| 14°C Belfast

Stormont's largesse has finally came home to roost

Liam Clarke

Simon Hamilton's speech to the Assembly could have been summed up in two words: "expect less".

If you are depending on services, payments or even contracts from the state, you can expect less of them in the immediate future.

Mr Hamilton announced a lot of money going out to favoured projects - budgets are always like that - but there was no mistaking the fact that the gruel was going to be getting thinner.

As he put it himself, "this means that we now have less money to spend on public services in Northern Ireland at a time when there is ever increasing demand." A budget constructed in the most challenging financial circumstances we have ever faced.

So expect less as time goes on.

Mr Hamilton announced that we were at length emerging from recession but predicted that we faced not just one, but four more years of cuts.

Making public servants, who are on average the best paid section of our community, redundant is seen as being the way to subsidise cuts in business taxes and help us over the hump of the "accumulated pressures" the politicians have allowed to build up since 2007.

It is bitter medicine and it is not what people want to hear. It is as if the recession, which Ireland and Britain are now climbing out of after years of austerity, is still waiting for us after we thought we had escaped the worst.

Instead the problems and the bills were pushed down the pipe and now they must eventually be dealt with.

This is going to be a fraught period and it may refocus our political priorities.

Between now and the end of the year, the draft Budget will be out to consultation.

We can expect bitter complaints, for it will involve hardship for many of us, but at least it is an opportunity to shift the political conversation from the problems of the past to the dilemmas we will face in the future.

Suddenly mundane concerns like budgets, how we will manage over the next few years and how best to spend our limited resources, are coming to the fore.

That is as it should be and as it is in most other developed countries.

As a society, we now need to give more of our attention to the difficult economic choices facing us and less to issues like flags, parading and the past.

These legacy topics are important to many people and they can't simply be swept under the carpet.

Yet the last few years have shown that the past can be a diversion from the future. Equally, obsessing about traditional grievances can drag us back towards the failures and intolerance of the conflict years.

There is an election coming and the message for our politicians must be that we expect them to build a future, not rake over and rehash past conflicts.

It is important to learn to live with past differences and to tolerate each other's cultures until we can appreciate them. We need to be able to take these things in our stride, not allow them to rule our lives and blight our future.

Marching disputes, differences over commemorations and stand-offs about what flag to fly where are not going to improve the lives of the population in any major way. Pursuing such differences and attempting to score victories is not going to make it easier to get jobs, pay the bills or create a more shared society.

Politicians are now looking for votes.

That provides an opportunity to tell them that we need them to work for an improved future for us all, not revisit every problem left unresolved by the Troubles years.

Belfast Telegraph