Let 2015 be year our politicians display leadership and vision
In her New Year's message Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she hoped that Northern Ireland's politicians will rise to the many challenges facing them in the coming 12 month and that politics will actually work. Those are sentiments which will be shared by many people who have become disenchanted with the political process in the last year, which was dominated by inter-party bickering and brinkmanship which almost resulted in meltdown at Stormont.
While accepting that politicians must be pragmatic and not move too far ahead of their constituencies, it is not unreasonable to expect leadership. For too long the power-sharing parties have stuck rigidly to their respective dogmas, largely determined by their most truculent supporters.
Thanks to the last minute Stormont House Agreement the politicians have been given a renewed opportunity to make a real difference. There are financial constraints, of course, but the £2bn financial package agreed just before Christmas gives them the chance to demonstrate creativity as well as financial competence.
We will hope for some progress on those annual running sores of flags and parades. While a resolution has been put on the long finger, the politicians must lay the groundwork for the compromises that will ultimately be required, even if impending elections will lessen their room for manoeuvre.
Top of the everyday issues must be sorting out the chaos in the health service. New Health Minister Jim Wells has an unenviable task but he has to create a strategic vision for the service, which has lurched from crisis to crisis in the past 12 months. That means ensuring that sufficient staff are available in the departments most under pressure and that systems can cope with the demands put upon them. Those working in the service are among the best anywhere but are operating in intolerable conditions.
The devolution of corporation tax varying powers to Stormont will renew hope of increased inward investment and a resurgent private sector. But this is not a magic bullet, and streamlined planning laws, investment in the workforce and in R&D are other areas requiring urgent action.
Sport is one area where Northern Ireland over-performs with Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton ruling the world in their respective disciplines, Irish rugby with its Ulster contingent the reigning Six Nations champions, and even the national soccer team going on a winning streak. More of the same will certainly lift spirits in the coming year and remind us why we still take pride in this place. Happy New Year.