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Spotlight on Northern Ireland

16 December 2020

By Austyn Close

I’ve always been an advocate for Northern Ireland and it’s unique place in the world but by jove, we’ve had our fair share in the limelight recently haven’t we? 

Between Brexit, restoring the Stormont Executive and the first COVID-19 vaccination recipient being a ‘Norn Iron’ citizen, a region relatively cast beyond the public’s conscience has had a somewhat prominent position in recent weeks.

Amidst leadership changes across the pond and closer to home over the past four years, the number one political sticking point has been Northern Ireland’s part as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations. As recently as this month, the controversial Internal Market Bill has been dropped by the Johnson administration and we can thank the forthcoming ascension of Joe Biden and his strong identification with his Irish ancestral roots for yet another U-turn by the UK government this year.

Who would have thought that 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, that the sensitive political and ethnic complex in Northern Ireland would have such a profound effect on international relations, trade, diplomacy and self-identification.....and for such a place to not have a ruling administration for a large proportion of the same critical period, it has made it equally as convoluted.

Since early 2017, NI was embroiled in a stalemate whereby both ruling parties refused to cooperate on the basis of the controversial RHI scandal - a scandal which severely undermined public trust. Without direction for exactly three years, it was a period where Northern Ireland’s voice on key matters was resoundingly weakened.

And what about COVID? Well with ministers behaving badly throughout 2020, a moment of pride for Northern Irish folk came in the form of Patient A, aka Margaret Keenan from County Fermanagh - the 91-year old who is the first in the world to receive the vaccine. With over 1,000 deaths from a virus that has been in our lives for almost a year, we look forward with optimism.

Since 2015, I haven’t lived in Northern Ireland for as long as I have during 2020. With such a strange year of massive disruptions to our everyday lives, I have been fortunate to spend such valuable time with my family while the world retreated indoors.

With many ups, come many downs. While the new decade may not have gotten off to the start we would have hoped - especially with a devolved administration in place - but there are significant moments and milestones ahead that will make or break Northern Ireland. Time will tell.