Wednesday, 31 March 2010

World Police and Fire Games

James McKeown, Nelson McCausland MLA, ACC Duncan McCausland (PSNI) and Ian Paisley Jnr MLA.

The World Police and Fire Games will be coming to Northern Ireland in 2013 and will involve 10,000 partipants with another 15,000 family and friends coming to support them.  I have been visiting potential venues for specific events and yesterday I travelled up to Ballymena to see the Carnview Farms Shooting Club.

The facility was developed by James McKeown, a farmer and shooting enthusiast, in 1996 and it is now one of the best in the United Kingdom.

Arts and Business

Sean Dorgan, Chairman, Ulster Bank; Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland; , Nelson McCausland MLA; Mary Trainor, Director, Arts & Business and dancer, Chamila Harshaani representing ArtsEkta .

Yesterday I attended an event at Hillsborough Castle to recognise and celebrate partnerships between arts organisations and businesses.  The event was organised by Arts and Business and it was good to see the range of partnerships and to hear about the benefits they bring to the partners.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Concorde Community Centre

This photograph was taken at Concorde Community Centre, where the young people were exhibiting the phtographs they had taken as part of an art project organised by Wheelworks.  The project was called Pix N Beats.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Fleming Fulton School

The children and staff from Fleming Fulton Special School came togther with pupiles from other schools and the Ulster Orchestra to put on a wonderful performance in the Waterfront Hall on Tuesday evening.  The evening showcased the talent of the children, the dedication of the staff and the readiness of the Ulster Orchestra to work with communities outside of their normal concert setting.

Before the concert two of the children from Fleming Fulton showed me some of the art work which pupils had produced and which was on display in the hall.

Enjoying a joke with some of the pupils

Young people and politics

We are often told that young people are disinterested in politics but here are a few photographs of young people who belong to the DUP and who are very interested.

Students from University of Ulster at Jordanstown

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Stormont delivering for sport!

This afternoon I visited Ballymena Showgrounds, which is owned by Ballymena Borough Council and is the home venue for Ballymena United Football club.  This is one of 30 sports grounds designated last December as requiring a safety certificate under the Safety of Sports Grounds (NI) Order.

Robert Cupples (chairman), Cllr James Currie (mayor), Nelson McCausland MLA & Ian Paisley Jnr MLA

The council and club have been working hard to improve the Showgrounds and to address safety issues.  Between 1997 and 2006, Sport NI made awards totalling £752,000, mainly towards safety improvements at the ground, and in July 2008 an offer of £205,000 was made under the Soccer Strategy Playing Facilities Programme.  This work should be completed within this financial year.

A further award of £808,000 was made under the Stadia Safety Programme to provide a new stand and this work is due to be completed by August.

This is a good example of Stormont delivering for sport and in this case Stormont delivering for North Antrim.

Braid Centre, Ballymena

Nelson McCausland and David McCallion

I was in Ballymena today and visited the Baid Museum and Arts Centre to see the museum and also to visit the temporary exhibition by The War Years Remembered.

The curator, Jayne Clarke, gave me a tour of the building nut there was only a short time to see the permanent exhibition.  However I hope to return fairly soon, possible some Saturday afternoon when I can talk my wife into shopping in Ballymena and I can then escape to the museum.

The temporary exhibition is a magnificent collection of artefacts and memorabilia from both The Great War and the Second World War.  They explain something of life on the battlefields and also at home.  David McCallion really brings the story to life and he deserves great credit for his dedication, comitment and knowledge.  This exhibition is well worth a visit and I understand it will be coming in the near future to two venues in North and West Belfast - Grove Bowling Pavilion in the Grove Park off York Road (the entrance is a short distance before you reach the Grove Health and Wellbeing Centre, when coming out of town) and the Spectrum Centre on the Shankill Road.  The exhibition in the Grove Pavilion runs from 3 to 8 May. You can find out more about them at

Visit to Linen Hall Library

The Linen Hall Library is a cultural storehouse with a wealth of cultural riches and I was delighted to get an invitation to visit the library today.  I am a regular user and fairly familiar with the library but the librarian John Killen and his team had picked out some of the gems of their collections to show me.  They also outlined their plans for the future development of the lbirary and I was very impressed by their vision for opening up the collections and making them more accessible to the public. 

The president of the libary, George Priestley, the director, Brian Adgey, the deputy director, Patricia Saunders, and the deputy librarian, Monica McErlane were also there.

The library has around 3,500 subscribing members, who can borrow books, but it also promotes an 'open door' policy to encourage public use for reference purposes and other cultural activities and in 2008 there were over 115,000 visitors to the library.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Mexican Cultural Institute, San Antonio

During my visit to San Antonio I spent some time in the Mexican Cultural Institute, seeing how they represent the history and culture of Mexico and enourage others to share in their celebration of Mexican culture.

Texas Secretary of State

During my visit to Texas I had a very useful meeting with the Texas Secretary of State, Hope Andrade, at which we discussed opportunities for cooperation between Texas and Northern Ireland in fields such as culture and renewable energy.  I undertook to follow up with some specific proposals but was very encouraged by her openness to possible areas of cooperation or exchange.

An Ulster-born painter

During a visit to the Capitol building in Austin we saw three magnificent paintings by Belfast-born artist Henry Arthur McArdle (1836-1908).  The following photographs show the two largest works, Dawn at the Alamo and The Battle of San Jacinto, which hang in the Senate chamber.

Dawn at the Alamo

The Battle of San Jacinto

There is another painting by McArdle in the Capitol and that is entitled The Settlement of Austin's Colony.

I was interested to hear the guide who conducted our tour of the Capitol refer to Sam Houston and others as Scotch-Irish and was also interested to hear him describe McArdle as being 'from Ulster'.

A mural programme in San Antonio

While I was in Texas last week I visited a very interesting mural project in San Antonio.

These are two of the most recent murals and they are on the back of walls in a handball court.  They are murals with a message and the message is about health, sport and respect for the human body.

In the housing estate nearby there are other older murals, reflecting aspects of the cultural tradition of the community, which is largely Hispanic.  It was said to us that this was a way of helping the community to learn about and understand their history and traditions.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Multi-media and music at SouthxSouthwest

I have spent the past week in Austin, Texas, at the South x Southwest Festival where people from Ulster were highlighted at both the multimedia and the music sections. 

At one time our economy was built on heavy industry and farming and at the start of the 20th century we had the biggest shipyards in the world, as well as the largest linen mills.  However the days of heavy industry are over and we need to look at new areas for economic growth.  There is no doubt that one of these is the creative industries - film, multi-media and music - and two government departments, DCAL and DETI, have an important role to play in supporting and promoting them.

South x Southwest draws participants from around the world and is the major international opportunity for people in the multi-media and music to showcase their product and services.  The young folk in the multi-media sector were all very pleased at the contacts they were able to make.  There are about 400 people employed in the sector in Northern Ireland, most of them young and most of them in small businesses of just a few people, but they are very gifted and there is no reason why the sector cannot experience very substantial growth in the next few years.

Local musicians performed at the 'British Music Embassy' and the sound level was such that no one can have failed to notice them.
There was support from the Arts Council and Belfast City Council to bring the participants out to Austin and I am confident this will bring real benefits through increased business for Ulster companies.

I also met with Texas government officials, including the Texas secretary of state, and officials from the cultural sections of Austin Council. We made some valuable contacts and were able to see how they promote culture and arts.

Monday, 15 March 2010

President Andrew Jackson

Today (15 March) is celebrated at The Hermitage in Nashville as the birthday of President Andrew Jackson, whose parents were Ulster-Scots.

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States of America, a general in the War of 1812 and the victor at the Battle of New Orleans.  His parents were Andrew Jackson    and his wife Elizabeth Hutchinson and he had two brothers who were born in Ulster.  The family emigrated from Boneybefore, near Carrickfergus, in 1765 and Andrew was  born in North Carolina on 15 March 1767, shortly after they arrived in America.  He served as a boy soldier in the Revolutionary War and fought at the Battle of Hanging Rock.  Jackson trained as a lawyer and when Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796 he sat in the convention that framed its first constitution.  He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1796 and the Senate in 1797 but resigned in 1798 and served as a judge of the Tennessee Superior Court until 1804.  During the War of 1812 he was a major general of the Tennessee Militia and earned for himself the nickname 'Old Hickory'.  Jackson was elected to the United States Senate in 1822 but lost the presidential election of 1824. In 1828 he was the first United States president to be elected from the area west of the Appalachians and the first to gain office by a direct appeal to the mass of voters.  In 1832 he was re-elected for a second presidential term.  after that second term he lived in retirement at The Hermitage in Nashville and he died there on 8 June 1845.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Theodore Roosevelt and the Scotch-Irish

Later today I am flying to the USA to visit Nashville, which is a sister city to Belfast, and then on to Austin in Texas for the South by Southwest music festival and other engagements.

I was looking at the website of the Texas Scottish Heritage Society and came across the following quote about the Scotch-Irish by former American president Theodore Roosevelt, who held the office from 1901 to 1909.
The backwoodsmen were American by birth and parentage, and of mixed race; but the dominant strain in their blood was that of the … Scotch-Irish…  Mingled with the descendants of many other races, they nevertheless formed the kernel of the distinctively and intensely American stock… fitted to be Americans from the very start.
Roosevelt also said, I am partly of Scotch-Irish blood myself,' and indeed he was.  He was born in New York City on 27 October 1858 and was the son of Theodore Roosevelt (1831-1878) and Martha Bulloch (1835-1884). The Roosevelts were an old Dutch mercantile family but his paternal grandmother Margaret Barnhill (1799-1861) was the daughter of Robert Barnhill (1754-1814), a Scotch-Irish merchant in Philadelphia and the son of an Ulsterman, and Elizabeth Potts (1758-1807).  His mother Martha Bulloch came from an established Georgia family of Scotch-Irish and Huguenot ancestry. The Scotch-Irish ancestors included William Irvine of Gleno and Annie Craig of Carneal, near Larne, who emigrated from Ulster to America in 1729.

Northern Ireland flag in Florida

The following photographs were taken at the United Kingdom pavilion at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.  The window represents Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

Here again the guitar picks have the Northern Ireland flag to represent Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A Roman Catholic and Irish identity

On the front page of the Irish News this morning there was picture of a some of the pupils outside St Eugene's High School, a Roman Catholic school in Castlederg.  Part of the name on the school building is covered by a poster, which is being held by one of the children, but the words Ardscoil and Naomh, written in old 'Celtic-style' script, are clearly visible.

This is a simple example of the way in which Roman Catholic schools affirm and promote an Irish, Gaelic and Celtic cultural identity for the children who attend them.  It is done through Irish signage, Irish language, Irish traditional music and Irish games.  In other words the schools have an Irish cultural ethos.

This contrasts with the approach of many controlled schools to the subject of cultural identity.  Yet the children attending controlled schools, the vast majority of whom are from a Protestant and unionist background, have the right to see their cultural traditions affirmed in the schools they attend.  Those traditions may include Ulster-Scots, Ulster-British or Orange culture but if these are the cultures of the children who attend the school then, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments, those cultures should be affirmed within the school.  It is simply a matter of human rights and good practice.

For too long this issue has been hidden away but we are now getting it out on the table and I have raised it directly with the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane.  We are due to meet again in a few weeks time to continue the conversation and I am hopeful that in the not too distant future we will see this matter being addressed. 

It will require change in a number of areas, including:

1. Incorporation of cultural traditions into initial teacher training

2. The development and provision of appropriate teaching materials

3. In-service teacher training

4. Guidance for school governors about the cultural ethos of the school and the cultural rights of the child

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Crack and craic

I have written in the past about the old Ulster-Scots and Scots word crack and the newer Gaelicised spelling of craic.  Frank McNally, writing in The Irishman's Diary in the Irish Times today, about the singer Christy Moore referred to:
a career stretching back so far that, when he first sang The Crack Was Ninety in the Isle of Man, 'crack' was still spelt with a K
This is a reference to the Barney Rush song, which goes back to the 1960s and was recorded by Christy Moore in 1978.  The traditional spelling was also used by author Jennifer Johnston in 1977 and by Brian Friel in 1980.

The Gaelicised version can be traced back as far as 1968 in Connacht and to an RTE Irish-language chatshow, which ran from 1976 to 1982.  Around this time it also began to appear in English publications, borrowed over from Irish.  But why use a borrowed spelling when there is a well-established spelling already there.  The Irish version was simply the result of borrowing the word into a language without the letter K.  There is a K in English and in Scots, so why not use it?  There is nothing peculiarly Irish about crack and Ulsterfolk have enjoyed good crack for many a long year.

Diarmaid O Muirithe once said about this, 'The constant Gaelicisation of the good old English-Scottish dialect word crack as craic sets my teeth on edge.'  Well said Dairmaid!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A wheen mair wurds

This week Diarmaid O Muirithe provided two more Ulster-Scots words in his weekly column in the Irish Times (8 March).  The first was knowe, which is the Ulster-Scots word for a hillock and which occurs in names such as Sandyknowes and Fairknowe in North Belfast.  The second was grummel,  which means rubbish or rubble and is used particularly of loose stones, earth or mud.  Both words are in use today and are part of the contemporary Ulster-Scots vocabulary.

Jarlath Burns rebuked

Back on 27 February I commented on a speech by BBC sports commentator and former GAA player Jarlath Burns at a Sinn Fein sponsored conference in London.  In the course of it Burns accused me of using 'a particularly bigoted piece of political chicanery' in relation to a development planned by Bryansford GAA Club.  I responded to him and this was picked up by the Atticus column in the Sunday Times:
Jarlath Burns, a former GAA star turned BBC sports commentator, has been lobbing missiles at culture minister Nelson McCausland.  addressing a Sinn Fein gathering in London, Burns accused the DUP minister of using 'a particularly bigoted piece of political chicanery' to block expansion of a Co down GAA club.  The claim mystified McCausland who has no involvement in planning.  On his BBC profile, Burns is described as 'not afraid to call it as it is'.  This time he's called it as it isn't.

Monday, 8 March 2010

William Armstrong (1782-1865) – US congressman

William Armstrong was born in the town of Lisburn on 23 December 1782 and he was the son of James Armstrong (1760-1795). He emigrated from Ulster to America in 1792 with his parents, who settled in Virginia. William Armstrong was first employed as a merchant’s clerk and then an assistant in the Clerk’s office in the county of Hampshire. He studied law with Colonel Charles McGill in Winchester and began to practise law, settling permanently in Hampshire. In 1813 he was appointed by President Madison as tax collector for the 6th District of Virginia and then about 1818 he was elected as a Democrat to the Virginia House of Delegates and continued to be elected for several successive sessions. Armstrong was a member of the Board of Public Works in 1822 and 1823 and from 1820 to 1852 he was a justice of the peace. He was also a member of the United States Congress for four terms from 1825 to 1833.

He had been brought up as a Presbyterian and was always associated with that denomination but around the year 1850 he experienced an evangelical conversion and thereafter made ‘a public confession of faith in Christ’. For many years William Armstrong ran a tavern or hotel in Romney, Virginia (now West Virginia), until he retired in 1862. His first wife was Elizabeth McCarty and they had six children. William and Elizabeth were together for 42 years and then after her death he married his cousin Jane Armstrong, who survived him. William Armstrong died at New Creek Station, West Virginia, on 10 May 1865 and at his funeral the minister referred to his Scotch-Irish parentage and said, ‘It is no small compliment to Mr Armstrong to say, that he was among his peers with the best of these worthy descendants of a noble Scotch-Irish ancestry, and in full sympathy with their lofty principles.’ He was buried in Indian Mound Cemetery in Romney and his place and date of birth are recorded on his gravestone.
[James H Leps, A Funeral Discourse on the occasion of the death of Hon William Armstrong: Baltimore, 1865]

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Dictionary of Irish Biography (4)

Here are some more Ulster-born omissions from the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

John Kinley Tener (1863-1946) - baseball player, member of the United States Congress and governor of Pennsylvania, born in county Tyrone

Samuel McMillan (1850-1924) - banker, builder and member of the United States Congress, born in Dromore, county Down

Thomas Lowry Young (1832-1888) - governor of Ohio, served two terms in the United States Congress, born in Killyleagh, county Down

Patrick Beard (1769-1831) - member of Indiana state senate, born in Londonderry

Henry Boyce (1897-1873) - judge and member of the Louisiana state house of representatives, born in Londonderry

David Baird (1839-1927) - businessman, banker and United States senator from New Jersey, born in Londonderry

John McClure Wiley (1846-1912) - United States representative from New York, US consul in Bordeaux, born in Londonderry

Henry Osborne (1751-1800) - delegate to the Continental congress from Georgia and justice of the Georgia supreme court, born in Limavady

William McCreery (1786-1841) - member of the Pennsylvania state house of representatives and the United States Congress, born in Omagh

William Beatty (1787-1851) - soldier in the War of 1812, served two terms in the United States Congress, member of Pennsylvania state house of representatives, born in Stewartstown

Dictionary of Irish Biography (3)

Earlier this week I made a further check on the comprehensiveness of the Ulster entries in the Dictionary of Irish Biography and again it highlighted the fact that there are many omissions, especially in relation to the Ulster diaspora.

I checked it for American politicians who were born in Ulster and the following were omitted, in spite of the fact that they held significant offices in the United States of America.

James Shields (1806/10-1879) - United States senator, born in Altmore, county Tyrone

John Hugh Graham (1835-1895) - Civil War solider and United States congressman, born in Belfast

John M C Smith (1853-1923) - banker, businessman and member of the United States Congress from 1911 to 1923, born in Belfast

Alexander Harper (1786-1860) - lawyer, judge, member of the Ohio state legislature, and then member of the United States Congress from 1837 to 1839, 1843 to 1847 and 1851 to 1853, born near Belfast

Whiteside Godfrey Hunter (1841-1917) - member of the Kentucky state legislature, United States congressman for two terms and US minister to Guatamala and Honduras, born near Belfast

John Armstrong (1717-1795) - served with distinction as a major general in the War of Independence, member of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1780, born at Brookeborough in Fermanagh

Samuel Fleming Barr (1829-1919) - United States congressman from Pennsylvania, born near Coleraine

James B Reynolds (1779-1851) - served two terms as a United States congressman from Tennessee, born in county Antrim

William Armstrong (1782-1865) - served four terms in the United States Congress, from 1825 to 1833, born in Lisburn

John T Mills (1817-1871) - justice of the supreme court in the Republic of Texas and Mills County, Texas, was named after him, born in county Antrim

Isaac Marston (1839-1891) - member of the Michigan state house of representatives and chief justice of Michigan state supreme court, born in county Armagh

Thomas Henry (1779-1849) - served three terms in the United States Congress, born in county Down

Robert Thompson Davis (1823-1906) - served three terms in the United States Congress, born in county Down

William Erigena Robinson (1813-1892) - assistant editor of the New York Tribune, served three terms in the United States Congress, born at Unagh, near Cookstown, county Tyrone

John George Warwick (1830-1892) - lieutenant governor of Ohio and member of the United States Congress, born in county Tyrone

These are just a few of the omissions in that particular subject area but they serve to make the point.  The Dictionary of Irish Biography is a very useful and substantial resource but in relation to Ulster there are many signifciant omissions.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Game of Thrones

Arlene Foster (DETI minster), Nelson McCausland (DCAL minister), Rick Hill (NI Screen) and Mark Huffam (producer)

Today it was announced that HBO have agreed to film the series Game of Thrones in Ulster.  The company is the premier producer of television drama and this will raise the profile of Northern Ireland as a film location.

HBO intend to produce a ten part television series of each of George R R Martin's award winning novels and it is expected that each series will be one year in production, with an overall budget for each series of around £30m.

With at least seven books in the series this is a major success for Northern Ireland Screen, who have done so much to develop Northern Ireland as a location for film production.  Rick Hill (chair), Richard Williams (chief executive) and their team deserve great credit for their efforts.

This is a great boost for the creative industries in Northern Ireland and shows that we are able to compete and succeed on the world stage as regards film production.

Back in November 2009 I visited the set during production of the pilot episode at Castle Ward and Northern Ireland is well placed to secure more film production in the future.  It is competitive in termso f cost and has a wide range of natural locations as well as the Paint Hall facility in Titanic Quarter.

Producer Mark Huffam was born in Ulster and his CV includes production credits on films such as Saving Private Ryan.  He was also the producer of the Abba-themed musical Mamma Mia!

1641 Massacre

Academics from the University of Aberdeen have been given a £334,000 grant to examine the depositions of English and Scottish settlers about the masscre of Protestants in Ulster in 1641.  The 4,000 depositions are held in Trinity College Dublin and describe the events of that terrible time.  The historians will use cutting-edge software to examine and cross-reference names, places, words and phrases in an effort to establish just how many people were murdered.  The most recent estimates put the figure at between 4,000 and 12,000.

There can be no doubt that the Irish rebels had a sectarian motivation.  Writing on 7 December 1641 Father Hugh Bourke, at that time commisary of the Irish Friars Minor in Germany and Belgium, admitted that the war was ‘begun solely in the interest of the Catholic and Roman religion’.
[Jesuit Plots p 163; Report on Franciscan Manuscripts, Command Paper 2867, HMSO 1906]

Indeed the fact that this was a Roman Catholic rebellion against Protestantism was acknowledged by the Jesuit writer Oliver P Rafferty in his history of Roman Catholicism in Ulster: 'The bloody Ulster uprising of 1641 ... represented ... a spontaneous outpouring of hatred against Protestantism and all it stood for.' [Catholicism in Ulster 1603-1983 p 1]

But what was the extent of the massacre?  In the past there were grossly exaggerated figures but even if it were only 4,000 or 12,000 people it was still a dreadful massacre and left a dreadful legacy of hatred and fear. 

Even the lower figure of 4,000 is greater than the number of people killed in the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland and yet the killing happened at a time when the Protestant population of Ulster was much smaller, around 100,000.  Furthermore it happened in a much shorter period and in addition to those who were murdered, many others died as a result of ill treatment and deprivation.

The respected Ulster historian Dr A T Q Stewart once said that ’The 1641 rebellion is perhaps the most important episode in the history of Ulster since the plantation, yet it is one of the least discussed.’  Perhaps this new research will help to focus attention on that 'important episode'.

The massacre certainly had an important place in the history of the Ulster-Scots and not just because of its impact on the relationship between the Scottish settlers and the native Irish, who were Roman Catholics.  It also led to the arrival of a Scottish army in Ulster in April 1642 to protect the Scottish settlers and on 10 June the chaplains of the Scottish army formed their own presbytery.  This was the start of organised Presbyterianism in Ulster and it became the General Synod of Ulster.

Gender Focus

The Women's Research and Development Agency has just circulated its Gender Focus to MLAs.  It was sent out by Lynn Carvill, the Women's Sector Lobbyist, and an e-mail with the document included the following.
I have attached for your reference the fourth issue of ‘Gender Focus’. The fourth edition addresses solely the ‘Ending Dual Mandates Local Government (Disqualification) (Amendment) Bill’ which is due to have a second reading in plenary on Monday 8th March 2010. This Bill will amend the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 to disqualify Northern Ireland MLAs from also holding the position of local Councillor. This is a good opportunity to suggest that ending dual mandates could be used to address the concern of the lack of women representatives in political life in Northern Ireland.
I wonder if Lynn's concern about the lack of women representatives in political life is in any way connected with the fact that she stood as a candidate for the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition in the Forum election in May 1996 in South Down.  Not surprisingly she did not get elected. [Down Recorder 15 May 1996]

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Mary Peters Trust

Sports Minister Nelson McCausland and Dame Mary Peters
talk to Ulster Senior Record holding swimmer Jordan Sloan, from Bangor

The Ulster sports and Recreation Trust was founded as a charity in 1975 to commemorate the success of Dame Mary Peters in the 1972 Olympic Games.  In 2008 the trustees decided to rename it the Mary Peters Trust in honour of their president, Dame Mary, and thereby recognise her service and contribution to the life of Northern Ireland and further afield.

The trust distributes grants to young people to help towards the cost of expenses in respect of preparation, training and competition in sport and over 160 awards totalling more than £60,000 have been distributed in this year.  You can get more information at

Last night I attended the launch of the annual report of the Mary Peters Trust, which was held in Belfast City Hall, and met a number of the young people who have received support from the trust.  There was a very large attendance and it was clear that the trust has made a real difference through the support it has given to the young athletes.

Answer to Jarlath Burns

Recently I noted the speech by Jarlath Burns at a conference in London on Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda.  The conference was sponsored and organised by Sinn Fein and in the course of his address Jarlath Burns, a former GAA player and now a GAA commentator on BBC accused me of thwarting expansion plans for Bryansford GAA 'by a particularly bigoted piece of political chicanery'.
And bringing us right up to date; this week Bryansford GAA are having their expansion plans thwarted by a particularly bigoted piece of political chicanery from the DUP minister of culture, a man who hadn’t even the guts to mention the GAA Ulster championship last summer in a statement promoting the summer of sporting activities in the six counties. And we are still in trouble because some of our grounds are named historically and emotionally after what we would term irish patriots, but who others would call terrorists. Off the field, we just can’t seem to win and this is why we are distinctly uncomfortable in the political arena and nowadays try to avoid it at all costs.
In fact I have had no connection with the matter at all and have sent the following letter to an SDLP MLA who asked me about the Bryansford plans.
Sport Northern Ireland (SNI) is responsible for the development of sport in Northern Ireland including the distribution of funding.  SNI is unaware of any development proposals by Bryansford GAC and has received no applications for funding from the club.
My officials have, however, liaised with their counterparts in the Department of the Environment on the matter and I under stand that a full planning application was submitted in March 2008 for three pitches, training area, stand, terrace, fencing, floodlighting, car parking and ancillary site works at land on Burrenbridge Road, Bryansford.
The application remains under consideration and I am advised a decision will issue as soon as possible.  As you will appreciate it would be inappropriate for me to intervene in the planning process.
Planning comes under the Department of the Environment and the Planning Service and DCAL has no role in the matter.

The facts are plain.  (1) There has been no funding application to either Sport NI or DCAL and (2) I have no role in relation to planning.  So much for Jarlath's accusation of political chicanery!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Ulster and Tennessee

Nelson McCausland MLA, Tom Haire (USCN board member),
Kamala S Lakhdhir (US consul general) and William Humphrey (USCN director).

The Ulster-Scots Community Network has published a new booklet about the influence in Tennessee of people with Ulster-Scots descent. 

Belfast has a sister city relationship with Nashville, Tennessee, and there is a strong Ulster influence in the history of Nashville, dating right back to Nashville's founding fathers.

European Pipe Band Championships

The European Pipe Band Championships, organised by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, will be held at the Civil Service sports grounds at Stormont this summer and the press launch was held in Belfast City Hall on Friday.

The competition will attract bands from across the British Isles and from other countries such as Canada.  We can look forward to a week of the finest pipe music in the world.

Ultimately our aim must be to bring the World Pipe Band Championships to Belfast and this is an important step on the way.