Life in Northern Ireland during 2020 has not been easy. Indeed, compared to earlier years, 2020 has been uncomfortable and challenging.
At Christmas, some key people deserve acknowledgement for their positive responses. Some have helped to deliver services for the benefit of many people and businesses.
The delivery of health care and social services would not usually get direct credit for major support for the economy.
If ever there was a case to recognise the multidisciplinary nature of public services, then in 2020, health and social care deserves that recognition.
As Christmas celebrations, however muted, take place, the coherent delivery of health (and hospital care) is an outstanding service which has underpinned so much of our stressed economic lives.
With no wish to be politically partisan, Robin Swann and the senior health team have served this community with exceptional dedication.
Not all health and social care has been faultless. Nor have all the sources of strain been unavoidable. Holding the line against an aggressive pandemic, unequalled in our lifetime, has been a remarkable achievement.
Many lives have been lost, some unnecessarily, but many more have been saved.
Starting with little understanding of the virulent nature of the problems, many unsung people were pitched into action. Undoubtedly, unrecognised sacrifices were made. The medical, nursing and allied health professions responded well. Hospitals operating at over 100% of capacity were not to be wished for, but in the event thank goodness they are going the extra mile and serving everyone.
The health service crises in 2020 brought other demands on our resources. The scale of the necessary financial management lifted Stormont budgeting to exceptional levels. The Finance Minister, Conor Murphy was helped by a generous Treasury. Over £2bn extra cash eased the strain for many households. Hindsight has two contradictory messages. First public funds were distributed on a scale and with an orientation that was exceptional. The furlough scheme for employees temporarily laid off was imaginative.
Second, it is easy now to be wise, after the event, but the delivery of financial support to people whose incomes had disappeared was uneven to the point, sometimes, of unfairness to some groups.
Too many ad hoc assistance schemes could not all be well targeted.
Coming next will be a financial day of reckoning. Many people's incomes have been maintained but only by massive borrowing.
Paying back the borrowing will eventually mean unpopular taxation decisions. The real test for Conor Murphy, or his successor as Finance Minister, will be the challenge to deliver a growing economy which relies less on borrowing.
One plea to Conor Murphy: please publish a comprehensive public sector budget for Northern Ireland showing how spending was allocated and how it will be allocated in the next three years.
The public sector has necessarily had to prioritise schemes to support a challenged economy..
Nichola Mallon, as Minister for Infrastructure, has started the major scheme to improve the electricity grid.
Three local airports have benefited from critical financial support to avoid closures.
Also, Ms Mallon has been able to make a commercial decision on the best competitive investment plan for buses to offer key services and enhance emissions objectives.
As minister, she sees the logic of preparing a better co-ordinated public sector infrastructure investment programme. That also calls for a collective effort by ministers.
The Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds, has tackled uncomfortable problems in sustaining businesses which are facing major disruption.
Much of her decision making has been low profile. Her challenge as we reach 2021 is to find ways of promoting business expansion plans for the recovery of the economy.
In an ambitious statement of intent for 2021 and future years, Caral Ni Chuilin, Acting Minister for Communities, (who has now welcomed back Deirdre Hargey from sick leave) has initiated plans for a new future for the Housing Executive.
The Housing Executive can be expected to launch an ambitious programme of building and restoring more affordable social housing.
Details of the financial restructuring of the Housing Executive have yet to be announced but will be critical in the overdue housing regeneration in parts of Northern Ireland.
Farewell to 2020. As we leave this year behind and recognise the amount of economic progress lost last year, 2021 must be a time of recovery. The challenges and opportunities for 2021 and further ahead are both forbidding and exciting.