Any sportsperson will tell you that a good team can achieve much more than any individual. It’s certainly a lesson that I learned during my rugby career and even the best individual athletes rely heavily upon professional help from coaches, physios and nutritionists, as well as support from family and friends.
The same principle is true in every other aspect of life and if we were to take a ‘Team Northern Ireland’ approach to tackling social, economic and political problems, I’m certain we would be surprised by the results.
We’re used to politicians squabbling over every issue, in an attempt to create some perceived advantage for their party, or for part of the community they regard as their own. Occasionally, though, even our current representatives can set aside their differences in order to promote Northern Ireland.
Look at the positive message which went out to the rest of the world during the G8 summit, the World Police and Fire Games or the City of Culture celebrations.
Now, imagine that political parties tried to work for the interests of the whole of Northern Ireland all of the time, on economic issues, problems in education, or reforms for the health service; even on some of the desperately difficult matters around symbols, parades or the past, which divide our community.
That would be a powerful message for the rest of society and it would be the best way to make progress.
A ‘Team Northern Ireland’ attitude could also transform the civil service. Our public sector is packed with skilled professionals who have a strong vocation to provide people with the best possible services.
However, at times, parts of the service suffers from a culture of ‘can’t do’ rather than ‘can do’. At times it can look as if the civil service, and its unions in particular, is fiercely resistant to change and deeply sceptical about the private sector doing well. That is not a constructive attitude and it is something we should attempt to reform.
If politicians, businesses and the public sector were all to pull together to cut bureaucracy, create jobs and maximise Northern Ireland’s potential, for the benefit of everyone here, then the potential for success is limitless.
A little more teamwork, a little more common purpose and the will to work for the benefit of the whole community, right across society, would achieve a great deal towards building a harmonious, prosperous province for all of us. It is doable and it is the best tribute we could pay to the victims of Shankill and Greysteel.