While nationalists were responsible for making NI unworkable in the last century, that torch has now passed to the DUP

Future historians will view present unionist leaders as exemplars of political self-harm, says a reflective Jake O’Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake is a comic, columnist and contrarian.

Will 2024 be the year that Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP go back in? (Jonathan Porter / Press Eye)

As we face a new year, our dysfunctional politics has us trapped in a NI version of Groundhog Day. Whilst our truanting politicians feast on the public purse, our health and public service workers – and everyone else – struggle with the cost of living and stagnant salaries.

Even if there is a return to the Assembly in the new year, there’s every chance of yet another collapse. The impact of such instability is found in all aspects of our daily lives, from ever-lengthening NHS waiting times to crumbling schools and infrastructure.

While nationalists were responsible for making NI unworkable in the last century, that torch has now passed to the unionist DUP. With a myopic focus on symbolism, the leadership of that party are incapable of seeing the bigger picture of ever-growing UK disinterest in NI coupled with a resurgent Sinn Féin poised to win political control in the Republic.

How this will all play out is anyone’s guess; the only thing certain is that there’s no certainty, apart from future historians viewing present unionist leaders as exemplars of political self-harm.

It’s fun to take a guess at what will be viewed as the most important historic event of the last year. Many will see 2023 as the year of military expansionism, with Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine as well as the Israeli siege of Gaza.

Others will look back and wonder how humanity continued to ignore the impending disaster of global warming. That Cop28 – the gathering of world leaders to discuss climate change – was held in the United Arab Emirates will be seen to demonstrate that fact, especially as the president of the conference was Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, who is also the chair of the Saudi National Oil Company. It’s a bit like putting a fox in charge of a chicken shed.

Cop28 President Sultan al-Jaber hailed a ‘historic’ moment (Kamran Jebreili/AP)
Sultan al-Jaber managed to be both Cop28 president and head of Abu Dhabi's national oil company (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

My guess is that 2023 will be remembered as the year when Artificial Intelligence (AI) moved from being the domain of computer nerds into common usage. We are on the epoch of unimaginable technological change, whether for good or bad is again unknowable. What is certain is that our everyday lives will be exponentially impacted by AI, resulting in a societal shift similar to what occurred during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

From the macro to the micro, the highlight of my year was the diagnosis of a tumour on my leg which thankfully turned out to be benign. My treatment was exemplary, with only a matter of months separating my initial diagnosis to the removal of the tumour.

I also discovered during the year that I was suffering from glaucoma, resulting in the replacement of the lenses in both my eyes. On this occasion I was forced into private treatment as the waiting list on the NHS stretched into years; years I haven’t got.

While others may view such experiences negatively, I see – both literally and figuratively – them as positive. My conditions were treatable with the only side effects being a small scar on my leg and a new set of eyes - eyes which no longer need glasses; what’s not to like about that?

Another highlight was being asked onto Channel Four news to comment on the visit of President Biden. I’ve no idea how they got my name, but I was tickled to find myself standing in Titanic Belfast, chatting with Matt Frei about Biden’s visit.

I was accompanied on the interview by Margaret Gibney who, as a 12-year-old schoolgirl, had written a letter to then prime minister Tony Blair encouraging him to work for peace. The little girl had grown into an impressive woman still focused on helping others.

I was disconcerted to discover the interview was live as I’ve a tendency to somewhat ‘overshare’. Thankfully I didn’t say anything untoward apart from expressing a hope that octogenarian President Joe didn’t run to any podiums as our grass was wet which could result in an Irish version of the grassy knoll.

I’ve now reached an age where my hopes for the upcoming year are more modest than times past. As a society I’d hope our politicians accept that compromise isn’t a dirty word but the only hope for a society like ours. Personally, I’m hoping for fewer visits to health professionals, though that may be unrealistic.

As for you, dear friends, may I be so bold to suggest you pick one thing you want to do, and do it, for we’re all passing through, and quickly at that. Happy new year.