Community relations chief Peter Osborne: 2018 could be a crucial year for peace
Next year could be a defining one for the peace process, the chairman of the Community Relations Council (CRC) has said as he urged politicians to help move the process forward.
This year saw the DUP and Sinn Fein fail to come to an agreement to restore power-sharing at Stormont, with the two biggest parties at loggerheads over issues including the Irish language, the legacy of the Troubles and same-sex marriage.
In a New Year message, Peter Osborne said the next 12 months may provide "opportunity out of crisis" for the peace process to be strengthened.
He said: "2018 could well be a seminal year... there is no inevitable forward flow to the peace process.
"But there are times when a critical point is reached, times for big decisions and a step change - 2018 may be the year to push on or run the risk of withering.
"Opportunity can come out of crisis; 2018 may be the year for a seminal and positive step change. It needs leadership, will and imagination.
"Civil society is well placed to deliver seminal change, but it needs support from a functioning and motivated political sector.
"We must keep moving forward with a clear and credible path for reconciliation that overcomes a debilitating disillusion and that deals with issues including segregated housing, segregated education, and how we commemorate the past.
"And whilst much positive work is happening in these areas, much more needs to be done.
"This is not a game, and everyone with a stewardship and safeguarding role needs to realise those responsibilities.
"Input from the two governments has always been critical. It is in all our interests that they rediscover their concerted and often visionary approach of the past."
The CRC was established in 1990 to lead change towards reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust in Northern Ireland.
Mr Osborne said the current challenges facing the peace process were the "most testing in a generation", and urged politicians and agencies to tackle issues such as paramilitary attacks, segregated housing and peace walls.
He highlighted some of the positive work being done in communities as a cause for hope.
Mr Osborne cited the 'Buddy Up' programme, which brings together children and parents from Catholic and Protestant schools in north Belfast to build relationships and friendships while learning.