Reasons to be cheerful... and there are many

Queues at Queen's University as the booster programme opened to over 18s. The incredible roll-out of the vaccines in Northern Ireland was a credit to the Department of Health, the Trusts, and pharmacies, all under the leadership of the indefatigable Patricia Donnelly. Picture: Hugh Russell

I HAVE decided that as we come to the end of 2021 I am going to strike a positive note, to look on the bright side and to believe that better days do actually lie ahead. I’m buying into the belief that things can only get better. So in true Ian Dury fashion, here are some reasons to be cheerful, and what I’d like to see in the next 12 months.

On the protocol, hopefully 2022 is the year when mainstream unionist leadership takes its cue from the general public and business leaders rather than the blue bin brigade, and recognises the potential for economic growth we have on our side.

Our economy is benefitting from the post-Brexit arrangements under the protocol, that’s a simple statement of fact. Only this week Ballymena based firm CIGA Healthcare announced multiple new export supply contracts which founder - and previously ardent Brexit supporter and Conservative party representative Irwin Armstrong - puts down entirely to the dual market access facilitated by the Protocol.

In Lagan Valley, the constituency of DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, the PRM Group is investing £8m in a Protocol driven expansion. These are just two examples which point to the potential of the local economy to exploit our unique position with access to the GB and EU markets which other regions would love to have. Our political leaders really would do well to recognise that.

The Industrial Development Agency in the south last week revealed that 2021 was a record year for inward investment and this in the middle of a pandemic. Almost 30,000 jobs were created by multinational firms, an incredible number. At home we will have a new chief executive of Invest NI and 2022 can be the year that we too benefit from significant inward investment.

What will 2022 bring us in regard to the pandemic? The early signs are that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous strains. It could just be that we slowly move into an era where covid is manageable through annual vaccines and we get back to the pre-March 2020 kind of community and society. The incredible roll-out of the vaccines in Northern Ireland was a credit to the Department of Health, the Trusts, pharmacies and all under the leadership of the indefatigable Patricia Donnelly.

The impact of Covid brought out the best in most of us as communities responded and supported each other. My hope is that when we are past the pandemic that empathy and generosity towards each other is kept in place.

The other major health-related crisis is our unacceptable waiting lists which impact so many thousands of citizens. Let 2022 be the year when the transformation and investment so sorely needed is delivered.

Live sports and music events made a tentative return this year but if Covid really does retreat then hopefully the shackles can come off and we can return to stadiums and big fields to cheer our teams and singalong to our favourite bands.

In the last 12 months the climate crisis became very firmly lodged at the top of the political agenda globally. That is where it needs to stay and in Northern Ireland we do have a role to play, the attitude that we are too small to matter is a lazy cop out.

At last we have our NI Energy Strategy with ambitious targets on renewable energy and reduction of carbon emissions. This should also be the year when the Assembly passes a meaningful climate change bill and individuals and families take their own responsibility for contributing to climate recalibration. We need a big investment in our electric vehicle charging network and for our innovative energy businesses to continue to lead the way in decarbonising all of our energy sources.

Next May we go the polls in the 2022 Assembly election. Some parties will attempt to reduce the real issues faced by society here to a head count, a scare story about who will be the next First Minister. Those who deserve our support will actually address the health waiting lists, the investment needed in the water and sewerage infrastructure, the need to raise finance to deliver meaningful change. Politicians who bring vision and imagination to their manifestos should be rewarded at the polls.

The big worry is that the election will be followed by a Protocol stand-off and a delay in putting the Executive back together - but remember, this is an optimistic look ahead, so my fingers are crossed for mature politics to trump the playground variety.

On a more personal note, I am keeping the glass half full attitude going, so in the 12 months to come I am sure we will see Spurs winning a trophy, Antrim hurlers and footballers progressing in the GAA championship and me getting closer to a 3h 15 minute marathon time. It’s not much to ask is it?

Whatever your own goals and hopes, I hope you keep on reading the Irish News and that we all have a better 2022. Happy new year.

Brendan Mulgrew is managing partner at MW Advocate ( Follow him on Twitter at @brendanbelfast

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