Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Parties of progress get their rewards

The Northern Ireland Assembly election has made national headlines for some of the worst and best reasons.

The slow count was a laughing stock, for which those responsible must be held to account. Most people can hardly think of another civilised country where the counting has not begun on the same night as the polls closed. There must be no repeat of this shambolic system in future.

The good news, however, is that the voters have given a strong mandate to the progressive parties to carry on governing Northern Ireland for the benefit of everyone.

The survival of the Assembly has been an achievement in itself, but now it is time for those in power to grasp the nettles and to make progress in education, health,finance and other controversial areas.

The DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance have all been rewarded for their commitment to progress. The SDLP and the UUP, however, have not moved forward and there must now be heart-searching among the ranks about the way ahead.

This is particularly so for the Ulster Unionists who should seriously question the leadership of Tom Elliott following his disgraceful dismissal of Sinn Fein as "scum." This is not the language for any leader of any party, and the Ulster Unionists must make this clear to all.

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson and their parties both did well, and enhanced their reputations as pragmatic bridge-builders. Mr Robinson achieved a significant personal triumph, after political and personal adversity. He very wisely dedicated his victory, and his leadership, to the vision of the young murdered policeman Ronan Kerr who died working for a better community for all.

Peter Robinson is now in a strong position where he can abandon tribalism and bullying for ever, and become a leader for the whole community, with the support of other progressive politicians.

This will require not only inspiring words on integrated education, and a vision for a shared society, but also decisive leadership to make all of this a reality. The talking is over, it is now time for action.

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