Andrew’s back

ireland-wing-andrew-trimbleIt’s been a frustrating and generally unsatisfactory Six Nations campaign for Ireland this year. The team has shown that it has the ability to score tries, but it also has the unfortunate knack of conceding too many penalties. The frustration reached new heights last weekend with the illegal Welsh try which cost Ireland the match and left Irish supporters speechless.

Now it’s England coming to Dublin this weekend to wrap up the championship and possibly a “grand slam”. Can Ireland burst the English balloon and restore some pride in the green jersey ahead of a World Cup campaign?

Ulster representation on the Irish team this year  has been minimal, but Andrew Trimble’s selection on the left wing for this final match is one which will gladden Ulstermen everywhere. His performances for Ulster in recent weeks have been excellent, and he deserves his place. Since he didn’t go to play for another Irish province, most Ulster supporters still consider the right winger, Tommy Bowe, as “one of us” in spite of his defection to the Ospreys. And as a Monaghan man he is also an Ulsterman by right.

So we look forward to the two Ulstermen, Andrew and Tommy, doing the business for Ireland. Is it too much to hope for an Irish win on the week of St Patrick’s Day and to send the English home suitably subdued?

Update: Ireland won by 24 points to 8 and both Ulstermen put in great performances!

Christian Couple Lose Battle to be Foster Parents

Owen and Eunice Johns
Owen and Eunice Johns

A report in The Independent will be of interest to Christian people who hold to mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics. The paper has reported on how a Christian couple who are morally opposed to homosexuality because of their faith lost a High Court battle over the right to become foster carers.

Northern Ireland Foster Care reports that there are around 2,500 children and young people in care in Northern Ireland. Currently 1,700 of these children and young people being looked after by HSC Trusts are living with foster carers. There is an urgent need for more foster carers in Northern Ireland.

The question is: Can Christian couples who hold orthodox views on sexual morality apply to be foster carers? Or will they be excluded on the basis of their moral beliefs? Here’s the report from The Independent: Continue reading “Christian Couple Lose Battle to be Foster Parents”

Webber Street make-over

img_0455Last week, a group of volunteers from First Presbyterian Church, Portadown, went to one of London City Mission’s centres at Waterloo to re-decorate the main part of the facility. It was a successful project largely because of the energy and expertise of the volunteers. The centre at Webber Street serves breakfast to upwards of 100 homeless people each morning and seeks to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in a sensitive way so that people can move forward in their lives.

Here are a few pics of the team at work.

John, always with a smile on his face
Some of the Webber Street staff helped us to complete the project
Some of the Webber Street staff helped us to complete the project
Cecil, Mark and Robbie
Cecil, Mark and Robbie
John Ruddock and George Russell concentrated hard on their work
John and George concentrated hard on their work
George worked hard on the ceiling
George worked on the ceiling
Cecil didn't need a ladder paint the radiators
Cecil didn't need a ladder paint the radiators
The team with the Carson family
The team with the Carson family
Robbie bought a second-hand Brompton folding bicycle and everyone took a break to try it out.
Robbie bought a second-hand Brompton folding bicycle and everyone took a break to try it out.

PMS update

the-presbyterian-mutual-societyHere’s the transcript of answers given by Sammy Wilson, Minister of Finance and Personnel, on questions asked in the Northern Ireland Assembly today with regard to the rescue package for the Presbyterian Mutual Society. One of the key answers is given in the final paragraph as to whether the £25m from the Northern Ireland Executive is a gift or a loan to the PMS. Mr Wilson makes it clear that it is a loan that will have to be repaid, and that the £25m from the Treasury is a gift.

Mr Girvan asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to outline the current position in relation to the resolution of issues surrounding the Presbyterian Mutual Society. (AQO 1022/11)

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: The ministerial working group, the First Minister, the deputy First Minister, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and I, on behalf of the Executive, have managed to secure from the Government the resources necessary, first, for a £175 million loan and, secondly, for a £25 million contribution to the mutual access fund. Of course, as the Member will know from the Budget discussions that we have had, we have already allocated £25 million from our own Budget in Northern Ireland to that fund. We are also expecting a contribution of at least £1 million —although I hope that it will be substantially more that that — from the Presbyterian Church, which has a responsibility in all of this, so that we can ensure that the small savers get a large proportion of their money back in the first instance.

The arrangements and details of the fund are being worked out by DETI. As far as repayment is concerned, a scheme will be put forward for acceptance by the savers. The £175 million will have to be repaid first, because it is a loan that the Executive have taken out. Once the property starts to be sold, the savers will get their money, and the repayment to the mutual access fund will come after that. If there is any surplus, the administrator will decide how it is to be distributed.

Mr Girvan: I thank the Minister for that information and breakdown. Investors seem to feel that there is some ambiguity about whether they will have to pay back the £25 million contribution from the Northern Ireland Budget. If devolution were not in place, could the deal have been delivered? I am talking about the overall package of £175 million.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: From the very start, we have sought to ensure that the Executive would help those who were hurt financially as the result of the collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS). Had we not had devolution and the commitment from the Ministers whom I mentioned earlier, there would have been no rescue package for the Presbyterian Mutual Society savers; their money would have been long gone. Considerable resources are involved. I know the resources that my Department discussed at official and at ministerial levels. I also know about the political capital that the First Minister and the deputy First Minister expended and the tireless efforts of the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in dealing with the problem. That would not have happened had we not had devolution.

There are those who I think wish that we had not been successful in getting this arrangement. I am talking about the kind of whingers that we have in the TUV, who scrutinise every statement to see how they can unsettle the savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society. I think that they would prefer for those savers to lose out so that could make some cynical political capital from that.

He has been talked about as the Mr Nasty of Northern Ireland politics, but he is also the Mr Grumpy and the Mr Cynical of Northern Ireland politics. Of course, we all know who we are talking about — the leader of the TUV, who leads a party with very few followers. He is looking for a platform —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Minister, your two minutes are up.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: He thinks that he can somehow or other capitalise on the misfortune of savers to give himself a political platform.

Mr O’Loan: We all hope that a sound rescue plan for the PMS savers can be put in place. Does the Minister agree that, if the Assembly is to lend £200 million to the scheme, Members, who will vote on the matter, are entitled to have the full details of an independent assessment of the risk involved in the scheme, not merely an assurance from the Minister?

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: The Minister is required to do the due diligence exercise, which the Department has carried out. Believe you me, given the hoops that we have had to jump through for the Treasury, it has not been an easy exercise. We said all along that this is a 10-year deal, which shows the Executive’s commitment. However, it depends on what happens in the property market. It is not without risk, and I do not want to be accused of trying to hide the risks involved. Members will have to vote on it on the basis that there is no guarantee at the end of the period that 100% of the commitments will be realised.

However, that is true of any situation that relies on the sale of property that has been devalued and in which there is a 10-year period over which that value has to be recouped. Neither the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the First Minister and deputy First Minister nor I have ever tried to hide that, which is why we wanted the mutual access fund and the contribution from Westminster, which we have been able to secure.

Mr McNarry: There are many Mr Men about in politics from time to time, including Mr Funny. In light of some of the questions, I do not detect Members being begrudging on the issue, except what the previous Member to ask a question was driving at. Will the Minister confirm that the status of the very welcome contribution by the Northern Ireland Executive is not a loan?

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: There are three parts to the Executive’s contribution. First, there is the £175 million that we will raise through the RRI: that is a loan that has to be repaid, and interest will be attached to it. Secondly, there is a financial contribution of £25 million from the Executive, which is contained in the Budget: that is a loan that will have to be repaid. The third element is a £25 million contribution from the Treasury: that is a gift to the Northern Ireland Executive, not a loan to the Presbyterian Mutual Society. Should money be available to cover that at the end of the period, it is up to the administrator as to how it is distributed.

King’s Cross

product-detailsI had a message to do in the Faith Mission Bookshop in Portadown yesterday and was surprised and delighted to see a copy of Tim Keller’s new book, King’s Cross, on the shelves. Tim Keller hasn’t published a lot of stuff but it seems as though a new deal with a publisher means that we will be seeing more books in the future. I’m sure my local, friendly, Christian bookshop (with great coffe and fabulous scones) will be on the ball to keep us well-supplied with every new publication.

The purpose of this book is simple.

“The whole story of the world – and how we fit into it – is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus. My purpose here is to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.”

Keller draws on Mark’s Gospel to take a deep look at the life of Christ. He says that in his ministry he has preached through Mark’s Gospel three times, and a key element of Mark is that the gospel does not read like dry history, but that it is an action-packed account of the life amd ministry of Jesus. Mark’s message is that God in Christ has broken into history and anything can happen now. As a result, we can’t remain neutral; we need to respond actively. Continue reading “King’s Cross”