Skip To The Main Content
30 April 2019

The View from the Chair, Tina McKenzie - 30 April 2019

There are moments in politics when things change

Like many in Northern Ireland, I was deeply saddened to hear of the tragic death of Lyra McKee during disturbances in Derry/Londonderry. Lyra was an inspiring young journalist and writer who had an incredibly bright future ahead of her. I was lucky enough to get to know Lyra in 2013 and have watched her career bloom since. I had the honour of taking part in a ‘TEDx women’ event at Stormont a few years ago with her, where her passion and kindness shone through for all to see. At her large funeral in St. Anne’s Cathedral which was attended by the Prime Minister, Taoiseach and the President of Ireland, as well as political leaders from Northern Ireland, Father Martin Magill laid down a challenge to the politicians, as to why it took the death of a young woman for them to stand shoulder to shoulder. This challenge from Father Magill brought a standing ovation from the audience and much political commentary since.

While there has been significant discussion of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in the context of Brexit, the absence of Strand 1 of the Agreement, Executive power sharing between unionists and nationalists and a cross-community Assembly, continues to leave a vacuum and renders Northern Ireland without important symbolism of political leaders working together for the good of all. The business community, and wider civic society, have been vocal about the need for locally accountable, devolved government to be restored, so the necessary decisions can be taken on skills, infrastructure and enhancing business support.

However, it would also be wrong to suggest that an Executive would be a panacea for all our economic and social ills. Previous Executives did not necessarily deliver the economic and social outcomes which we all desire, such as boosting productivity or addressing poor levels of mental health, Ministers often did not work in a collegiate manner and sometimes shirked necessary tough decisions. Therefore, a future Executive will not simply be judged on the relative political stability which it brings, but on what it actually delivers.

When we look at the countries around us, we can see ambition and long term vision being advanced. If we take Finland as an example, a country with less than 6 million people and, like Northern Ireland, only 100 years old, yet it scores highly in numerous metrics of national performance, including being ranked 1st for skills in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Closer to home, our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland have set out their Project 2040, with the emphasis on doing things differently and aligning public investment with an overall strategy to increase prosperity across the country. It is this type of forward looking vision that a future Executive must seek to deliver, not simply managing a post-conflict society and being content with being the poorer relation within these islands. To achieve this, Northern Ireland businesses, who have continued to create jobs in spite of the political uncertainty, with the employment rate now at its highest on record, will have a key role to play to ensure economic policy is not simply top down and without any real direction.

With the UK and Irish Governments announcing that a renewed talks process will begin after the local government elections, this has provided some hope that finally the institutions can be restored after more than two years of paralysis and stalemate. However, we would be forgiven for having a large dose of scepticism, given previous false dawns, though in the aftermath of Lyra’s death there is a sense of a renewed vigour to restore devolved government. It is imperative that our political representatives stretch themselves during negotiations to find a route back to Stormont, which can enjoy the support of the whole community. As the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney noted on Friday, “there are moments in politics when things change”. Our political leaders must now deliver that change.