Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Challenging times ahead for all of us

It's a new year and, like many of last night's revellers, Northern Ireland's politicians start the second decade of the century with more than a few headaches. Some of them are of their own making, some due to circumstances beyond the control of national governments, never mind our own fledgling administration.

Two issues which voters want to see sorted out - and quickly - are the devolution of policing and justice and the chaos in education. It is to the credit of politicians of all parties - given their historic differences - that the power-sharing arrangements have continued to work, sometimes well, sometimes with apparent ill-grace.

Policing and justice is the final part of the devolution jigsaw and its return to local hands is a matter of too great importance to be a source of continued bickering and point scoring between the DUP and Sinn Fein which could sour relationships to such a point that the whole administration could be endangered.

As well, it is imperative that the politicians send a clear signal to dissident republicans that terrorist violence has no part in the future of a shared Northern Ireland. The PSNI needs proper resources and full political backing to tackle the dissidents as well as the organised crime gangs which plague the province.

The confusion over academic selection cannot be allowed to continue. It is clearly nonsensical to have a situation where the traditional selection method was scrapped but no agreed alternative put in place.

Another thorny issue to be addressed is that of water rates. In an era of diminishing public spending in real terms - and with even more punitive cuts looming - politicians will have to decide if public services can be maintained through economies alone or whether additional revenue raising is required.

Given our over-reliance on the public sector for employment, new ways to encourage local entrepreneurship and attract more inward investment are vital. 2010 should signal the start of a renewed drive to harness innovation in high-value knowledge-based industries and to start filling the hi-tech science facilities which already exist.

Instead of marketing Northern Ireland as a low-wage economy, it is time to portray it as a high-skills destination. This is also the year when the scourge of racism should be eradicated from our society. Certainly internal sectarian tensions continue, but are being addressed.

We must not create a new set of victims. Northern Ireland is a far changed place from the decades when it was shunned by the outside world. We have the opportunity to create an exciting new chapter in our history where there is mutual respect and community cohesiveness. Let us not waste it.

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