Change needed as we're on the road to nowhere
The Stormont Executive must move beyond the politics of carve-up if it is to have a more constructive future, says Bill Manwaring
Attempts to kill police officers, death threats, empty shops and widespread disruption on the streets made for a dismal start to 2013. It shows politics here aren't working.
The Executive has made almost no progress on the issues which will shape our future. Our society is as divided as ever - with the Assembly's Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) strategy at a standstill and no agreement on a way forward for education or the economy.
NI Conservatives think that things should be so much better. We believe that to build a happy and successful Northern Ireland we need a genuinely shared future and a thriving, sustainable economy.
These two elements are closely linked and must be at the heart of any credible Programme for Government (PfG). The current system at Stormont encourages bad government. There should be a power-sharing Executive with a strong official Opposition, rather than mandatory coalition, so that ministers work together to agree policy and are then held to account for their decisions.
Disorder on our streets demonstrates how spectacularly the current Executive has failed to deliver a shared future, while increased unemployment and a shrinking private sector shows it doesn't understand how to get the economy moving.
Scenes of rioting and violence make it much more difficult to attract investment to Northern Ireland. Equally, without prosperity, social unrest is more likely.
If the building blocks of a shared future were in place, the argument around flags would not have arisen.
The Union flag expresses our constitutional status within the United Kingdom and the parties who want to remove it show contempt for the principle of consent which they signed up to in the Belfast Agreement. Similarly, the flag does not fly to assert the identity of one community and the protesters, or parties who act like it does, do the UK a disservice.
An agreed position on flags should require the Union flag to be flown on civic buildings on designated days, across all Northern Ireland's councils. The purpose would be to reflect our place within a UK, which includes all manner of cultures and races, rather than to make part of our community feel excluded. While the Orange Order, parades and loyalism are all part of the cultural fabric of the United Kingdom, so, too, are the Irish language, Gaelic sports and Irish dancing.
A working shared future cannot include a local council naming a children's play park after a convicted IRA man, either. If we're serious about moving on from our troubled past, such decisions cannot continue. Unfortunately, the main parties at Stormont seem to be moving backwards on the most pressing problems our society faces.
The SDLP appears to be attempting to out-green Sinn Fein on many issues, rather than building relationships with moderate pro-Union politicians. The two larger unionist parties are retreating into a single, sectarian bloc and narrowing the appeal of the Union. Alliance is propping up a carve-up Government without delivering any progress on integration and it allowed the flags problem to come to a head at Belfast City Council.
NI Conservatives want to offer something different. A party which opposes the current carve-up at Stormont and offers commonsense, centre-right policies; an enterprise economy which creates jobs; an excellent education system based on parental choice and a commitment to give Northern Ireland a constructive role in the politics of the UK.
We stand for the silent majority in Northern Ireland, who want to get on with their lives, work hard, build a better future for their children and share a peaceful community with their neighbours.
They are fed up with being held back and having their lives disrupted by terrorist attacks and disorder on the streets.
We are keen to work with anyone who wants to move beyond the politics of carve-up toward a more constructive system, where the focus is on day-to-day issues, which make a real difference to people's lives.