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.

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


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 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 grief of loss and the fear of change

Over the last few days families and friends have lost loved ones in the Sixmilecross area. This weekend there will be three funerals to three different churches. The loss of these dear folk will have a sorrowful impact on their families, friends, neighbours and the surrounding community.

Wakes are a good tradition that we have in Ireland when death comes upon us. For the few days between when the person has died and their burial, the community comes together to share in the grief of the family and to give their support. With a cup of tea in the hand, the loss of the loved one is spoken of with sadness but there is often much laughter as memories of past days are recounted and stories told. It is a time when the family circle comes together, often having not seen other for years, they catch up with how each are doing.

Death can be sudden and out of the blue, it can come after a short unexpected illness or be the sweet release from pain and suffering after a long illness. However it happens it is still a time of grief and loss.

Death brings about a change. The family unit has lost one of its members and adjustments need to be made to deal with the days ahead. Changes happen though out our lives, to our bodies, to our families and the environment around us. What is a constant for all humans, in all civilizations, is finding the way to deal with changes.

As a Christian I believe that God has shown and provided the way to give us comfort at a time of change. I understand that for many, that is not the case and they have found their own way. Of whatever creed, class, faith or no faith you may be, this is a time to support those that are going though a time of change because of death. The tradition of the Irish wake, gives that opportunity to do just that.

Jesus in the first Gospel said it like this,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”  Matthew 5:4



More than a feeling

What is this love that makes me stay,
Close beside you day by day,
What is this love that has its way,
Of giving you the final say.

What is this love that makes me strong,
Knowing that I to you belong,
What is this love that all daylong,
Makes me sing a happy song.

What is this love that ever grows
When I see your face that glows,
What is this love that knows no foes,
Never fills my heart with woes.

What is this love of deep desire,
It rages though me like wildfire,
What is this love that will aspire,
To lift me higher, higher and higher

This is our love as strong as glue
No one ever will undo,
This is our love forever true,
When I tell you I love you.

William Anderson

The loss of a friend

Mr DashwoodI have some sad news to share with you. Mr Dashwood one of the donkeys that I look after from time to time died. My friend Judith took him in as a rescue donkey to be a companion for my donkey Mr Darcy.
For the last two years Mr Dashwood and Mr Darcy have been inseparable. When ever one was in trouble or broke out, the other would sound the alarm that something was wrong. Indeed they not only looked out for each other but also their other animal friends. At one time they were the guardians of their family of five goats, six geese, a pot belly pig and ducks. They never failed to come to you to get a pat on the side.
They were quite the religious pair as it turns out. When they did decide to go for a walk through Sixmilecross, it was nearly always to the Church of Ireland or the Free Presbyterian front gardens. Judith reckons they were hedging their bets.
We are in a time of lent for Christians as we lead up to Easter. In the life of Jesus, donkeys played an important part. From carrying His mother Mary to Bethlehem to be born , to carrying Him to Jerusalem before his death. Donkeys have the reputation of being stupid,  stubborn, slow, but loyal, compassionate and thoughtful. Jesus thought them worthy for His service.  Do Christians have the attributes of the humble donkey to be worthy of Christs service today?.
Mr Dashwood I salute you. Thankyou for the short time we had together. May I live up to your example of service to one another.

As white as snow.

snow photoThis morning most people in N Ireland woke up to a layer of snow on the ground. I’m sure the kids were delighted to go outside to sleigh and throw snow balls. However those of an older generation may not see the fun value in snow that children do. It’s funny how something that looks so pure, clean and bright can cause two very different reactions. The child looks at the snow fall with laughter and delight knowing that they are going to have so much fun playing in it. The adult looks at the snow fall with dread and frustration knowing that this makes life more complicated and changes the plans that they had for the day.

Snow divides people’s opinions like the opinions of Jesus divides people.

Christians look at Jesus and see the Lord of Salvation and want to be with Him. Non-believers look at Jesus and see a man who did nice things but not worth going out of your way to follow.

Lets be clear, following Jesus has nothing to do with what church you go to, how many good deeds you do or how much money you give away. All these things are very good in their own right but they don’t make you a Christian. You are not born a Christian or go though any man performed ceremony to become a Christian. You cannot buy your way to become a Christian or hide away from the evil of the world to become a Christian.

So what is it all about then? You have just dismissed religion. Yes I have and good riddance to it. Atheist are mainly right about religion but wrong about Jesus. Jesus said *I am the way, the truth and the light, no man comes unto the Father except though me* (John 14:6).

You cannot change your ways or your destination by yourself, you need an outside power to do that or put it another way, you don’t need a sat-nav if you don’t think you are lost.

You and me are lost in sin and only Jesus can take it away, if we put our trust in Him. This is the promise of Jesus,  *though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool* (Isaiah 1:18).

Don’t be religious be white as snow.