Good Questions

It’s good to see that our MPs at Westminster continue to press the case for the PMS savers. There was an excellent example today when Rev Dr William McCrea and Ms Margaret Ritchie took the opportunity during Northern Ireland questions to ask the Secretary of State about the issue. PMS savers appreciate the hard work and the commitment of so many of our local elected representatives. We hope that all their efforts will eventually bear fruit.

I must say I like the Secretary of State’s turn of phrase when he says, “we will get a grip on it”. May your hand be strong and your grip firm!

Here’s what was said according to Hansard.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): What progress has been made in providing assistance to savers affected by the current situation of the Presbyterian Mutual Society. [4204]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): Both the Prime Minister and I have publicly stated our firm commitment to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure a just and fair resolution to the PMS situation, and all options are being considered. The reconvened ministerial working group will meet soon to review progress, and I will be its chairman.

Dr McCrea: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of those with savings of less than £20,000 in the PMS are in the older age bracket? As a result, they have been denied access to their savings for more than 20 months and have faced hardship and great distress? Does he appreciate that the urgent resolution of this situation is necessary? What timetable is he working on to resolve it?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I totally appreciate the severity of the pressures, particularly on older people, who are having trouble paying nursing home fees and so on. I would love to set a timetable, but I cannot do so. All I can say is that this Government take this issue seriously, we will get a grip on it, we have reconvened the working group and I will chair it. I very much hope that we will arrive at a solution.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Given the extent of central Government support for failed financial institutions and the severe budgetary pressures faced by the Northern Ireland Executive, does he accept that it is imperative that the Treasury endeavours to alleviate the financial burdens faced by savers in the PMS? Will he take those views on board when he begins to chair this group shortly? If the Northern Ireland Executive find resources for this organisation, will the Treasury match those several-fold?

Mr Paterson: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I would not want to prejudge the result of our deliberations, so I merely say that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be on the working group, and its other four members are all part of the Executive and will put the point of view of the Executive clearly in our deliberations.

PMS Update

the-presbyterian-mutual-societyI am contacted regularly by savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society seeking an update on developments in this long-running saga. As I reported to the General Assembly, at the beginning of June, we had a very encouraging meeting with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, and the Minister of State, Hugo Swire. They assured us that the PMS crisis would receive their full attention, and the commitments made by Mr Cameron prior to the general election would be honoured.

While the attention of the Treasury has been focused on the recent budget, we are hopeful that, now it has been delivered, some attention will be given by Treasury ministers and officials to the PMS situation. A recent letter from Nigel Tonks, a senior official in HMT, confirms that the PMS case is under consideration. It seems that ministers have received considerable correspondence on this issue, and while they cannot reply to every letter, Mr Tonks gave this assurance:

The Government is aware of the financial difficulty and distress caused to so many PMS members. The Government is committed to working with the NI Executive in an effort to find a just and fair solution to the crisis caused by PMS entry into administration. A range of options is being considered in line with this commitment.

Anxious savers are eager to receive some reassurance. These three sentences confirm that PMS savers have not been forgotten. We will continue to watch and wait in the hope that soon we will get a resolution.

Developments at Redeemer, NYC

Some of us have been fascinated by the growth and development of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, under Tim Keller’s leadership. The congregation is now moving to a new phase of growth and expansion, and has announced the appointment of four lead pastors to look after the growth and development of four regional congregations around Manhattan.

Two of these men are personal friends. Dave Bisgrove was a committed and long-term student at Westminster Seminary during my time there. Leo Schuster was a colleague on the Board of Trustees at Westminster Seminary. Both are gifted and godly men. We wish them well as they take up their new appointments, and we will continue to watch with interest the continued growth of this remarkable congregation.

God and the World Cup

fifa-world-cup-orgIn an interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph, Mick Brown tries to make some theological points about the World Cup. His most interesting conclusion is that Catholic countries fare much better than Protestant ones when it comes to the World Cup. Apparently it’s fourteen titles against four. It’s the sort of factoid that could cause a bit of heated debate in some Ulster pubs.

Brazil may be considered a Catholic country, (at the last census in 2000, 70% of the population described themselves as Catholic), but the Assembly of God Pentecostal denomination has more people worshipping in their churches in the greater Sao Paulo area than in the whole of the US. It is a country of mixed religious convictions.

One of Brazil’s most gifted players, Kaká, is an evangelical Christian. At the age of 18, he suffered a career-threatening and possibly paralysis-inducing spinal fracture as a result of a swimming pool accident, but remarkably made a full recovery. He attributes his recovery to God and has since tithed his income to his church. I thought his response to being given a very dubious red card in Brazil’s game against the Ivory Coast was very controlled, and in my humble estimation Brazil is the team to beat in this World Cup.

Some players attribute their performance on the field to divine help. The best known was Maradona in 1986, who made the important contribution that led to the exit of England from the competition. He was ready to take some credit himself: “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.

If that principle of the necessity for divine intervention is true then one might expect that there will be an upsurge in devotion all across England tonight. My Linfield-supporting friend’s favourite joke is “What’s the difference between praying in church and praying at Windsor Park? At Windsor Park, you really mean it!” English supporters will need to pray hard, and mean it. As Mick Brown says, their only hope is that God is, after all, an Englishman. I don’t think so.


The Saville Report has brought to an end the long-running campaign of the relatives of the victims of Bloody Sunday. The upbeat mood of the relatives following the publication of the report indicates that, for them, the truth has set them free, and has perhaps brought an end to a painful and difficult episode in the history of the Maiden City.

The justification given for twelve years of inquiry and almost £200 million of costs has been that the state was responsible for the unjustified killing of its own citizens. But the point has been made that no other group of victims will be accorded the same privilege. A friend of mine went through “Lost Lives” and came up with the following statistics for 1972, which sets the events of Bloody Sunday in context.

496 people were killed in 1972, including 12 in January before Bloody Sunday, and including two police officers murdered in the Creggan on the Thursday before Bloody Sunday. Of those killed in 1972,

  • 258 were civilians
  • 108 were regular soldiers
  • 26 were UDR soldiers
  • 17 were RUC officers (including the two mentioned above)
  • 74 were republicans
  • 11 were loyalists.
  • Republicans killed 279 people
  • Loyalists killed 121
  • the Army killed 79
  • the RUC killed 6

The totals don’t add up, but some deaths may not be attributed.

What is clear is that there are many relatives of innocent victims who will never be given the detailed accounts of what happened, nor will their killers ever be brought before an inquiry or a human court of law. Maybe the best way forward is simply to let the past be the past.

That does not mean that justice will not ultimately be done. Christians believe that we are headed to a day when all wrongs will be righted and when “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). That “shalom” will bring relief and joy to all who have been treated unjustly. And everyone will acknowledge, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Revelation 16:7). Under God’s righteous rule, we have the hope that every victim will ultimately get their own Saville Report.

Postscript: Here are Bono’s comments on the publication of the Saville Report.