LOCAL politicians have called for resilience and ingenuity in the face of financial hardships as we move into 2012.
Sinn Fein’s Education Minister and former Acting Deputy First Minister John O’Dowd has called for co-operation in tackling the recession and thanked the emergency services for looking after us over the festive period.
The Upper Bann MLA said: “The holiday period gave us all a chance to spend time with our families and close friends and I hope that everyone enjoyed the break and I would take this opportunity to thank those who had to attend to their duties during the holiday in order to maintain essential services for the rest of us.”
Mr O’Dowd noted that we were entering a new year in the worst economic conditions that we had faced in many years and he expressed his hope that 2012 would see the economy begin to turn around.
He said: “There are no miracle cures for our problems but with the exercise of tight fiscal restraints and investment in the development of local home grown businesses we can begin to grow the economy.
“While the New Year will undoubtedly bring new challenges, and unavoidable, difficult and hard decisions will have to be made, we can end 2012 in a much stronger position, than we enter it, if we work together for the common, economic good.
“It is our task, as politicians, to build a society which delivers for the needs of all, and though the responsibility is ours, we need the support of the public if we are to be successful in achieving that goal.”
Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson was elected to Stormont this year and took the opportunity to issue her first New Year message to the ‘MAIL’ readers.
She said: “At this time of year it is customary for us to look forward to the events, hopes and opportunities of the New Year and what it holds in store for all of us.
“Christmas is a time for family and for fellowship. As we sang our Christmas hymns we repeated so many times words such as Peace, Joy, Hope and Love and in preparing for a New Year let us continue to build a future of Peace, a future where we can all learn to Love one another, where our Children can grow up knowing real Joy and where all our long cherished Hopes for peace and prosperity can be finally achieved.
“I again pay tribute to our outstanding armed forces who are helping to uphold these values across the World.
“2011 brought mixed fortunes for families across Northern Ireland. As the difficult economic climate continues people, businesses and organisations face new and often difficult challenges. But with those challenges come opportunities and it is in grasping these new opportunities that our future course is set.
So, as we celebrate the coming of a New Year, let us turn our thoughts and efforts towards rising to those challenges, towards a brighter future, a future of hope and prosperity for all of us.
Fellow Ulster Unionist MLA Sam Gardiner said: “I want to take the opportunity offered by the new year to send a message to all my constituents.
“It is true that times are hard and we have the shadow of major cuts in public expenditure looming over us in the health service, in education and in many other areas. We have a renewed dissident republican threat.
“I still believe, however, that the resilience and inventiveness of the Northern Ireland people will win through as has been the case so often in the past. We now have a Programme for Government. We have, I believe, the basis for agreement in many problematic areas such as schools reform and health restructuring. I call on all people everywhere to work together constructively and positively for the good of all.
“That is why I have chosen the format of a New Year message rather than the more traditional Christmas message. We must begin this new Year full of hope and positivity.
“In the past year, outside politics, I have been championing the cause of grow your own, launching the Primary Schools Gardening Competition. It proved to be a great event and generated a lot of interest. It also taught both me and the judges a lot about the great work that is really going on in our schools.
“We need to emphasise these positive things and make a difference by building on that. In the new year, I will be launching the second year of the competition, again funded out of my own pocket.
“I will also be launching an Allotments Bill which will impose a duty on all local councils to provide allotments. I am determined to make a direct personal difference to the health and well being of our people.
That, and the desire to make household budgets stretch further is what lies behind my grow your own campaign. I think MLAs should act and not just talk all the time. I hope by my direct action to make life better for people now and into the future.”
Upper Bann MP David Simpson has spoken of the resilience of the people of Northern Ireland as the Province moves into 2012.
Recalling the famous words of King George VI David Simpson said: “At the turning of the year my mind often turns to the famous words spoken by King George VI in his famous broadcast of 1939 when he quoted from the poem ‘The Gate of the Year’ and said:
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’
“Those words seem particularly apt to me with the dawning of 2012 and the many uncertainties that it shall bring along with it. There are dark clouds and grey days that shall colour 2012. There will be storms and tides and rocks that will have to be negotiated.
“Many people found 2011 to be a particularly difficult year. In my role as MP I dealt with many businesses that have been under tremendous pressure and many families that have felt been under severe strain in the current financial and economic conditions. There is much concern and uncertainty; and many people are understandably worried about the next 12 months.
“That wartime spirit that King George so encapsulated in his famous address stands as reminder of the unity of purpose that bound an entire nation together in the face of a planned imminent invasion.
“Our people simply refuse to bow or yield in adversity. The people of Northern Ireland proved that during the long years of the Troubles when they stood against and eventually overcame that terrorist campaign. The coming months will bring different but very demanding challenges. They will require that we act and work as one people to steer our way safely through. I have no doubt that we will do so.
“Just as the population resisted and overcame terrorism, so our security personnel stood in the front line of that. Today many of them continue to imperil their own lives across the world on our behalf. They deserve our support, gratitude and prayers.”
Fellow DUP politician Stephen Moutray has spoken of his wish to continue with the progress Northern Ireland has made in recent years.
Speaking in a New Year message the MLA said: “The year just ended brought many challenges. There were challenges for politicians, for business people, for people facing wage freezes and families facing rapidly increasing costs and greater economic uncertainty.
“One thing that was very clear however was the will of the people of Northern Ireland to continue to move forward and to not allow anyone for whatever reason and by whatever means to drag us backwards.
“The progress that has been made since the DUP emerged as the largest political party in Northern Ireland has been hard won and indeed there were people who said that we could never make the progress that has been made and there were others who said that it could never be sustained. However with determination and with the resilience of the people of Northern Ireland, little by little and piece by piece, the Province is seeing a greater stability that offers a much better prospect for future generations.
“There are still issues that will have to be faced and challenges that will have to be accepted and taken up. There are individuals and groups who simply cannot tolerate the idea of a more stable or shared society as this poses a threat to them. There are those who are so wedded to violence that they cannot live without it. As a community we will have to remain vigilant and continue to support the brave men and women of our security services as they seek to tackle this threat.
“There are very real economic challenges. The massive cuts to our budget proved to be even bigger than we warned about. The international economic and financial crisis remains unresolved. This all points to 2012 being particularly difficult. Families are struggling and demand a more united approach from politicians. The luxury of opposition for opposition’s sake simply cannot be afforded. I am pleased that there has been a greater recognition of that reality. We have an agreed programme for government. That is welcome.” “What I remain convinced of, however, is that whatever the challenges, whatever the problems and whatever the setbacks the people of Northern Ireland will meet every one head on. We are still not at the end of the road but we are much farther along it than ever before.”
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly commented: “The New Year is traditionally a time when people make resolutions and promises with a view to improving their lives.
“Pretty often these promises are shortlived and fall by the wayside as we complacently fall into our old ways.
“The Stormont Executive has made promises to the people of Upper Bann; promises to improve the wealth, health and future of our communities and their inhabitants.
“Unfortunately, little evidence has been seen thus far of any real commitment to fulfilling these promises but I am hopeful that 2012 will.
“Next year is going to be tough. The draconian cuts of Welfare Reform will really start to bite and there is little sign of economic recovery.
“That is why it is so important that we work together to deliver positive change and minimise the hardship encountered by so many in our area.
“We must drive forward the regeneration of Upper Bann and showcase it as the wonderful place we know it to be.
“This can only be done by everyone working together for the good of all.
“We are entering the first year of a decade of commemorations which mark key moments in the history of both sides of community in the North of Ireland, and it is my fervent wish that those anniversaries are marked with dignity and respect for all traditions, rather than raking over the tired old embers of division and hatred that we have worked so hard to quench.
“I call on those groups who still see armed struggle as a means of progressing their political agenda to embrace peace and to work with us, not against us. It is only with true peace and unity of purpose that we will fulfil our true potential and attract the investment, tourism and associated jobs that we so badly need.
“The SDLP has always given that commitment and delivered on it and will work even harder in 2012 to ensure that others do too.”