Ulster is back at the crossroads
Almost 48 years ago on December 9, 1968, the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Captain Terence O'Neill made his famous Ulster stands at the crossroads speech. He asked the people of the province what kind of Ulster they wanted - a happy and respected one in good standing with the rest of the UK or a place continually torn by demonstrations and riots and regarded as a political outcast.
History shows that Northern Ireland took the wrong road at that time, leading to years of horror. Those who ignored the signposts erected by Capt O'Neill and their successors in the DUP and Sinn Fein now find themselves standing at a new - and equally important - crossroads.
Today the question is still the same. What kind of Ulster do you want? But this time we are asking the two major political parties for the answer. For at this vital juncture in our history these parties are the effective ruling elite in the province and they hold the key to the future.
The inter-party talks currently taking place on issues like the past, flags and emblems, and parades must face up squarely to those problems. For too long they are issues which have been allowed to fester, providing a toxic backdrop to everyday life here. The politicians have been unable, or unwilling, to make hard decisions and stick to them. They cannot continue to dodge the issue.
If they do, then all the other problems -caused in part, but not exclusively by, huge and damaging cuts in the province's budget - will escalate. If we truly want a shared future then the two communities must learn to educate our children together and live together. We need to present a different face to the outside world - as Capt O'Neill said, a happy and respected place in good standing with the rest of the world - in order to gain more of the type of high-end jobs investment we have seen recently.
The British, Irish and US governments will not continue to ride to our rescue if our politicians cannot demonstrate they are capable of running the province and also of transforming it. They need to stop allowing what would be regarded elsewhere as minor spats developing into bitter caustic rows leading to threats of meltdown.
Today this newspaper sets out the choices facing all of us and the challenges which must be met. We cannot afford to take the wrong turning again.