A brighter future for this place we call home has always been within touching distance. Its shores can be seen more clearly after Saturday’s events at Stormont, when the suffocating fog of the DUP’s war with the British government, itself and unionism’s 100 percenter fantasists was blown away.
First Minister Michelle O’Neill, making her own piece of history, pledged cooperation with those “who are British, of a unionist tradition and who cherish the Union”.
Responding, DUP Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said the Assembly should be a source of hope, not of despair: “Let us prove that difference is something that can be a strength through recognition and respect.”
These are important words and we hope they set the tone for the Executive as it confronts a daunting in-tray.
There is an intense burden of expectation on the shoulders of the new ministers; a focus on delivery and the courage to make difficult decisions, rather than retreat into petty politicking and the dismal dysfunction of the past, will be essential if this Executive isn’t to collapse under the weight of the challenge.
Nowhere is that more obvious and life-altering than in health and social care. Ulster Unionist Robin Swann will need to lean on all his personal popularity to make the changes that are so desperately required. The DUP and Sinn Féin, who repetitively declared that health is their priority, should explain why they swerved the portfolio.
Sinn Féin has chosen to hold the levers of power in the departments of economy, finance and infrastructure. Unpopular decisions await here in the shape of ‘revenue-raising’, while there will be battles with the Treasury over funding. It will now be up to Sinn Féin to maximise the potential of the north’s unique post-Brexit trade arrangements.
Alliance has two departments, with Andrew Muir leading agriculture, environment and rural affairs, while Naomi Long returns as justice minister. Its allocation continues to fall outside the normal arrangements, an aberration that needs addressed.
The DUP holds education and communities, where it will inevitably come under pressure from unionism’s fringe to block the Casement Park project. Gordon Lyons should send a strong message of support for the stadium redevelopment as soon as possible.
There are few, if any, easy fixes for the problems we face. But a stable Assembly that works for all in this homeplace, for Catholic, Protestant and dissenter, is where they must be confronted.