NI 2012: Our time, our place?

Published Sunday, 30 December 2012
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This was to be the year that Northern Ireland would build on its successes, but the glitz and glamour of Irish visits by the Queen, Barack Obama and the MTV European Music Awards in Belfast in 2011 were always going to be hard acts to follow.

NI 2012: Our time, our place?
Trouble flared in Ardoyne on 12 July following an Orange Order parade. (© Pacemaker)

2012 did deliver its own opportunities for this little place to shine on the world stage though - including another Royal visit to mark the Diamond Jubilee and an historic handshake between the Queen and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness.

Yet not least of this year's highs was the work to get right the delicate balance between celebration and commemoration and mark 100 years since the historic Titanic first set sail from Belfast.

While MTV brought more music stars to the city for a slipway gig, more poignant was the unveiling of a stone monument in the Titanic Memorial Garden on 15 April - the first to honour all the 1,512 victims together.

"The focus of the world is on Belfast and we are doing her proud," Una Reilly, chairwoman of the Belfast Titanic Society, said.

At the end of September, tens of thousands of Orange members and supporters took part in a commemoration parade through Belfast to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the 1912 Ulster Covenant - an event which culminated in the grounds of Stormont.

Sport provided opportunities to sell Northern Ireland to the rest of the globe, with golf fans particularly well catered for when the sold-out Irish Open descended on Royal Portrush in June.

And everyone from eventual winner Jamie Donaldson to newly crowned world number one Rory McIlroy, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, and local favourites Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell were left singing the North Coast's praises. And calling for more of the same in the future.

All we've done this week is kinda put our chips in the middle of the table and said we're good enough, we can do this.

G-Mac

Sport was certainly a unifying force in 2012, with Northern Ireland's political leaders crossing divides.

For First Minister Peter Robinson, there was a first trip to a GAA game as he attended the McKenna Cup final right back in January.

"I'm not sure if I've caught all the finer points of the game, but I'm on the side of the referee on this one," the DUP leader joked.

And in March, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness turned up at Windsor Park for the first time in over 50 years, to watch his home side Derry City take on Linfield.

Earlier in the year, the Sinn Féin politician told UTV he wouldn't mind going to a Northern Ireland game and joked: "I've always said I'll support anybody wearing a green jersey ..."

Staying with the sporting theme, and of course this year also saw a host of Northern Ireland's athletes help add to the medal hauls of Team GB and Team Ireland in both the Olympics and Paralympics in London.

Coleraine alone added a raft of medals courtesy of its rowers, brothers Richard and Peter Chambers and Alan Campbell, who hope their summer exploits will serve to inspire the next generation, while Belfast celebrated boxers Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes.

Later gold medal winning Paralympians Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop both set new world records in London's Olympic stadium, while 16-year-old Bethany Firth from Seaforde, Co Down, clinched gold in the swimming pool.

And in football's top flight, there was to be a first season at the helm of Liverpool for Carnlough's own Brendan Rodgers - a promotion of sorts that hasn't been without its challenges, as he tries to turn around the fortunes of a side left largely dependent on a band of youngsters.

Lurgan man Neil Lennon said he was the proudest man in Europe after Celtic qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League following historic wins against the mighty Barcelona and Spartak Moscow. The Hoops will now face Juventus in the last 16 of the competition in Glasgow in February.

Young players will run through a barbed wire fence for you. Older players will look for the hole or just turn back.

Brendan Rodgers

In May, Ulster Rugby celebrated its achievements after reaching the Heineken Cup final but the rugby community was left mourning their loss only a few months later following the tragic death of young star Nevin Spence, who was killed with his father and brother as they tried to save each other in a slurry tank accident at their farm in Hillsborough in September.

Meanwhile the family of Tyrone GAA boss Mickey Harte said they were left devastated by the not guilty verdicts handed down to two men accused of murdering newlywed Michaela McAreavey during her honeymoon with husband John in Mauritius.

The trial of Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea, who both denied the January 2011 killing, ended in Port Louis in July.

While Northern Ireland has had its moments in the spotlight, it has at times still found itself making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Among the darkest moments, prison officer David Black was ambushed and shot dead by dissident republicans as he travelled to work on 1 November.

Just weeks later, his widow and children found the strength to speak to UTV about their loss and to plead for justice rather than revenge.

"He was the love of my life, a brilliant husband and father ... And I never got the chance to say goodbye," Yvonne Black said.

"David worked as part of the justice system ... So, as his wife and as his family, we have to believe that system will do right by David and catch these people."

July was to again bring riots in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, despite the efforts of community leaders. More violence erupted in the city in August and September as a new flashpoint emerged during the marching season around St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street.

More riots flared in Belfast in the run-up to Christmas, posing a new challenge to be overcome.

Sparked by a controversial motion passed by Belfast City Council, which saw the flying of the Union Flag restricted at City Hall, December's peaceful loyalist protests were marred by a minority set on violence.

I am appealing to those wishing to protest to consider how their actions are affecting the wider community who simply want to enjoy the festive period with their friends and families in peace.

ACC Dave Jones, PSNI

"The violence witnessed in some areas is totally unacceptable," PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones said, after three weeks of sporadic trouble - the worst of which saw a murder bid against two police officers, death threats against elected representatives and considerable traffic disruption.

"It cannot and should not continue."

But by year's end, no resolution had yet been found and political leaders were vowing to resume talks in the New Year.

Also on next year's agenda will be the turning of attention to the lakelands of Fermanagh, as the most powerful world leaders arrive for the scheduled G8 summit - another chance to showcase the best of Northern Ireland, in terms of both its business and tourism potential.

"I want to show the world what a beautiful place Northern Ireland is and Lough Erne is one of the most beautiful places in the entire United Kingdom," Prime Minister David Cameron said in November, as he formally announced the chosen G8 venue.

"I hope I won't have any trouble keeping President Obama off the golf course," he joked.

And the work of those behind the Derry-Londonderry City of Culture bid will come to fruition, with the Walled City hosting a multitude of events as it officially takes up the UK-wide mantle.

"I'm sure when people come to see what we have to offer, they're going to go away with cherished memories of the town I loved so well," renowned singer and composer Phil Coulter said in May.

It may be our time and place, but in 2013 the world will still be watching...

The Review of the Year 2012 is available for 30 days on the UTV Player.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
33 Comments
Alex in North Down wrote (468 days ago):
To David in Belfast - I agree with the flag protests as a matter of principle. But I do tend to share your analysis about getting the flag policy changed back again. Jackie Macdonald (UPRG) quite rightly observed that protesters were unlikely to get a U turn in council policy saying it needs either an agreement or an election. This issue should be a wake up call for unionists - stay home on election day and you pay a heavy price!
jimmymac in canada wrote (468 days ago):
Frosty,David and Mark.Sorry guys if I hurt your feelings concerning the wee union flag. but in all fairness to both traditions do you not think, that in a sadly divided place such as N Ireland. it would seem more conducive to reinvent a flag, in which all sides can respect and appreciate for a better future, particularly for the younger generations And who knows some day maybe you all might come around to the old Irish way of thinking. May 2013 be safe, happy and prosperous for you.... Cheers....
David in Belfast wrote (469 days ago):
I just want to make a few of comments, firstly I am not comfortable with the recent flag protests and would remind loyalists & unionists that the best way to get the Union flag back on the City Hall is to get off your behinds and get out and vote. Vote only for Unionists politicans and get a majority back.The protest have been disruptive but no where near how Republican bombs and bomb scares where every Christmas. Secondly how many Republican protests occured during the journey of the Olympic flame? Just one other thing, so called Loyalists don't leave flags to rot on telegraph poles it looks bad. I last thing to our Canadian reader stick to Canada we don't need your input.
H.Campbell in UK wrote (469 days ago):
there are a number of positives to come out of N.Ireland during the past year but also a number of negatives. The recent Flags issue just shows how reluctantly The Unionist family really accepts democracy. Their actions against the Alliance Party has bordered on criminal and is to be abhorred by any right thinking democrat.. The actions of Billy Hutchison, in particular, has truly amazed me. I thought he was his own man and dedicated to his party but it appears that his real masters reside within the DUP. They shout jump and he apparently asks -How High. As a person who would be perceived as a Nationalist I quite willingly accept Mr.Hutchisons allegiance to his party and to his Unionist roots and feel that he should have more sense than to waste so much time on futile protests. I could not take away any persons Britishness nor Irishness nor could any person take mine, irrespective of how many flags are flown/not flown. The population have to grow up and work harder in attracting jobs,improving housing conditions etc; and spend less time on fanning paranoia. My best wish for 2013 is that true politicians like Basil McCrea will find a party worthy of their talents and that Dawn Purvis gets back into front line politics. Happy 2013 to all
Mark in Belfast UK wrote (469 days ago):
@jimmymac - the only flag that will be flown at the city hall will be the union jack, even if it only is on 17 days a year, so dream on buddy, happy new year!
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