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New Year's a time for optimism, so let's hope we will all prosper

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 01/01/2016

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

As the New Year dawns, the invariable hope in our hearts is that it will be better than what went before. That is part of human nature, which is optimistic by inclination, otherwise everyone would slump into a slough of despond.

It is fitting that the latest political agreement at Stormont, between the principal parties of government, the DUP and Sinn Fein, should be entitled Fresh Start. For that is what the public at large, which has grown more and more cynical as impasse followed impasse, wants to see.

They want a government that can get down to business. Of course, the dogmas of the parties are diametrically opposed, but that does not mean that pragmatism is ruled out. There is a feeling that the two major parties do want to get on with the role of government, to do something positive for all the people here, for there really is no other alternative.

For the DUP there is a new leader, Arlene Foster, who has broken the mould - she is a woman, Church of Ireland and a former Ulster Unionist - but who is recognised as extremely capable and the necessary catalyst for change. And she is due in a few days to become First Minister, the first female head of government in Ireland.

She makes no secret of the fact that she has no friends in Sinn Fein, but she will work with that party for the greater good and her record shows that she can achieve progress.

There are a number of events looming that could impede her progress in the short term. Most importantly from the politician's point of view is the Assembly elections in May, when Sinn Fein and the DUP will be vying for the biggest seat share and with it the role of First Minister. There is unlikely to be any innovative steps taken by the parties in advance of the polls.

The incoming year also marks the centenaries of the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising, two seminal events in the history of this island, even if always viewed solely through the respective prisms of unionism and nationalism.

It is interesting that both Mrs Foster and Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, have urged people here to take a mature attitude to the forthcoming commemorations. Those events show the complex intertwined history of Ireland and should be commemorated with mutual respect.

While politics inevitably play a large part in our lives there are other things to celebrate in the coming year, with the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams going to the European Championships and sportsmen and women from both parts of the island heading to Rio for the Olympics. All will have their devoted fans and we join with them in wishing all competitors good luck in their endeavours. And we should also continue to celebrate the kindness and good nature of the overwhelming majority of people who live here - the people who rally round when others are in trouble.

And finally to all our readers, a happy and peaceful year to come.

Belfast Telegraph

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