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NI leaders reflect and look to future

NI leaders Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness in Hong Kong in 2012.

Northern Ireland's First and deputy First Ministers have been reflecting on the year that was, as they now turn their attentions to the future and prepare for the challenges held by 2013.

Wednesday, 02 January 2013
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For First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson, 2012 was "a year filled with enormous pride".

He looked back on the part played by Northern Ireland in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, including a pre-announced visit by the Queen.

"Such events would have been unimaginable only a decade ago," Mr Robinson said.

He also noted the commemorations, marking 100 years since the launch of Titanic and the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

And there was praise for local sport - both in terms of the work needed to successfully host the Irish Open at Royal Portrush and the "heroic efforts" of Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

"Their accomplishments were a great source of pride for Northern Ireland," Mr Robinson said.

But while the First Minister also recognised the difficulties - especially on the economic front - he added that 2013 would bring both challenges and "much to look forward to as well".

I wish everyone living, working and visiting in Northern Ireland a happy and healthy New Year, with God's richest blessing for 2013.

Peter Robinson

Highlighting Londonderry as the UK City of Culture, the forthcoming World Police and Fire Games and the G8 summit to be held in Co Fermanagh, Mr Robinson pointed the underlying stability.

"Being able to host any of these events is only possible because of the stability which has been secured in recent years," he said.

"I know the people of Northern Ireland want to keep this province moving forward."

And with that in mind, he also noted the young people who had in years past left in search of jobs and a better quality of life.

"I want to keep our brightest and best at home - we can't afford to lose another generation," Mr Robinson said.

On one of the key issues still to be resolved in 2013, the DUP leader noted the opposition to the restriction of the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall - a decision which he referred to as "ill-considered and provocative".

Mr Robinson added: "People are entitled - even justified - in protesting, but nobody can justify threats, acts of violence or other unlawful behaviour.

"Right-thinking unionists will want to channel their opposition to this, and similar decisions, into political activity aimed at strengthening our British culture and identity".

Pledging a redoubling of efforts to attract more jobs, the First Minister urged political leaders to "contribute to moving forward, rather than opting out and dodging difficult compromises".

"I will work tirelessly with all parties to build a truly shared future for Northern Ireland - a future where everyone's culture and identity is respected," he said.

For Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, 2012 was a year in which significant challenges were overcome and real advancements were made in attracting economic investment.

During the last 12 months, the unfinished journey of our peace process has continued to unfold. I look forward to 2013 with hope and ambition.

Martin McGuinness

But he further noted that "the worldwide economic crisis has also left many of our citizens jobless and driven many employers to the wall".

Mr McGuinness pledged to see efforts to counter that intensify and said Northern Ireland's politicians must unite "against the punishing austerity policies driven by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition".

Recalling the ongoing work as part of the peace process, he hoped for further progress.

"I earnestly hope that we will continue to move towards the development of a new phase in our peace process in 2013, and that the seeds of reconciliation among and between all our people will grow," the deputy First Minister said.

"My decision to meet Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Belfast earlier this year was a sincere effort on my behalf to advance reconciliation between republicans and unionists and consolidate our peace process."

Recalling how 2012 had marked the beginning of a decade of centenary commemorations, Mr McGuinness foresaw challenges ahead, but called for "imagination and compromise" to meet them.

"I dearly hope that this era will become one in which we at last replace division with new human and political relationships, and forge lasting peace and friendship between our communities - and the islands of Ireland and Britain," he said.