Despite the early promise, 2021 turned out to be another strange, disturbing and dark year. Who knows what 2022 will bring? But here are my 12 New Year hopes...
1 Let 2022 be the year when Fiona Donohoe finally learns the truth about what happened to her son Noah. This lost boy haunts Belfast and further afield, leaving a string of blue hearts behind him — and so too does his bereft, heartbroken mum, whose torment regularly unfurls across social media. It is unbearable to see such suffering. May the circumstances of the death of this handsome, talented and much-loved teenager finally be laid bare by the coronial inquest taking place. And may that bring his mother some form of peace.
2 Make no mistake, Stormont’s handling of the pandemic has been incompetent, pig-headed and cowardly. So bad has been the record in Northern Ireland since June, so high the starting point of disease even before Omicron, that by Christmas Day, when the infection rate for the UK as a whole was 167 per 100,000 and for the Republic 187.5, Northern Ireland’s rate was a staggering 238.7. The US rate was a paltry 80.2.
Only two fines for non-adherence to air travel regulations, five for non-compliance with masking, tell a tale of no enforcement of anything, anywhere. The shameful disregard for the carnage, which is fast approaching the total of the entire Troubles, should prompt some to consider how to mark the total of the dead. Naming them would be a start and, since most are dying while Northern Ireland had a vaccine, an apology should follow.
3 The pandemic has been an appalling exposure of our society’s disdain for elderly, disabled and vulnerable people in our community. Matching the callous social media statements about how it was their own tough luck that these people found themselves in the front rank of the virus was the very strange decision early on by government here and in Britain to flood care homes with infected, vulnerable people ostensibly to free up mainstream hospital beds.
Let’s hope a public inquiry will illuminate the wrongs done. But all of us could start by challenging dismissive and offensive responses to fellow citizens whose welfare is our common responsibility.
4 Can this be the year we stop re-traumatising Troubles’ victims? Let’s not make any of them have to take to the airwaves ever again to relive the worst thing that happened to them and to justify their pain. Our collective failure to empathise broadly with pain and hurt wherever it happened shames us. We won’t build any meaningful peace without confronting what people did to one another and without properly bearing in mind these dead.
5 Let’s hope Donna Traynor is back on screen soon. The former Newsline presenter is currently taking BBC NI to an industrial tribunal so it’s unlikely she’ll be working for that broadcaster any time soon. But the Beeb’s loss should be someone else’s gain. A consummate professional, she’s among a dwindling band of TV/radio journalists who were all there in the bad old days too.
It’s foolish to lose such experience, not to mention a popular and reassuring presence. Our airwaves are hardly over-populated with older women, even though they are positive role models for many.
6 Can we please make a proper effort to preserve what’s left of the architectural, historical and cultural character of Belfast city centre? Not everything needs to confirm the long-held opinion that Belfast is at the mercy of the pound note. Let’s start by recognising that the big city retail sprawl across several streets may not be a firm footing for urban regeneration, as the collapse of major anchor retailers have shown.
7 Let’s have more accountability and less pass the parcelling from our politicians. It’s one of the great ironies of Stormont — as the number of Press officers increases, the less “Press” ministers do. If NI media “empty-chaired” elected representatives every time they declined to be interviewed — schools and Covid, MOT backlogs, enforcing face coverings on public transport — watching the news would be like watching a furniture advert. No explaining to the public what’s going on in case you get caught out isn’t a Press strategy.
But if that’s how you want to play it, spare us the blizzard of lengthy Press releases packed full of more tasteless stuffing than a reheated turkey. The media isn’t an optional extra in a democracy. There is no “iron curtain” around Stormont, even if those inside choose to behave as though there is.
8 If 1978 was the Year of the Three Popes, 2021 will be remembered as the year of the three DUP leaders. Having led the coup which ousted Arlene Foster, Edwin Poots found himself briskly hooked by the current leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, after only 34 days. While I hesitate to suggest 2022 can’t be any more embarrassing for unionism, lest some take that as a dare, nonetheless it could be an opportunity to restore some logic and order to the unionist cause.
9 Let’s hear more from Paddy Kielty rather than the endless diatribes we get from those whose every utterance seems to be negative, resentful and embittered. His recent ‘Shared Island’ address should be in every school, along with an updated copy of the book Lost Lives.
Paddy, who was 16 when his father Jack was murdered by the UFF, talked about meeting former loyalist paramilitaries for his One Hundred Years of the Union documentary: “A shared island means challenging ourselves to go beyond our own comfort zones.”
Let’s all do that in 2022. What a pity he wouldn’t properly enter politics in NI, but then he’s not a lunatic.
10 Justice for Lyra. This brilliant young journalist would have been essential reading on Brexit, street violence and identity. Murder has to stop being an accessory to our politics. Make that Lyra’s legacy.
11 Surely, someone can devise a face-saving get-out for everyone from the NI Protocol? Rotten fruit, interminable paperwork and no deliveries from gardening firms affected anti-Brexiteers as much as everyone else, so a canny re-think would suit all sides, especially those balancing a household budget.
Plug the constitutional leakage and maximise the advantages of NI’s unique position across the UK and EU.
12 More ABBA. If the band’s new album was one of the most joyous sounds of 2021, my idea for a new ABBA musical, set in NI, is a sure-fire hit too. A darkened stage. Two, er, super troupers pick out Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Doug Beattie. All together now: “There was a union/ Of heart and mind/ The likes of which are rare/ And, oh, so hard to find/ Do I have it in me?/ I believe it is in there/ For I know I hear a bittersweet song/ In the memories we share/ I still have faith in you...”
The title? Mamma Mia 3: Angry and Sad about Things That You Do.