Upcoming elections will show whether we want politics to be about a big flag or big issues
There are likely to be two sets of elections in Northern Ireland during 2014, for the European Parliament and for local government.
At a time when public cynicism about politics is at an all-time high, that’s unlikely to set many people’s hearts aflutter.
The great thing about democracy, though, is that we all have the power to change things for the better. If we really want to, we can transform the way politics are done in Northern Ireland and send a clear message to the political parties at Stormont that the same old arguments and the same old failures will no longer do.
This spring, the electorate can turn the elections into a referendum. The question, as I see it, is whether we want politics to be about a big flag or big issues.
The failure of the Haass talks shows again that the current parties at Stormont are miles away from sorting out their traditional arguments and moving on to work together properly on creating jobs, tackling social problems and providing efficient, quality public services.
Northern Ireland’s economy is lagging behind the rest of the UK. The education of our children has become a political football, to be kicked between the nationalist and unionist parties.
The health service is struggling to cope with the number of patients requiring treatment. And the finance and agricultural ministers of our supposed ‘government’ are fighting with each other in court.
The people of Northern Ireland deserve better.
They deserve ministers who focus on creating sustainable jobs, by encouraging investment, supporting businesses and building a culture of enterprise. They deserve an education system which works for all of the young people it serves.
They deserve a health service which is reformed to cope with the challenges of our modern world. And they deserve a stable, peaceful society - which is a prerequisite for lasting success and prosperity.
It’s absolutely necessary to come up with solutions for the hurt which our troubled past caused, but we cannot forget about dealing with the future, if we’re to make it much more hopeful. It’s up to the people of Northern Ireland to show that they’re no longer prepared to put up with the old, failing politics and turn 2014 into a referendum year, on a big flag or big issues.