Belfast Telegraph

2013: A year of striking moments in Northern Ireland, but not for our politicians

BY ED CURRAN

He might still prove to be Northern Ireland's Man of the Year, but time is running out for Richard Haass to gain the accolade.

Regrettably, he fails to make my shortlist for 2013, in spite of his valiant efforts to date. Of course, if he manages somehow between now and tomorrow to achieve a breakthrough, he will leap to the top of this judge's score sheet — and rightly so.

Meantime, we are left to adjudicate on other significant names and striking moments of the past 12 months.

The prize for City of the Year must go to Londonderry.

A place which couldn't even agree on its name showcased itself in a different light to the outside world in 2013.

As the UK's City of Culture, it has eclipsed and set an example to Belfast, which is still struggling to find anything like the same degree of common cause.

That is not for the want of trying by Belfast's current Lord Mayor, Mairtin O Muilleoir, who has made his mark in 2013 in the most positive manner.

His energy and enthusiasm for his native city; his ability to engage with people from very different cultural, religious and political backgrounds; his high-profile presence in the weeks leading up to Christmas in the face of the dissident terrorist threat and the ongoing flag protests — Mr O Muilleoir is my choice for Local Community Leader of the Year.

Stormont has soldiered through another year of devolution, relations strained from time-to-time, but major crises avoided.

At best, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness agree to disagree. They appear to keep a store of sticking plasters in the Office of the First and deputy First Minister, to be applied to old and new wounds alike.

They have also off-loaded the most divisive issues onto the lap of Richard Haass, while themselves morphing into travelling salesmen for Northern Ireland; appearing in the most profitable, far-flung corners of this Earth.

No, not quite an award-winning performance in 2013.

Meanwhile, among the folks on the hill, there is only one Jim Allister. The TUV leader wins the Nuisance of the Year category for the umpteenth year running in my book. Long may he continue to stir the Stormont pot.

Sammy Wilson is my Stormont Man of the Year — not because he has stood down as Finance Minister, but for how he conducted himself when he had the job.

Mr Wilson brought much more than a sense of humour to the Executive. As Finance Minister in the recession, he managed to duck and weave with a mischievous smile on his face, holding the ring between capitalist Cameronites in London and socialist Shinners at Stormont.

Speaking of David Cameron, he, too, must get into the frame for an award after spending £80m on extolling the virtues of Fermanagh to the world's leaders last June at the G8 summit.

I was reminded of his undoubted enthusiasm for Northern Ireland at a recent reception in Downing Street. “Come with me. I have something special to show you,” he announced.

Next minute, he was bouncing across the Downing Street landing with a group of Belfast journalists in tow. “What do think of that?” he proudly proclaimed, pointing to the actual summit round-table transported from Lough Erne, complete with a centrepiece of Fermanagh bog oak. For that alone, Mr Cameron can consider himself one of us.

The International Person of the Year could only be Nelson Mandela. No single event on Earth in 2013 came near to matching the impact that Mandela's death and funeral had across the world.

In Northern Ireland, the year will be remembered for the death of Seamus Heaney and the legacy of his literary riches.

The Ulsterman by his words about a divided province, the South African by his leadership of a divided nation, will continue to stamp their own distinctive, indelible marks on millions of minds for generations to come.

The message from the very different lives and experiences of Mandela and Heaney remains elusive in Northern Ireland. The search for really lasting reconciliation continues as the old year ends and a new one nears.

Richard Haass is back in town, running out of time to achieve the kind of breakthrough which would ensure 2013 is not another forgotten date in the political calendar.

The bewitching hour of New Year's Eve beckons for him and all of us. We can only hope the coach is not going to turn into a pumpkin yet again.

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