Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time Northern Ireland parties step up and bring back power sharing

As Northern Ireland greets 2020, just a year shy of the centenary of the foundation of the state, there will be many who hope DUP leader Arlene Foster means to deliver on her new year message of making the province a place at peace with itself and which the majority of people, unionist and nationalist, can feel comfortable in
As Northern Ireland greets 2020, just a year shy of the centenary of the foundation of the state, there will be many who hope DUP leader Arlene Foster means to deliver on her new year message of making the province a place at peace with itself and which the majority of people, unionist and nationalist, can feel comfortable in

Editor's Viewpoint

As Northern Ireland greets 2020, just a year shy of the centenary of the foundation of the state, there will be many who hope DUP leader Arlene Foster means to deliver on her new year message of making the province a place at peace with itself and which the majority of people, unionist and nationalist, can feel comfortable in.

That is the greatest guarantee Northern Ireland's future within the Union is secure. Unionists, who have never learned from what they term as past betrayals by the Westminster government, is feeling nervous. They recognise that demographics are against them and the toxic atmosphere generated by Brexit in particular has created an increased groundswell to test opinion on Irish unity.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald wants a border poll but there is widespread agreement that it would be a divisive move at a time when Northern Ireland's more pressing day-to-day problems need sorting out.

Whatever one says, the ideological divide is always there between the two big parties.

But as they and the other local politicians return to talks tomorrow they know that public opinion demands they find a compromise and return to work at Stormont.

The problems that should unite them far outweigh the demands that divide them.

While Mrs Foster is correct to point out that civic and business life has soldiered on heroically during the three years that politicians have abdicated their responsibilities, it cannot be denied that the underlying problems in public services are at crisis point.

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As peak demand on the health service approaches, it is under enormous strain with around 3,000 vacancies which are difficult to fill, nurses taking industrial action for the first time in their history and waiting lists are at shameful lengths.

Funding is needed to improve the fabric of the province, from sewage and water systems to roads network. Schools are crying out for both capital and revenue funding.

And while Boris Johnson will get Brexit done - whatever that means - the coming year should give us some indication of the implications of the UK leaving the EU.

Will his boast that the UK will be able to forge fantastic new trade deals around the world - though no one is quite certain what it has to sell to economies like China or the US - be fulfilled or will those who argue that it is the biggest disaster to befall Northern Ireland be proven correct?

Locally, if devolution is restored, and given recent election results it seems compromise is in the interests of both Sinn Fein and the DUP, the rise of the middle ground, especially as manifested by Alliance, should lead to more inclusive politics.

We have tried the extremes and, to an extent, found them wanting although they remain the largest parties.

While the imperative now is for a new Executive to tackle the immediate problems outlined here, there is also a need for a more mature debate on identity. It cannot remain a simple Orange and Green divide. That will lead to only one long outcome and it will not be in unionists' favour.

The undercurrent of dissident republicanism and loyalist gangsterism also needs to be tackled. The communities which they hold in thrall have suffered enough and the results can be seen in needless deaths, both through violence and through the current drugs epidemic. Can 2020 be the year when Northern Ireland gets real? Let us hope so.

In the meantime, a happy new year to all our readers.

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