The value of my vote

Thursday 8 June is the day that the people of the United Kingdom have the opportunity to shape the nature of their government for the next term. Whatever your ideology, the working of democracy must always be the greater right and the one that gives everybody the opportunity to put their beliefs to the test. Your vote therefore is of great importance. No one party or candidate can ever represent 100% of what you desire, that would be impossible, but a party or candidate can represent some of what you want.

So when we blame the politicians for the state of our affairs, we bear the greater responsibility for continually voting them in or for not voting for an alternative. I understand that it is human nature to be tribal and not break away from tradition. There is comfort in sticking with the same party or policy and not continually challenging their relevance in an ever-changing society.

I live in the constituency of West Tyrone where we have seven candidates, all seeking for my vote, all saying that they are the best person to be my MP. So how do I decide on who to give my one and only vote to.

This election is for the Member of Westminster Parliament, that is the debating chamber and where my MP’s vote will be registered on any given issue. This is important because I can then see how effective my MP is and have a record of how they voted on the various issues that affect my daily life. There is therefore no ideology that is greater than the democracy of a MP taking their seat in the parliament that they have been elected to. I cannot give my vote to a candidate who promises not to engage with democracy.

I need to know that the candidate that I vote for can show transparency of funding for their campaign, otherwise the principles or policies that they put forward are just there as sold to the highest bidder. That is not a democracy of equals but the return of slavery restyled by the wealthy supposedly for the benefit of the poor.

On the two basic tenants of democracy listed above, you may be surprised to learn that five of my seven candidates don’t meet the mark. Of the two that remain, the candidate running for CISTA, a signal issue organisation, offers no discerning policies on any other issues that affect my day-to-day living. I find it difficult therefore to take them seriously as a candidate that I can vote for.

That leaves me with just a choice of one, the candidate representing the green party. I mentioned at the start of my blog that no one candidate or party can represent 100% of your beliefs and certainly the Green party doesn’t do that for me. I have  misgivings about some of their policies and indeed their candidate for West Tyrone.

What is the value of my vote then?

If I want to shape and influence the next parliament with a MP that will represent their constituency in debates and votes, be transparent and not ruled by dark money and have policies on all issues, then the candidate for the Green party in West Tyrone is the only one that I can vote for. Indeed as I look across all the constituencies in Northern Ireland, the Green party may be the only legitimate party that many can cast a vote for.

Can I plead with you not to remain in a comfort zone that will suffocate you but to think and vote for political integrity and transparency in this election, if only to force all parties down that route for the next one.

That’s the value of my vote.


Thank God for the NHS

Today I have been well looked after in the Day Procedure Unit at the Tyrone County Hospital. My left ear has been giving me some trouble for the past year and the ENT consultant wanted me to have a good sleep while he takes a look at it.

Being born with a cleft palate and hair lip, I have had many  corrective operations to make me as good looking as I am today! Seriously, I can not thank enough all the nurses, doctors, consultants and speech therapists that have helped me over the years to live the life I can.

It is all to easy to lament the shortcomings of the NHS at times, to criticise staff if they get it wrong or to complain about waiting lists. I know some folk have had bad decisions made about their health treatments and have suffered as a result. I know that there is always more that can be done, improvements can and need to be made to keep up with new discoveries in medical science.

Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes and this is where I would heavily invest our resources. This is why our environment is so important to us. We need a good rural environment to produce healthy food to eat. We need a good town environment to promote healthy activities. We need a good social environment to promote healthy relationships and we need a good working environment to promote a healthy mindset.

I believe God shows us through nature and the bible, that we are to be good stewards of the environments around us. This means knowing the balance between free will and responsibility. Between rights for ourselves and respect for others. If we can find the right balance, we can release so much more of ourselves for the benefit of others. Try not to be afraid of being wrong or of failures, (I am very familiar with both these elements), but through them learn the lesson for yourself and teach others. You will be doing this all your life and there will be many repeats.

Last night I watched some of the debate between Corbyn and Smith in a faith forum setting as part of their party leadership campaign. Both candidates professed no particular faith of their own but recognised that much of the socialist Labour movement in Britain has its roots in faith and that many of their policies are an outworking of that faith. The emphases of the NHS needs to be about care and not profit.

How do I feel today? Very blessed to have been born with a cleft palate. It has taught me I need others to develop me, to mould me into better person. It has shown me all the good and wonderful aspects of our caring nature. It has taught me that I need to make to most out of the opportunities that come my way to help others.

I may never look too good or talk too wise but so long as folk are willing to read these few ramblings of words I have a responsibility to teach what I have learned.

72,897 days

On Wednesday 1st January 1817, George III is king of Great Britain and Ireland, although by now he is pronounced insane. His eldest son, George Prince of Wales is ruling as Prince Regent. James Madison is coming near the end of being the 4th President of the United States of America, hailed as the “Father of the Constitution”. In Ulster, after a very cold and wet 1816, there is little food to eat or fuel for the fire. In near-famine conditions, typhus was rampant, affecting all classes but mostly the poor. In mid Tyrone, William Kyle (20) born in the town-land of Brackey, is packing his belongings to sail to the United State. Like so many of his neighbours, he is leaving his family and country forever, in the hope that he will carve out a better future in a far away land. On this cold dark wintry morning, Mr Robin Armstrong unlocks the front door of his business premises to the public and begins his new position of Sub-Post master in the village of Sixmilecross.

With his wife Mary acting as his assistant, the first sub-post office to be opened between the towns of Omagh and Dungannon comes into service. Their salary is £2 per annum, later to be increased to £3. Under the terms of  Act 23, 24 George III in 1784 “sub-offices throughout this kingdom from whence all letter and packets whatsoever to or from places within this kingdom, or beyond the seas, may be with speed and expedition sent“, they have been appointed to carry out.

In the village there is still some lingering tension between those loyal to the British crown and those of Irish nationalism. The plane stone Celtic cross from whence the village takes its name, was destroyed nineteen years earlier by Royalist yeomanry during the United Irishmen rebellion 1798.

This is the social and political environment of that day, when a Scottish plantation family began a post office business, that stayed within their family for the next two hundred years or 72,897 days to be precise or did it?

I shall tell you what happened the next time I write.



Great Expectations

hannah graduation                                                                                Last week saw a major achievement within our family, my daughter Hannah graduated from Queens university with a degree in Music Technology and Sonic Arts. To say that we were very proud parents would be an understatement.

That day I saw the same pride in other mums and dads of their children’s success, photos being snapped in orthodox poses and not so orthodox. The relief of getting to the end of their studies with something to show for it was noticeable on so many of the students faces.

So what now for them?

Some will continue with more studies, a masters perhaps. Some will spend time in voluntary work, with a charity in far away places to broaden the soul. Some will return to their roots, to their family to get a much needed boost of values and stability. Some will get offered their dream job that they have worked so hard for, hoping that it was worth it. Whatever direction they decide to go, I hope they follow these words ascribed to Abraham Lincoln “Whatever you are, be a good one”.

Even with a degree in their pocket, they may still need to begin on the bottom rung of life and I would contend that is not necessarily a bad thing but good. As they climb though, the degree will bring them more opportunities to rise, to be leaders and to make a difference for good to those around them.

The young people that I saw walking across the stage, will be in 20~30 years time be our leaders of industry, arts, science and of society. They must take on this burden of responsibility with zeal and relish the opportunity to do good service for their fellow human being.

The apostle Paul gives the following advice to a young preacher starting out on his life’s journey and I pass it on to my daughter and her fellow graduates.

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12


My tribute to Eamon McClean

Green-Party-McClean-460x298                   A week has passed by from when I heard the terrible news, about the sudden death of Eamon. The reality of his passing away is still as hard to take in now, as it was then.

Eamon was about as good a husband, father, son, brother, neighbour and friend that you could possibly wish for and he will be sorely missed.

C.S.Lewis said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” that was Eamon. He was rightly proud of his family, of his community and his country. Of course with a name like McClean, his ancestral roots are the same as mine (both our fathers teased each other about that fact and the direction that both families took). Eamon used that pride to fuel his desire to bring children, families and communities together so that they would have a better understanding of each other. He was selfless though his charity work, fundraising by way of cycle rides and running.

We his friends and family have a responsibility to carry on that work, to find a better way to serve each other, to not accept something that is broken and not try to fix it. His heart will beat on as long as we fullfill our duty and follow his example.

My faith hope is, that I will walk again shoulder to shoulder with Eamon in a better land where there is no more sorrow or pain, where everything is perfect and we are bathed in the Glory of our Creator.

I close with these final lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, I think it sums up the life of my friend..

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!





That’s life

Life is made up of the choices we make and the results they deliver. On a daily basis we need to decide how to invest our time, money and energy. We have satisfaction when our investments brings a good return and disappointments when they don’t.

As I have discovered over the last few weeks, it is easier to write when you are feeling fine, than it is when you are feeling melancholy. I have not had the desire to put pen to paper (or in today’s world fingers to keyboard) even though there is so much I could be writing about. I have spent a week in Croatia since I last wrote and there is an election and a referendum happening. So why the writer’s block?

I have had a disappointing return of an investment of time and energy in an organisation that I expected better off. You know that feeling, when your heroes that you looked up to and wish to emulate, turn out not to be the real thing. That is how I feel at the moment.

Without giving details of what has happened or gone wrong, I want to reassure folk it has nothing to do with anybody in my home village.

A close friend has told me, the tricky bit in life is knowing when to stop chasing your investments when they are not giving you the returns that you require. That of course may involve a change or a move away from a known into an unknown.

Rudyard Kipling wrote these words in his poem *If*,

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

The thought of starting over again in your mid forties *with worn-out tools* can be a bit scary but can also be liberating.

That’s life.

He is Risen

I am back writing again for my blog after a short rest from the keyboard. I needed to take a break for a while and allow my thoughts to refresh. To be honest with you my writing was getting a bit angry, a bit over zealous about some of the topics I was writing about. I fear I was coming across at times inconsiderate of others and may have caused hurt. This was never my intention and I am sorry if I have offended you.

For Christians this day is a Glorious day of celebrations and praise to their Saviour. Today Jesus is risen from the dead and is alive for evermore. Why is that important? It is important because death has been defeated for those who will put their trust in Jesus.

Jesus makes no conditions for anyone to come to Him, He does not care what life you live, what you have done in the past or what creed, class and ethnic you are. Jesus died to give you life. Not only an eternal life but a life on earth of satisfaction and peace. Many people reading this might say that their life is already at peace and is satisfied without believing in Jesus, that may be so but what if you’re wrong. What if Jesus was true, what if He was the Son of God, can you be so sure that Jesus is not alive today?

He IS risen and lives in me.

The price of peace

Yesterday I had an interesting debate with a friend about faith and politics. We both agree that church and state should be separate, what has alarmed me though is that some folk seem confused what this actually means.

Thomas Jefferson wrote this in 1802 to Danbury Baptist Association in reference to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

In a few words Jefferson demonstrates how though proper democracy, separation of church and State benefits both organisations. The State is protected from having its laws tied into one particular faith. The Church is protected by the freedom to worship in whatever manner it wishes within the common law. I think it is clear what Jefferson thought the roles of the Church and State should be. For both organisations to be as effective, accountable, transparent and open as possible, “a wall of separation” is necessary to insure public confidence in them.

As a Christian, does that mean that I have no place in politics?

It would appear that for some, that is what separation of church and state is. Oh they would allow me to take part in elections, be elected and even govern, as long as I don’t use any Christian teachings to be of influence in legislative matters. In N Ireland this of course has caused a lot of problems. There is an outcry when an elected MLA makes decisions based in part on their Christian beliefs, especially when they use undemocratic parliamentary procedures to make sure they are carried out.

In 1998, 71%  voted for the Belfast agreement. This agreement formed the type of government we have in  the Stormont Parliament. 71% thought that this system of government was better than the bombs and bullets. 71% thought that this system of government would create a better society and equality for all. What this system of government has allowed among some things are, no to marriage equality, no to abortion for fatal abnormality or incest, no to accountability of government, all because of 71% of the electorate.

I believe that Christians should be fully involved in politics and if elected use the political system that they are elected too (passed by 71% the people) and use their Christian teaching if they wish to influence them. This may not go down well with those that don’t like conservative biblical teaching but until there is proper democracy here, maybe that is their price for peace.


The lines upon my Mother’s face

This is the village of Sixmilecross in Co Tyrone, where I call home. The first buildings were established here 400 years ago at the start of the plantation period. The wide street is of a typical Scottish design often with a narrow entry and exit. We still use the Scottish term for the lower end of the village called the “Strand Brae”. Strand means a narrow way lined with high dwellings leading into a wide street and brae means hill.

During the O’Neill dynasty, this area was known as “Korragh” meaning a marshy place. The O’Neill heritage is still alive today with “Tullyneill” (hill of O’Neill) looking down over the village. This hill is said to be the geographical centre of the province of Ulster. Dotted around the village are forts/raths that were man-made defence structures built from 9th century though to 11th century, many are still visible. During this time many stone crosses were erected around Ireland and it is thought that a stone cross stood in this area from that time. The cross stood six Irish miles from Omagh, Ballygawley and Pomeroy, so when a new village was growing near this cross, it was named Sixmilecross. The stone cross seems to have been broken apart during the United Irishmen rebellion 1798 by local yeomanry loyal to the British crown.

The new village had barely started, when in the 1641 Irish rebellion it was raised to the ground by Phelim O’Neill. Destroyed was a bawn house, a bridge, corn mills and dwelling houses built by Scottish and English planters. In 1689 James II made camp here on his way to the siege of Derry. Nearby is the homestead of James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States. The Church of Ireland has a stain-glass-window dedicated to the Dunlop family, from this family came John Dunlop, printer of the first United States Declaration of Independence.

Sixmilecross grew rapidly with having a railway station along the Portadown to Derry line from 1861.Sadly the village has been in decline since the closure of the railway in 1965.

The memories and stories of Sixmilecross can be found in the poems of W F Marshall and his brother R L Marshall.

This is my home and community who gave birth to me.


The little voices inside our heads

This morning one of our kids that we look after in our business was not feeling well, so instead of going to school I sat and watched the film Inside out with her (I know it’s a hard life I live). If you have kids you have probably seen the film, if not, get it out on DVD it is worth watching. It is good entertainment but also has some deep thought-provoking questions as well about who we are.

In the film, the main character is Riley, a happy-go-lucky hockey-loving 11-year-old girl, but her world is turn upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions — led by Joy try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event. However, the stress of moving all the way across the country brings Sadness to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind, the only emotions left in the headquarters of Riley’s mind are Anger, Fear and Disgust.

We are all emotional to one degree or another, which is no bad thing. It is how we use our emotions to control our actions, reactions and behaviours that is what’s important. Too many of us use our emotions to excuse our bad actions like jealously, envy, fits of anger and things like these. We put it down to our personality, it’s who we are, it can’t be helped, take me as you find me!. There is of course the good actions like love, joy, patience, kindness and things like these that we should all try to aim for. Just like Riley in the film, it is as if there are voices in our heads constantly at battle with other to determine our actions.

What is missing in the film is a conductor who stands between our emotions and the levers on the control board that control our actions.The conductor decides which emotions to give a voice to, which thoughts to entertain, and which reactions are the most beneficial regardless of how loudly our emotions are demanding to take over the controls.*

The Bible teaches that all people have a conductor which is our spirit. Regardless of how weak or how strong the conductor is, he’s still there nevertheless. He may be sleeping at the controls and letting our emotions reign supreme and our thoughts run willy-nilly for good or for evil effect, or he may be running the show, controlling the “little voices inside your head”.*

* Reference from another blog written by Todd Young.