2008: a year to vindicate St Andrews…

Gregory Campbell reckons the Executive has got this next year to prove the St Andrews Agreement is a significant step forward. It’s significant most for its departure from the usual upbeat tone of party colleagues rather than in content. It undoubtedly reflects some of the unease that party activist are feeling at the sight of Ulster’s new comedy duo, the Chuckle Brothers. But he also raises serious concerns around public order. Not least he is looking for a tangible policy response to the serial attacks Orange Halls.From Gregory Campbell

2008 could well prove to be the most decisive year yet in the protracted period of time that the political process has taken to develop here.

The devolved settlement reached at St. Andrews has been in operation for just over six months, the most obvious questions that people will be asking are; Is it delivering and are steps being taken to ensure that the strategic direction this process is taking us in is the right one. While six months is obviously too soon to pass judgement on these criteria, it will become fairly obvious over the next year as to the merits or otherwise of proceeding further with the same deal. The benefits are obvious, having forced the IRA to the point where they have had to decommission their weapons, we have managed the process to the point where those who supported the killing of Police Officers now must support the Police and the Law which they seek to uphold, this has to be seen as significant progress.

There are downsides, who would seek to defend the photos that give the mistaken impression that not only is political business being done with Sinn Fein but that enjoyment is being had while doing it? What is more relevant is HOW business is done with Sinn Fein not that it never should be. Our demeanour and conduct in how political business is carried out from the highest offices in the land will set a template for future generations. One way or another 2008 will establish that in a way that must be justifiable and durable. This is not merely some quibble of who stands beside whom in photographs but is a definitive message being given to present and future generations about how former terrorists must be treated by democrats.

For over three decades the IRA sought to impose it’s will on the people of Northern Ireland, the most important and relevant point in the events of the last few years is that people never forget they failed in those endeavours. Just as they failed in their so called ‘war’ we must ensure their political wing fails in it’s peaceful attempts. The Northern Ireland that we must see emerge must be a warm house for the Orange tradition not the burning cesspool that some republican elements would reduce our halls to. One of the most straightforward answers to the parasites that are carrying out these attacks is for both the Secretary of State and the Office of First & Deputy First Minister to undertake that every time a hall is attacked it will be re- built bigger and better than before. This would be the single most effective response to whoever is behind the attacks on more than 30 Halls over the past year alone.

The economy in Northern Ireland is one of the most vital elements of the process which needs to see radical improvement over the next year. The over-dependency on the public sector can be addressed with significant investment in the small business sector. As the tighter spending round takes hold, and the international difficulties with currency fluctuations, particularly in the United States, making foreign investment more difficult it is all the more vital that local entrepreneurs are assisted in developing their skills base.

We have another 12 months to demonstrate the tangible improvements that this form of devolution offers, we must not waste the opportunity for this and future generations.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty