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Political stability is the key

Over the last year, there have been three Northern Ireland matters which are contentious and have attracted public attention - flags, parades and the past. Hitherto, they have proved resistant to solution, but need to be sorted as we continue to build a stable, modern society. Presently, talks are happening at Stormont to try to move things forward, with the assistance of London, Dublin and Washington.

It seems to me that we can't magic solutions to these issues instantaneously out of thin air. These are matters which have deep roots and will take time and patience. However, much can be achieved if we put them in a category marked 'very important' and deal with all three in a thoughtful, inclusive and considered way. Also, if we do that in the light of another matter which directly impacts each of our lives - the Northern Ireland economy. We have a contracting economy and ongoing substantial cuts in public spending.

Recognising our immense financial dependence on the UK Exchequer of £10bn per annum, we must get serious about generating new financial investment from the private sector.

Yes, thankfully, we continue to hear good news from Stormont about new investment. That needs to be intensified and expanded if the Northern Ireland economy is to become self-sustaining.

New investment, however, will only come if there is political, cultural and communal stability in Northern Ireland, i.e. if investors can have confidence that Northern Ireland is a stable and secure place in which to do business.

It is incumbent on all of us here to ensure that the roots of stability are firmly embedded, and that every opportunity is sought to overcome the divisions of the past. In this regard, there is much you and I can do by reaching out to those who are different. But the greatest responsibility lies with our political representatives at Stormont, Westminster and Strasbourg. They should be in the forefront, giving imaginative leadership in developing a modern, democratic, prosperous society.

That will involve our politicians recognising that, though they were elected on 'party' manifestos, they each have a responsibility to serve the whole community. In other words, when they enter the doors of Assembly or Government, they are working for all of us, and not for party political advantage. They must, therefore, give effective consideration to the spectrum of views in the community.

The present weak economic situation argues for our politicians being committed to delivering an economy which is self-sustaining in the long term. It will mean that we must begin to view our historic issues in the light of future stability, development and prosperity.

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