August 1932.
  • I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship,
    Should set His love upon the sons of men,
    Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wand’rers,
    To bring them back, they know not how or when.
    But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
    When Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home,
    And that He lived at Nazareth and labored,
    And so the Savior, Savior of the world, is come.

  • I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
    As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
    Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
    The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
    But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
    And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
    And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
    For yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here.

  • I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
    How He will claim His earthly heritage,
    How satisfy the needs and aspirations
    Of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
    But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
    And He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
    And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendor
    When He the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is known.

  • I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
    When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
    Or who can say how great the jubilation
    When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
    But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
    And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
    And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
    At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is King.


    Tuesday, 25 December 2012

    A Night to Remember

    One of the highlights of the past year was the opening of the new Titanic centre in Belfast.  It has proved extremely popular with tourists and local people as well and has been an important addition to our tourism product.

    Belfast was the home of the Titanic and a century ago it was a truly titanic city, an industrial powerhouse, with the biggest shipyard in the world, the largest linen factory

    A Night to Remember is the title of a book and a film about the Titanic.  The book was written in 1955 by Walter Lord and the film followed in 1958, starring Kenneth More.

    The producer of the film was William MacQuitty (1905-2004), who was born in Belfast, the son of the managing-director of the Belfast Telegraph.  On 31 May 1911 he was just six years old when he went down with his father to the Harland & Wolff shipyard and watched the launch of the Titanic.  Many years later, in his autobiography, he recalled the launch of the great ship and wrote, 'I felt a great lump in my throat and an enormous pride in being an Ulsterman.'

    MacQuitty had a remarkable life and in 1959 he helped to found Ulster Television, becoming its first managing director.   In 1991 he published his autobiography under the title A Life to Remember.

    The sinking of the Titanic was indeed A Night to Remember but there was another night that was much more deserving of the title A Night to Remember
    Two thousand years ago in Bethlehem there was a wonderful night when the Saviour of the world was born.  Angels announced His birth to a group of shepherds, who were out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their sheep, and they came to the stable to see the new-born child.
    Christ by highest heaven adored;
    Christ the everlasting Lord;
    Late in time, behold Him come,
    Offspring of a virgin's womb.
    Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
    Hail the incarnate Deity
    Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
    Jesus our Emmanuel.

    The Lord Jesus Christ left the glory of heaven and was born on earth so that we might be born again.  He came into this world so that He might die at Calvary as our sinless Saviour, taking our sins upon Himself.

    That night when the Son of God was born on earth was truly a night to remember! 

    Monday, 24 December 2012

    A 17th century Presbyterian session

    Templepatrick Old Presbyterian Church - congregation founded in 1627, present building 1784
    The other day I was in Antrim for an appointment and as I was early I went into Antrim Library to pass the time. 
    Browsing through the local history section I came across a copy of the booklet for the Templepatrick Masonic Bazaar, which was held from 24 to 26 June 1897.  It contained something of the history of Templepatrick and my attention was taken by this extract from the minutes of the session of Templepatrick meeting-house from the middle of the 17th century:
    The qlk day John Cowan, being summoned, compeered and confessed his breach of Sabbath in beating his wife on ye Lord's Day, and yerefor ye Session ordains him ye next Lord's Day to stand leigh (forgans ye pulpit, and being called by ye minister to confesse in ye face of ye congregation his offence.
    The extract is interesting on two fronts, first in the use of some Scots words such as compeer (put in an appearance), leigh (low) and forgans (over against).

    The second is the way in which a Presbyterian session viewed 'beating his wife'.  John Cowan's offence was not that he beat her but that he beat her on the Sabbath and thereby breached the Sabbath!

    The cost of the AV referendum

    In May 2011 the United Kingdom held a referendum on changing the national voting system from 'first past the post' to AV (Alternative Vote).
    The demand for AV came from Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats while the Conservatives backed keeping the current system and Labour was split on the issue.
    In the end voters decisively rejected the Liberal Democrat proposal to introduce the AV system.  More than 19 million voters turned out for the referendum, which was a 42% turnout, with 6,152,607 voters backing the proposal and 13,013,123 rejecting it.
    Afterwards Nick Clegg said, 'I wish I could say this is a photo finish but it isn't and the result is very clear. This is a bitter blow for all those people like me who believe in the need for political reform.'

    Recently the Electoral Commission announced that the referendum had cost £75 million.  This was lower than the estimate of £100 million which was often quoted diring the referendum campaign but £75 million is still a very large figure.  Jenny Watson, who chairs the Electoral Commission, said, 'The public have a right to know how their money is spent at major polls and we've been able to set this out for the first time today.'

    With the Conservatives against AV, the Labour Party divided and only the Liberal Democrats supporting it, the outcome was fairly predictable but in order to placate the Lib Dems the Coalition government squandered £75 million that would have been much better spent on public services.

    Saturday, 22 December 2012

    Shall we gather at the river?

    This afternoon I watched The Searchers, an American western film made in 1956 by John Ford.  It was based on a 1954 novel by Alan Le May and was set during the Texas-Indian Wars, a series of conflicts between the settlers in Texas and the Southern Plains Indians which lasted from 1820 to 1875.
    The film starts in 1868 with Ethan Edwards, played by John Wayne, returning from the Civil War and extends over a period of several years.
    Early in the film there was a funeral scene in which the mourners sang the hymn Shall we gather at the river?  The hymn was sung again later in the film during a wedding.
    I wondered if this was an anachronism but in fact the hymn was written in 1864 and first appeared in a hymnbook the following year, 1865, several years before the scenes depicted in the film.
    Robert Lowry
    The author of the hymn was Robert Lowry (1826-1899), a Baptist pastor who was born in Philadelphia., and he later recalled: 'One af­ter­noon in Ju­ly, 1864, when I was pas­tor at Han­son Place Bap­tist Church, Brook­lyn, the wea­ther was op­press­ive­ly hot, and I was ly­ing on a lounge in a state of phys­ic­al ex­haust­ion…My imag­in­a­tion be­gan to take it­self wings. Vi­sions of the fu­ture passed be­fore me with start­ling vi­vid­ness. The im­ag­ery of the apoc­a­lypse took the form of a ta­bleau. Bright­est of all were the throne, the heav­en­ly ri­ver, and the ga­ther­ing of the saints…I be­gan to won­der why the hymn writ­ers had said so much about the “riv­er of death” and so lit­tle about the “pure wa­ter of life, clear as crys­tal, pro­ceed­ing out of the throne of God and the Lamb.” As I mused, the words be­gan to con­struct them­selves. They came first as a quest­ion of Christ­ian in­quiry, “Shall we ga­ther?” Then they broke in chor­us, “Yes, we’ll ga­ther.” On this quest­ion and an­swer the hymn de­vel­oped it­self. The mu­sic came with the hymn.'

    Lowry wrote around five hundred gospel hymns including such great hymns as Low in the grave He lay and Nothing but the blood.
    Yet he once wrote, 'Music, with me has been a side issue... I would rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative audience than write a hymn. I have always looked upon myself as a preacher and felt a sort of depreciation when I began to be known more as a composer.'  However it is as a hymnwriter that he is remembered and he wrote several of the most popular hymns of all time.
    The hymns written by these great hymnwriters are an important aspect of Ulster-Scots culture and particularly the culture of the Ulster-Scots diaspora.
    Lowry was a Scotch-Irish American and the son of an Ulster-Scot from county Down.  He was one of a number of Scotch-Irish hymnwriters who made a major contribution to gospel hymnody.

    Shall we gather at the river,
    Where bright angel feet have trod,
    With its crystal tide forever
    Flowing by the throne of God?
    Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
    The beautiful, the beautiful river;
    Gather with the saints at the river
    That flows by the throne of God.

    On the margin of the river,
    Washing up its silver spray,
    We will talk and worship ever,
    All the happy golden day.
    Ere we reach the shining river,
    Lay we every burden down;
    Grace our spirits will deliver,
    And provide a robe and crown.
    At the smiling of the river,
    Mirror of the Savior’s face,
    Saints, whom death will never sever,
    Lift their songs of saving grace.
    Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
    Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
    Soon our happy hearts will quiver
    With the melody of peace.

    Friday, 21 December 2012

    Mary Ann McCracken and the Union

    Many of the Ulstermen who fought in the ranks of the United Irishmen in 1798 came to accept and indeed approve of the Act of Union.  A small minority of them did not become unionists but the vast majority of them did.

    Those who died in 1798, such as Henry Joy McCracken, went to their graves before there was an Act of Union and so we cannot know what their views would have been had they survived.

    However I was interested to read the following quotation which I came across in old newspaper cutting.  It is taken from a letter in the Irish News (29 October 2008) and includes an extract fom a letter written by Mary Ann McCracken (1770-1866), sister of Henry Joy McCracken:

    While I'm not qualified to ascertain what the leaders of the 1798 rebellion may have thought of the Act of Union, I think Mary Ann McCracken, sister of Henry Joy McCracken, may have been.  A letter from Mary Ann McCracken is quoted in her biography.  It states: '... in thinking of those who were gone, and how delighted they would have been at the political changes that have taken place...'

    I do not know the date of the letter or the precise significance of this short extract but it does raise interesting possibilities and I intend to check it out.

    Later in the letter to the Irish News the contributor noted that the 1798 rebellion in Ulster was very different from that in the rest of Ireland.
    As for me separating the 1798 rebellion in Ulster from the rest of Ireland I stand guilty.  From the historical evidence it is veryclear the rebellion in Ulster was of a totally different character, particularly in sectarian terms, from that in the rest of Ireland.  So in that sense, it was a different separate rebellion.
    In conclusion, and returning to the key point of my original letter, unionists, particularly Presbyterian unionists, have as much right to claim a heritage from the Ulster 1798 rebels - they have more right than the sectarian republicans of the 21st century.
    In terms of denominational ties, heritage and ethnicity the unionist Presbyterians of [today] are the children of the Ulster rebels of 1798 and this is something to be cherished and promoted.
    I find this interesting in the context of Clifton Street cemetery, which holds the grave of Mary Ann McCracken and possibly the remains of Henry Joy McCracken, as well as the grave of Dr William Drennan.  A few years ago dissident republicans, led by the Henry Joy McCracken Republican Flute Band held a commemoration in Clifton Street.  Subsequently I pointed out that Drennan had turned his back on republicanism and become a unionist.  At their next commemoration they dropped Drennan, who was obviously now an embarassment, and commemorated McCracken, gathering at the grave of Mary Ann McCracken.
    However it is just possible that their claim on the McCrackens may not be such a solid claim as they imagine!

    Winter fuel payments

    Older preople across Northern Ireland should make sure that they claim for the winter fuel payments to which they are entitled.
    More than £50 million has been issued in payments to some 300,000 people across Northern Ireland but older people risk missing out on the payment unless they submit a claim.
    Winter feul payments are issued annually to older people to help with heating bills and most households with someone born on or before 5 July 1951 are eligible for £200 towards their winter fuel bills.  Households with some aged 80 and over receive £300.
    Some older people may be experiencing difficulty in meeting household bills and this payment will make a considerable difference in times when fuel costs are high.
    I would encourage all those who think they may qualify for the payment and have not yet done so to contact the winter fuel payment helpline on 0845 9151 515 to check if they can claim.
    New claimants, who have not yet claimed, can still download a form online at or call the helpline on 0845 9151 515 (0845 601 5613 for textphone users.
    Claims must be received no later than 31 March 2013.
    If you are an older person who has not received your payment please make use of the helpline and likewise if you know any older people who have not received the payment, remind them of the helpline.

    Thursday, 20 December 2012

    NICCY and the Raymond McCreesh Park

    The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, has called for parents to keep their children away from disturbances linked to the ongoing protests about the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall.
    Her call came after several children were arrested during violence on Monday evening and she said she was concerned that children were being exposed to serious harm.  She added, 'I call today on every parent and every responsible adult to make sure our children and young people are safe.'
    Patricia also spoke about the positive influence that adults can have on children and young people and the need for positive influences.
    However, when it comes to the naming of a children's playground in Newry after an IRA gunman, Patricia has been rather less forthright.  Indeed she has been downright evasive.
    According to the Irish News (20 December) the children's commissioner said that as she had 'not received a complaint directly from a child or young person or their parent or guardian against Mourne and Newry (sic) Council, I do not have remit to investigate a complaint in relation to this issue.'
    I am unaware of her receiving a complaint from a child or a parent in relation to the recent trouble but that did not prevent her commenting on the issue and issuing a call to parents.  There is absolutely no reason why she cannot comment on the naming of the playground after an Irish republican terrorist!  She has simply chosen to remain silent.
    She then attempted to justify her silence by saying, 'I note that the Equality Commission is investigating this matter and I await the outcome of this before considering any further action.  My powers allow me to take forward investigations or complaints.  However I am not able to do so while another body is investigating the matter.'
    That excuse does not stand up to scrutiny.  There is no need for an investigation or a complaint and no need for any delay.  All that is required is that Patricia Lewsley-Mooney state that to name a children's playground after an IRA terorist is to provide a 'negative influence' and a bad example for children.  She has spoken about 'positive influences' and the value of these.  On the other hand there are 'negative influences' that are detrimental to children and surely an IRA terrorist is a 'negative influence'.
    I knew Patricia Lewsley-Mooney well when she was an SDLP councillor in Belfast and she was never backward in speaking her mind.  Her silence on a matter which clearly relates to the welfare and wellbeing of children is therefore especially disappointing and damages the credibility of her office.

    The Ulster-Scots who founded the shirt-making industry in Londonderry

    Shirt factory at Rosemount
    Earlier this week the Derry News (17 December) carried a report on a proposed sculpture to honour the people who worked in the shirt factories in Londonderry.  At one time there was a thriving shirt-making industry in the city and the newspaper noted the following about it:
    Derry's association with the shirt-making industry stretches back to the 1850s.
    The invention of the sewing maching in 1853 and the arrival of several Scottish businessmen ensured that, within ten years, the shirt industry in Derry was a factory-based one.
    Shirt-making in Derry reached its peak in the 1920s when a large number of shirt factories employed around 18,000 people.
    The vast majority of these workers were women and many generations of Derry families spent their working lives on the shirt factories.
    At one stage, Derry was the principal seat of the shirt inudstry in the UK, and the city became not only the shirt supplier of the UK but also of Europe and the British colonies.
    However in recent decades almost all the factories were closed as production was moved to countries with cheaper labour forces.
    Some of the physical reminders of Derry's shirt-making history also disappeared in recent years with the demolitions of the former Tillie & Hendersons and Hamilton's factories  at the city side end of the Craigavon Bridge.
    The report identified the founders and owners of these factories as 'several Scottish businessmen' and indeed their story is part of the story of the Ulster-Scots.  In Londonderry and in Belfast many of the founders of the great industries of the past came across from Scotland.  They brought finance and entrepreneurial spirit and helped to shape modern Ulster.

    I  hope that during the forthcoming year, when Londonderry becomes the first United Kingdom City of Culture, that this part of the city's history will be properly recognised and explored, including that Ulster-Scots dimension.


    Something for a Fianna Fail politician to do

    Eamon O'Cuiv, the Fianna Fail TD for Galway West and a former Fianna Fail government minister, met last week in Dublin with the parents of two men convicted of the murder of the murder of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in March 2009.

    The two men, Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, were convicted of taking part in the Continuity IRA sniper attack in which the police officer was shot dead.  McConville was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years and Wootton to a minimum of 14 years.

    McConville and Wootton are appealing their convictions and at the meeting with their parents O'Cuiv said that he would attend their appeal as an observer.  'As I did before with other cases it is my intention to attend the appeal hearing as an observer.'

    The murder of Stephen Carroll took place in Northern Ireland, the trial was held in a Northern Ireland court and those who were convicted are from Northern Ireland.  He is a politician in the Irish Republic, not Northern Ireland, and would be better to focus on issues in his own country. 

    Moreover, if he wants something to take an interest in, perhaps I could suggest the role of certain Fianna Fail politicians in the formation and arming of the Provisional IRA in 1969.  O'Cuiv is a leading figure in Fianna Fail and indeed at one time time he was deputy leader of the party.  He would therefore be well placed to demand a full investigation into what members of his own party were up to at that time.
    The Arms Trial in Dublin was a farce and the truth has yet to be told.  So if Eamon O'Cuiv is interested in truth, there is a good place to start.

    Tuesday, 18 December 2012

    Sinn Fein face £400,000 bill for libel

    The Iish News report (18 December) on the Declan Gormley libel case suffests that with the addition of legal costs, on top of the £80,000 libel award, Sinn Fein may face a bill of around £400,000.  The case lasted three weeks and that accounts for the legal costs of more than £300,000.
    The case has certainly been interesting and one of the ironies was that while the press statement that was the cause for the case was snt out by Sinn Fein to all the media, newspapers, radio and television, not one of them actually carried it!  So Sinn Fein face a bill of around £400,000 for a news release that was never picked up by anyone.

    The extent of Irish speaking

    The limited extent of Irish speaking in Northern Ireland is highlighted in an answer to a written Assembly question.  The answer from Education minister John O'Dowd relates to children from families that use the language on a daily basis as the languge of the home.

    English - 299,000 children
    Polish - 3,847
    Lithuanian - 1,564
    Irish - 986
    Portuguese - 755
    Filipino - 650
    Cantonese - 571
    Malayalam - 518
    Latvian - 359
    Slovak - 294

    The figure for Irish-speaking children is just 0.3% and is particularly interesting in that among primary school children Irish is the sixth most common language, with English as the most common at 96% and Polish coming second at 1.2%, roughly four times the figure for Irish.
    There are many children who learn Irish in school and some of them may even attend Irish-medium schools but the figure of 986 indicates the number of schoolchildren who actually speak Irish with their parents as the language of the home.  Many of these homes will have more than one child and so the number of homes will be lower than the number of children but on the other hand there will also be some Irish-speaking homes with no schoolchildren in them.
    Nevertheless what this shows is that the number of people who speak Irish on a daily basis and for whom Irish is their first language of choice, is much smaller than the number of people who record themselves in the census as Irish-speaking.  That figure will include all those who have learned Irish at school, in the same way as others learn French or German.
    The fact is that even children who attend Irish-medium schools may not necessarily speak Irish at home as their parents may have no fluency in the language.
    The census figures for Irish-speaking must therefore be treated with great caution.

    Fermanagh GAA supports Sean Quinn

    Sean Quinn
    Fermanagh GAA has passed a resolution in support of Sean Quinn and his family at its annual county convention.  Around 140 delegates attended the convention and they backed a resolution in support of Quinn and his family.

    Quinn was once the richest man in Ireland but is now bankrupt and serving a nine-week jail sentence in Dublin for contempt of court.  His son Sean has also served a prison sentence for failing to comply with a court order to stop putting international  assets out of the reach of IBRC, formerly known as Anglo-Irish Bank.  Another key figure in the business empire, Quinn's nephew Peter Quinn, has failed to turn up for court appearances and is evading the authorities in the Republic.

    In a statement the GAA county board said Sean Quinn and the Quinn group had been generous backers of the GAA family for a long time.  The statement also said that 'his exceptional innovative skills have brought great benefits to all Fermanagh people.  Fermanagh GAA wishes to express their best wishes to Sean and his family at this time and hopes that 2013 will bring a favourable conclusion for the Quinn family in their present difficulties.'

    However those who saw a television documentary on the Quinn's international business empire may well have a diffent view of the Quinn family.

    Moreover some GAA fans and supporters have posted on the internet expressing their disagreement with the Fermanagh GAA resolution and when the Irish News approached Fermanagh GAA for a comment no-one was available.
    Back in July senior GAA figures had turned up at a rally in support of Sean Quinn.  Mickey Harte, Colm O'Rourke, Jarlath Burns, Joe Kernan and Sean Boylan had all turned up at the rally in Cavan on 29 July, along with Fr Brian D'Arcy.  However a former Dublin GAA chief criticised them for giving public support to the Quinn business dynasty.  Fine Gael councillor John Bailey, who was chairman of Dublin's GAA board for eleven years, said the was 'shocked' by the support of GAA figures for Sean Quinn.  'The law is the law.  Nobody is above the law.  GAA figures should not involve themselves in this controversy and it is sending out all the wrong signals.  I don't accept for a minute that well-known GAA figures should be seen to be supporting the Quinns.'  At the same time Dublin TD Olivia Mitchell said, 'I have absolutely no sympathy for the Quinn family.  I believe the Quinns have done a lot of damage to this country.'
    Then at the end of September a statement of support for Quinn from a group called Concerned Irish Citizens was read out at half-time at Brewster Park in Enniskillen during the Fermanagh county GAA final.  The statement called on GAA fans to attend a rally in support of Sean Quinn in Ballyconnell, county Cavan, on 14 October.  The statement urged them to 'oppose the injustices against the Quinn family.'
    At first it was support from individual GAA figures, then an announcement at a GAA final and now a formal resolution of support from the Fermanagh county board.
    I wonder what those who criticised individual GAA figures for supporting the bankrupt businessman think now that it is formal support from the Fermanagh county board?

    Sinn Fein face a big bill for malicious libel

    Cathal Boylan MLA, one of the defendants
    After what was clearly a fractious libel case, taken by Declan Gormley against Sinn Fein and two Sinn Fein politicians, the jury has awarded Gormley, a former director of Northern Ireland Water, £80,000 plus costs.  The case was into its fourth week so the costs will probably exceed the damages.
    This was a bad result for Sinn Fein and there may well be another on the way.
    Gormley is pursuing a second legal case, which involves the Department for Regional Development, former Sinn Fein minister Conor Murphy MP and former permanent secretary Paul Priestly.  This case alleges misconduct in public office, something which they deny.
    With poor performances from Gerry Adams TD in the Dail and this case in Northern Ireland, the past week has been a bad week for Sinn Fein.

    Monday, 17 December 2012

    Sunday World - wrong again!

    The Sunday World (16 December) carried an article on Basil McCrea and the Union flag. Here are two paragraphs from that article:
    And was Basil not right when he questioned the involvement of his own party members, along with those from the DUP, in the distribution of 40,000 anti-Alliance party leaflets before the City Hall vote?
    The pamphlet was in Alliance colours and was distributed ONLY in east Belfast - a sinister, cynical attempt to target and pressurise the sitting MP Naomi Long .......
    There is a fundamental error in this analysis. The Sunday World states categorically that the pamphlet was only distributed in east Belfast and that is indeed fundamental to their analysis. However the pamphlet was actually distibuted in every constituency in Belfast - North, South, East and West. I know, for example, that the leaflets were distributed in parts of Lower North Belfast and White City because I spoke to some of the people who distributed them and councillors in the Court area distributed them in loyalist estates in West Belfast.

    So the entire Sunday World article is based on an untruth!
    Ironically the article carried a sub-title 'Truth is casualty in on-going war' and included this observation, 'In other words, don't let the truth get in the way of our cause.'
    It is indeed ironic that truth was a casualty in this article and the author certainly didn't let the truth get in the way of his argument!
    The one thing I haven't mentioned so far is the name of the Sunday World journalist who got it so badly wrong ... again. It was in fact none other than Richard Sullivan.

    Sunday, 16 December 2012

    Tim Attwood's 'foot in mouth'

    The SDLP is really an utter shambles and now Councillor Tim Attwood, brother of Alex Attwood, brings us another example of 'foot in mouth disease'.
    The Irish News (Saturday 15 December) carried a report on 92 sites in Belfast that have been acquired over the years by Belfast Regeneration Office, which is part of the Department for Social Development.
    Many of the sites are on the market for sale but the current state of the property market means that there is little interest from developers, especially in the case of sites which are in areas of deprivation or close to interfaces.
    Tim Attwood was intereviewed by the Irish News and called for an audit of the sites.  He also said that alternative and even temporary uses should be found and then added 'DSD needs to get the finger out and make this happen.'
    Ever ready with a quote, the SDLP councillor, whom some of his critics unfairly describe as 'Dim Tim', failed to recognise that in criticising DSD he was also criticising his own brother, who was DSD minister from May 2010 to 2011, and his former party leader Margaret Ritchie MP, who was DSD minister from 2007 to 2010.
    This is not a new issue and nearly all of the sites were in DSD ownership long before I came into the department in May last year.  Indeed one site was acquired more thaan 30 years ago.
    So during that period from 2007 to 2011, when Margaret and Alex were in the department, did Tim tell them to 'get the finger out' and make things happen.  Somehow I don't think so.
    In public life it is always a good idea to put the brain in gear before opening the mouth and Tim would do well to heed that advice.
    Time and again I find SDLP politicians in the Assembly castigating DSD about some issue or other and time and again Iam able to  respond by saying that I inherited the problem from the SDLP.  You would think they would have learned by now but obviously not!
    Of course what can you expect from a party with a leader like Alasdair McDonnell MP MLA?
    Meanwhile, with 14 vacant sites on the Shankill Road alone, I have been working with officials to see these inner city communities regenerated.  That will require new approaches and new thinking but that is what I want to bring to the table.

    Perhaps in future, just perhaps, Alex Attwood's younger brother will think before rushing into print.  Of course, as the leader of the SDLP group in the City Hall, Councillor Tim Attwood has had a lot on his mind in recent weeks.

    Friday, 14 December 2012

    When a loyalist tune was played INSIDE St Patrick's

    An old friend usually sends me a home-made card at Christmas.  This year I think he excelled himself, producing a card with an interesting topical twist and it is based on an incident in the history of St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Donegall Street.
    Earlier this year there was controversy over a loyalist band playing a tune outside St Patrick's but some years ago a loyalist tune was played inside St Patrick's.
    The church was built between 1810 and 1812 to the design of Patrick Davis and the first organist was John Willis.  However he was dismissed for playing The Boyne Water, with variations, at a service in St Patrick's.  According to Hugh Dixon it was 'probably the only occasion on which this was ever played in an Irish Roman Catholic Church.'
    As a result of his choice, his services were dispensed with but he went on to play the organ in St Anne's parish church, now St Anne's Cathedral, where he played from 1825 to 1847, and later became the first organist in Donegall Street Methodist Church.  However we don't know if he played The Boyne Water during these appointments.

    Tuesday, 11 December 2012

    Gerry Adams and Jean McConville

    Yesterday in the Dail there was an angry exchange during question time between the Eire prime minister Enda Kenny and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. 

    Adams attacked the government for austerity cuts in relation to welfare but his attack merely exposed his own economic illiteracy.
    The exchange became increasingly angry as Adams harangued Kenny.  To highlight his point he referred at length to a woman he had met and spoke about her circumstances and the need for compassion.
    This was an open goal for Kenny who referred to Adams' past and raised the issue of the death of Jean McConville, a Balfast woman who was murdered by the Provisional IRA. 
    Gerry Adams can talk about compassion but his beloved IRA showed no compassion when they took a widowed mother away from her children, killed her and buried her body far away in a secret grave.  The abduction and the murder happened just before Christmas 1972, exactly forty years ago.
    The IRA denied it but eventually had to admit it and one of those involved in the abduction, Dolours Price, has explained:
    I drove away Jean McConville. I don't know who gave the instructions to execute her. Obviously it was decided between the General Headquarters staff and the people in Belfast. Gerry Adams would have been part of that negotiation as to what was to happen to her.  I had a call one night and Adams was in a house down the Falls Road and she'd been arrested by Cumann [IRA's female unit] women and held for a couple of days.
    And Dolours Price should know about these things.  In 1973 she and her sister Marian Price, along with Gerry Kelly MLA, went on an IRA bombing misison in England.  Later she said that when she went on the IRA mission her commanding officer was Gerry Adams.
    Of course Adams denies this but then he would, wouldn't he!
    In their exchange in the Dail Enda Kenny touched a raw nerve and Adams was unable to control himself.  He roared across the chamber and refused to heed the order from the speaker to resume his seat.  Eventually the speaker had to suspend the session.  It was personal, it was bitter and Adams simply couldn't cope with it. 
    It is clear that  Gerry Adams is becoming a hindrance to Sinn Fein in the Republic.  He is damaged goods and he is simply not up to it.

    The other day Adams was back in Belfast for the unveiling of a mural about Pat Finucane, so he can't say we should all forget the past.  But he seems to forget his own past.  There is a Sinn Fein strategy of trying to rewrite history and remove the guilt of the IRA.  That must never be allowed to happen and the more that Sinn Fein attack other political parties in the Republic the better, because the more they will be reminded of their own bloody past.

    Saturday, 8 December 2012

    Bonfires and parades ... in Prague

    There are folk who suggest that some of our cultural traditions in Ulster are bizarre or simply 'wrong'and that we should end these traditions.

    Bonfire in Prague
    I was therefore interested to read a little note in one of those free magazines that you get on aeroplanes.  It was the JetAway magazine and it was encouraging readers to visit the beautiful city of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

    Paleni Carodejnic is like a mash-up between Halloween and Bonfire night, with entertainment, concerts and parades taking place across Prague.  Ladronka Park hosts the largest celebrations, from 3pm.  For the best views, watch the bonfires burn from Petrin Hill.

    On 30 April there are bonfires and parades all over the Czech Republic but the biggest fire is held on Petrin Hill, which is located on the west bank of Vlatlava River in Prague.
    Parades and bonfires are part of the cultural heritage in the Czech Republic and indeed other countries and so Ulster is not the only place where such celebrations and commemorations take place.

    Andother Newry & Mourne SDLP update

    Now Alex Attwood MLA has joined the controversy about naming a children's playground after an IRA terrorist.  Attwood has said that SDLP councillors in Newry & Mourne should reconsider their support for the playground being named after IRA gunman Raymond McCreesh.  The environment minister said that people should be careful not 'to glorify elements of the Troubles.'
    Attwood is now the second SDLP politician from Belfast to criticise the Newry & Mourne councillors.  But SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has remained silent and has failed to intervene in the sordid affair.  As party leader he should have shown leadership but instead he has maintained a stony silence.
    Earlier this week Nigel Dodds MP raised the issue at Northern Ireland Questions in the House of Commons.  Unfortunately the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers MP ducked the issue while SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell MP and former leader Margaret Ritchie MP sat there looking distinctly uncomfortable.
    It is clear that there is a split in the SDLP about the controversy and that McDonnell doesn't know what to do.  Once again he is like a rabbit caught in the headlights, unwilling or unable to lead his party.
    So how long will Alasdair McDonnell maintain his stony silence?  How long will Alasdair McDonnell bury his head in the sand? 
    Oh ....  and how long will it be before our local media really challenge McDonnell about what was a thoroughly sectarian decision in Newry & Mourne?

    Thursday, 6 December 2012

    Over to you Alasdair - what about Newry & Mourne?

    According to the Belfast Telegraph this morning (6 December), SDLP Councillor Claire Hanna, who represents the Balmoral area of South Belfast, has 'slammed a vote supporting the naming of a Newry play park after an IRA terrorist'.  She took to Twitter to say that the decision, which was backed by 20 Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors, was 'a bad one'.

    Then speaking to the Belfast Telegraph she said, 'I personally believe that this is a disappointing decision'.

    There was some division among the SDLP councillors in Newry & Mourne and SDLP councillor Frank Feely abstained while SDLP mayor John McArdle left the meeting before the vote.  Nevertheless many of the SDLP councillors voted that the children's playground should still be named after an IRA terrorist.

    The crack in the SDLP has widened with the comment by Councillor Hanna but what about her South Belfast colleague Alasdair McDonnell MP MLA, who is also her party leader.  He has remained totally silent on the matter.

    Some weeks ago he was running to the media all the time about a shared future and shared housing.  Now, when his councillors in Newry & Mourne back a squalid and sectarian decision, he is nowehere to be seen. Does he back their decision or not?  It's over to you Alasdair, yes or no?  Do you, as SDLP leader, endorse the naming of the playground after a terrorist, or will you speak out and condemn the action of your councillors in Newry & Mourne?  Otherwise your comments about a shared future and shared housing are simply hypocrisy.

    Surely a playground is for every child and not just for those whose parents idolise an IRA gunman!  What about children whose parents suffered at the hands of the IRA?  What about parents who just don't like terrorism?

    I have been disappointed by the failure of our media to confront Alasdair McDonnell.  Perhaps he has been running away from them but he can't run for ever and the comments by Claire Hanna increase the pressure on him to quit hiding and speak up.

    Of course, actions speak louder than words and we have a right to expect certain actions from the SDLP leader.  I believe he should discipline those SDLP councillors in Newry & Mourne who backed the name Raymond McCreesh Park.  I also believe that he should instruct them to work with fellow Unionist councillors to reverse the decision.

    So it's over to you Alasdair!

    Wednesday, 5 December 2012

    Community Relations Council and the Union Flag

    Tony McCusker

    In the Irish News (5 December), Tony McCusker, chairman of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, welcomed the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall to 15 designated days 'in the interests of good community relations'.
    I just couldn't believe it.  Who has he been talking to and what newspapers has he been reading?  Does he really think that community relations are better today than they were on Monday morning?
    I have talked to many unionists over the past few days and there is a deep resentment about the decision to remove the Union flag for most of the year.  They view the City Hall as the main municipal building in the capital city of Northern Ireland and regard the flying of the Union flag as entirely appropriate.  Those I talked to are just ordinary unionists and they do not resort to violence ... but they are angry.  Is that what Tony McCusker was thinking of when he spoke of 'good community relations'?
    Meanwhile Sinn Fein revel in their triumphalism.  They are already boasting, 'We took it down!'  I understand that a new edition of the Belfast Sinn Fein newspaper is due out any day and I suspect that this may well be the lead article.     Is that sort of tribal triumphalism what Tony McCusker was thinking of when he spoke of 'good community relations'?
    Such a partisan intervention by the chairman of the Community Relations Council, albeit packaged in the language of community relations, damages the credibility of CRC.
    At first I thought that the statement by Tony McCusker was in response to a question from the Irish News but when I checked the CRC website I discovered that in fact it was part of a statement posted on the 'news and press' section of the website on 4 December.
    Along with this statement there were several other recent items, one about a mediation workshop and another about Football 4 Peace International Training.  Both of these are commendable initiatives but I was struck by the notable omission!
    The chair of the Community Relations Council can find time to comment on a decision by Belfast City Council and obviously regards it as worthy of comment.  However it seems that another decision, in another council, on the same night, did not merit any comment.  I refer of course to the decision by Newry & Mourne Council to retain the current name for a children's playground which is named after an IRA terrorist.
    The decision by the Community Relations Council to comment on Belfast and ignore the shame of nationalists in Newry & Mourne says a lot about the mindset of CRC.

    Monday, 3 December 2012

    Senator David Baird

    The city of Camden is the county seat of Camden County, New Jersey, and a suburb, across the Delaware River, from Philadelphia.
    The names of Baird Avenue and Baird Boulevard in Camden remind us of a family that was once prominent in the city, a family of Ulster-Scots.

    David Baird Sr
    David Baird Sr (1839-1927) was born in county Londonderry on 7 April 1839 and was the son of James and Ann Baird. 

    He emigrated from Ulster to the United States in 1856, following his brother William, who had emigrated some years earlier, and he joined him in Baltimore, Maryland.  David entered the lumber business in Port Deposit, Maryland, and then in 1859 he moved to Camden, where he continued in the lumber business and also engaged in banking. 

    On 23 January 1868 he married Christiana Beatty, daughter of William and Mary Beatty of Philadelphia. 

    He was a member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Camden County from 1876 to 1880 and also served as the sheriff of Camden County from 1887 to 1889 and from 1895 to 1897.  David Baird was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate in 1910 but he was appointed to the Senate on 23 February 1918 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of William Hughes.  Subsequently he was elected as a Republican on 5 November 1918 and served until 4 March 1919, when he did not run for re-election. 

    Afterwards he resumed his former business pursuits in Camden and was a prominent figure in the city.  He attended the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church and was also a member of Ionic Masonic Lodge no 94.  David Baird died in Camden on 25 February 1927, and he was interred in Harleigh Cemetery.
    David Baird Jr (1881-1955) was born in Camden on 10 October 1881 and was the son of David Baird Sr and his wife Christiana Beatty.  He graduated from Lawrenceville School in 1899 and from Princeton University in 1903 and then, like his father, he engaged in the lumber business and banking in Camden from 1903 to 1929.  Baird was a director of the First Camden National Bank.

    On 30 November 1929 he was appointed as a Republican to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate and he served from 30 November 1929 to 2 December 1930.  He was not a candidate for election to the vacancy in 1930.  Baird was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of New Jersey in 1931, after which he resumed his former business pursuits. 

    Later he worked as an insurance broker.  He acquired an interest in the Smith-Austermuhl Insurance Company and by 1947 he was president of that enterprise. 

    On 7 June 1950 he announced the closing of the David Baird Company lumber business that his father had founded in the 1870s.  However the Baird family remained in lumber for many years, operating the Haddonfield Lumber Company. 

    David Baird Jr died in Camden on 28 February 1955, aged 73, and was buried in the Baird mausoleum in Harleigh Cemetery.

    Ulster emigrants made their mark in almost every part of the United States of America and there is a hardly a city, town of community without some evidence of that influence.

    Sunday, 2 December 2012

    An overview of Welfare Reform

    On Friday I spoke at the agm of Advice NI and took the opportunity to provide an overview of welfare reform.  This is a complex area and I welcomed the opportunity to provide an overview of where we are in the process.

    Welfare Reform – Getting it Right for Northern Ireland

    Good Morning – may I begin by firstly thanking Bob Stronge for the opportunity to address your Annual General Meeting today. Unfortunately I am not able to stay for the rest of the event due to other diary commitments in Londonderry.

    The theme for your meeting today is Welfare Reform – Getting if Right for Northern Ireland, which of course is very relevant given that the Coalition Government’s proposals for Welfare Reform set out in the Welfare Reform Bill are currently being considered by the Assembly. You will be aware that the passage of this important legislation through the Assembly has been delayed pending the outcome of an Ad Hoc Committee of the Assembly’s considerations on whether the Bill complies with its equality requirements. I have absolute confidence that the normal legislative process would have afforded the opportunity for full and proper consideration of the Bill on all fronts. It is regrettable that others within the Assembly lacked that confidence and chose instead to invoke a process that will cause delay resulting in real challenges down the line, not least the potentially substantial financial costs that may be incurred.

    It is important the Ad-hoc Committee moves forward quickly and that it reports to the Assembly as soon as possible thereby minimising any potential financial and operational consequences for Northern Ireland.

    As Minister for the Department with primary responsibility for Welfare Reform I am on record for candidly outlining my reservations around aspects of the Bill and I will outline some of these later. I am not simply accepting the Coalition Government’s proposals but questioning and challenging these proposals where I feel it important within the Northern Ireland context.

    I remain committed to securing the best deal for the people of Northern Ireland and will continue to show leadership by working with the Executive Sub-Committee on Welfare Reform and, with Assembly colleagues to explore possibilities. I will not shy away from the difficult decisions but seek to highlight areas of concern and work with others to mitigate against the worst impacts indeed I have already secured flexibilities on payment arrangements for Northern Ireland customers.

    I am aware that many of the organisations represented here today have made submissions to the Social Development Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill. The Committee has asked my Department to comment on a range of issues within the Bill and I hope we will be able to respond in the near future. A key role for a politician is to shape legislation before the Assembly and I am committed to executing that role working with the people of Northern Ireland to ensure we have a Welfare Reform Bill that is right for the people of Northern Ireland.

    In my recent speech to the Assembly I outlined the four principles that underpin Welfare Reform:
    - To protect the vulnerable;
    - To get people back to work;
    - To develop a system which is fair; and
    - To encourage personal and social responsibility.

    I believe these four principles are equally applicable to building communities and our approach to housing as they are to reforming the social welfare system.

    Before setting out how my policies will help us get it right in implementing Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland, I want to highlight some of the significant challenges which we will have to overcome.

    As a region, we have the highest levels of economic inactivity in the United Kingdom; there are over 120,000 households in Northern Ireland in which there is no-one working and there are over 60,000 children live in households where there is no adult working. There is clear evidence which shows that where there is no adult working in a family, their income levels are heavily skewed towards the bottom of the scale of income distribution. Six out of ten families in the bottom quintile and 93% of families in the bottom two quintiles are families where there is no one working.

    We also know that some of our communities have large numbers of economically inactive people. Research over a number of years has demonstrated the clear links between those who are financially dependent on benefits and the incidence of broader social problems. As a consequence, in many of our communities we not only have the blight of poverty but higher levels of ill health; lower educational attainment rates and higher crime rates. Addressing these issues will not be easy and sustainable improvement will only be achieved through collaboration in developing and implementing long term cross cutting solutions.

    The challenges we face are not only about tackling poverty but also in providing assurances to our fellow citizens that we are successfully getting the resources to the people who most need support. In a recent Omnibus study carried out by my department involving over 1100 people in Northern Ireland, only 9% of respondents believe that the current welfare system is working properly. Over 50% of the respondents felt that there are too many people or the wrong people are receiving benefits from the welfare system whilst 31% felt that benefit customers who need financial support were not receiving the right level of support.

    I believe these results indicate the scale of the challenges we all have in building a shared understanding in Northern Ireland about what we are trying to achieve through Welfare Reform, to acknowledge that there are some negative aspects and agree to work together to mitigate the impact of these in order to ensure that The Welfare Reform changes in Northern Ireland delivers real benefits for our people.

    As Minister for Social Development, I have responsibility for urban regeneration and community development in addition to housing, social security benefits, pensions and child maintenance. We are the Department that is directly involved in helping people and communities improve their lives through everything we do.

    We invest £70million on an annual basis in urban regeneration and community development, and pay over £5 billion in benefits each year and this year spent £ 364m on housing across Northern Ireland. Through this work, my Department touches the lives of every person in Northern Ireland.

    In implementing reform my Department stands by its commitment to protect the most vulnerable and provide support for those whose sickness or disability puts them in difficulty. I want to ensure there is financial support for people who have short term emergency needs to meet general living expenses for day to day living or for housing needs. That is why as part of Welfare Reform I am introducing the new Discretionary Support Policy underpinned by the new Discretionary Support Scheme and increased funding for Discretionary Housing Fund.

    If you are sick then the welfare system will continue to support you. If you are sick but have a likelihood of a recovery, the welfare system should support you, stay with you as your condition changes or improves and make sure you can take the opportunities to work when you are able.

    What it should not do is consign you to a life on benefits, never check on your condition and allow you to languish there indefinitely – as has been the case for over 33,000 people in Northern Ireland who have been on incapacity benefit for more than 10 years

    It is my belief that where they are able, those receiving support from the welfare system should be helped to move from dependence to independence. So whilst you need support you will receive it but if you are able to work, we should make it financially worthwhile and should both support and encourage you. What it should not do is to trap you in a place where you receive so much in benefits that a return to work is unaffordable.

    In October I announced that I had reached agreement on flexibilities in the way Universal Credit can be paid in Northern Ireland. I started the discussions with Lord Freud because I had listened to the representations made to me by many of you and others and I was convinced that we needed to make changes to how Universal Credit was being designed in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

    Having secured this flexibility officials in my Department have now started to develop the guidance and criteria to be used in making decisions around Universal Credit payment arrangements. The focus of this work is on ensuring vulnerable people are able to receive payment in a way which meets their needs. Additionally my Department is looking at the access channels for claiming Universal Credit to ensure we maximise the way our customers can access our services.

    For someone from a family where no one has ever worked, there can be pressure to conform to a life on benefits as a preferable alternative to the “mug’s game” of work. It is regrettable that across generations and throughout communities, worklessness has for some people become ingrained into everyday life and those affected are losing out on the benefits associated with being in work. So together, we have to change systems, behaviours and attitudes and we have to change fast without leaving the most vulnerable behind.

    We need to change the incentives in the welfare system so that they act as a springboard rather than a trap, rewarding those who move into work and redesigning the system in a way that restores fiscal stability while restoring lives at the same time.

    We also need to change perceptions which will require changes in the attitudes and behaviours of those both in and outside of the social welfare system. We need to be able to demonstrate that the welfare system is seen to properly support people in need but also not to trap people in need. If we are to build a new welfare system, we have to realise that not everyone is starting from the same place. Not everyone understands the benefits of work, the feelings of self worth or the opportunity to build self-esteem.

    Welfare Reform is necessary and will bring much that is positive, but, I do not underestimate the challenges we will face to manage the transition.

    One aspect of the reform programme on which I do have significant concerns relates to Personal Independence Payment and the proposed managed migration of the 113,000 working age customers currently receiving Disability Living Allowance.

    I have previously set out some of my concerns publicly that this aspect of PIP is driven primarily by the need to save money. I would re-iterate today my concern that this migration could have a real negative impact in some of our most deprived communities at a time of economic hardship. I have asked my officials to develop an understanding of the potential impact on the most deprived areas and I do believe there is a case for delay in the migration aspect of PIP to at least allow for economic conditions to improve.

    This does not take away from the fact that the Disability Living Allowance benefit is no longer fit for
    purpose which drives perverse behaviours and does not ensure that the available financial support is getting to the right people. People with a disability deserve to have the same type of conversation that we are intending to have with other benefit claimants to maximise their potential whilst ensuring that the right level of financial support is available.

    In the area of Housing also I have concerns. One key change to Housing Benefit affecting social sector tenants due to be introduced in April 2013 is the under-occupation measure. It is important that everyone has access to an affordable home, be that in the private rented sector or the social housing sector, under a tenancy they can sustain. Many individuals will be impacted and I believe our response needs to be tailored.

    I have asked social landlords to consider whether there are opportunities to bring forward smaller sized accommodation. I have also increased the discretionary housing payments fund and will change the legislation to allow such payments to be made to all social housing tenants. Increased advice and support will also be made available. My priority remains doing all I can to prevent evictions and tenants being made homeless and I have asked social landlords to ensure, as far as is possible, that all options are explored to prevent social tenants from being evicted from their homes.

    So let me turn to the question that I get asked most, how do you reform when there are no jobs? Gone are the days when governments could buy their way out of a problem – or create jobs for people using public funds.

    Many families are trapped on the current benefit system because we have made the system so complex and have built it to a point where working families and individuals to not know if they are worse or better off in work. Removing these structural traps is what Universal Credit is all about.

    From April 2014, it will replace the main out of work benefits and tax credits with single, simple payment withdrawn at a clear and consistent rate. By removing cliff edges in the current system which means it will always be worthwhile working at 16 hours, 24 hours or 30 hours. Universal Credit will make work pay – at each and every hour.

    Those organisations represented here today, and the many others not represented, have an important role getting it right in Northern Ireland by working in partnership with my department. I know my officials in the Social Security Agency have started a dialogue with the Northern Ireland Advice Services Consortium seeking your ideas on how the Advice Sector can make a positive contribution implementing Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland. Everyone in this room has a role to play, working in partnership to help people make decisions which will improve their lives. I look forward to hearing about the progress which is being made on that work.

    Universal Credit will also include an element to support childcare costs for working parents. Those working even a few hours will be able to claim this support rather than those just working over 16 hours as in the current Tax Credit system.

    We estimate that Universal Credit will lift around 34,000 individuals out of poverty, including 10,000 children and 24,000 adults and will bring £110 million additional money into Northern Ireland. We have to make that work; and we have to get people back to work.

    Welfare Reform is not the only reform which I am bringing forward to help get it right for Northern Ireland.

    In October, I also launched the consultation on the first ever housing strategy for Northern Ireland to begin the long term transformation of housing here. I envisage housing playing a key role in regeneration and I have outlined in the strategy proposals for significant structural change within the housing system in Northern Ireland.

    We propose to make more effective use of existing social housing stock, undertake a fundamental review of how we allocate social housing, improve the way we support people to live independently and do more to prevent homelessness.

    Public spending on housing will create jobs, apprenticeships and training places for our young people, all of which will help ensure we develop our skills base for the longer term.

    Housing can play a more significant role in helping to shape those of our communities stigmatised by blight, deprivation and a dwindling population. We will develop new ways of helping people in such communities to re-shape their areas to make them a place where people want to live again. This will include bringing more empty homes back into use and also challenging social housing landlords to support their economically inactive tenants of working age into work or training.

    I am committed to tackling disadvantage and building strong and vibrant communities across Northern Ireland and so I give a high priority to building capacity and looking at measures which will mitigate the negative impacts on individuals, their families, households and communities.

    The work of my department is about making society function better – providing the physical and financial support and tools to help turn lives around. We are about empowering people and their communities and not about telling them what to do.

    I accept that the Bill is far from perfect, but we must build our capacity to deal with it. I hope that as part of the scrutiny process we will identify changes that will not have significant costs but can address some of the shortcomings of the Bill and will deliver better welfare system for the people of Northern Ireland.

    So let us focus on building capacity and resilience, let us ensure that we protect the most vulnerable and let us work as a collective to mitigate the worst aspects of the planned changes and deliver the best possible welfare services for the people of Northern Ireland.

    Thank you.

    Charlotte Elliott and 'Just as I am'

    Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871) was the daughter of Charles Elliott, a silk merchant, and his wife Eling Venn.  Her maternal grandfather was Rev Henry Venn (1725-1797), an evangelical minister in the Church of England, and she had two brothers who were also ministers in the Church of England.
    On one occasion she was visiting friends in London and met the Swiss evangelist and hymn writer Cesar Malan.  While they were having supper he asked Charlotte if she was a Christian.  Although she had been brought up in a Christian home, she was taken aback by the question and she replied that she would rather not talk about it.  However the question proved to be a turning point in her life.
    Some time later she met Malan again and confessed that ever since he had spoken to her she had wanted to come to Christ but she did not know how to come.  Malan replied, 'Come just as you are.'
    Charlotte pondered those words and came to trust in Christ as her Saviour and Lord.  She also wrote the lovely old hymn:
    Just as I am, without one plea,
    But that Thy blood was shed for me,
    And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come!
    Down through the years many people have indeed come to Christ through the message of Charlotte Elliott's hymn.  She wrote around 150 hymns and many poems but that is certainly her best known hymn.