Ben Lowry: In many respects life in NI is better than ever, so here’s to 2018

The days are now getting longer and the new year is coming in, so it is a time for optimism (above sunshine on Divis Mountain in recent days).'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The days are now getting longer and the new year is coming in, so it is a time for optimism (above sunshine on Divis Mountain in recent days).'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Alarming things have happened in politics over the last year, both locally and globally.

Northern Ireland is more polarised than at any time since the 1981 hunger strikes (albeit without the same violence).

Politics in Great Britain is bitter too, over Brexit, obviously, but also over the ideological gulf that separates Theresa May’s Tories from Jeremy Corbyn-style socialism.

In America, not a day goes by in which Donald Trump fails to display via Twitter how supremely ill suited he is to wielding any political power at all, let alone the most important elected office in the world.

Meanwhile, the global population surges ever upwards, putting intolerable strain on the planet.

But this is an optimistic moment, as the days get longer and a new year is coming. So here are some positives.

The US system of government checks and balances (that some Ulstermen helped set up 230 years ago) renders Trump a ridiculous, as opposed to dangerous, figure.

Life in Northern Ireland has not been better. Terrorist thugs are few in number and are struggling to operate, given the technology that can be applied to monitor them.

Most people are living well, enjoying the vast number of restaurants (bustling in Belfast and beyond) and holidays abroad (which a growing number of people can afford).

Such trips usually begin at one of three NI airports or Dublin Airport, a 90min drive from Belfast.

Slum housing in NI has long since been eradicated and most social housing is now well insulated.

Gradually NI’s infrastructure is getting better, with two or three key road projects completed each year.

For people without a car, which currently includes me, there are good bus and train services.

People are living active lives further into old age than at any time in history.

There have always been some old people (the News Letter founder Francis Joy was born in 1697, and lived to 1790) but such longevity is almost the norm (see link to article on Billy Hastings/Maurice Hayes below).

There are big strains on the NHS but much of it is caused by the very triumph of science that has enabled people to live and need to use it for so long.

Longevity is also wreaking havoc with pensions, because they have to provide for people for far longer than in the past. But the core reason for both problems is a happy one.

Even in Africa, healthcare is improving steadily.

While environmental damage is a grave problem, programmes such as David Attenborough’s ‘Ocean’ are raising awareness of it. In Britain, even the political right accepts this is an issue, with Michael Gove and the Daily Mail among the most outspoken voices on the threats.

Technology is facilitating people staying in touch with friends or relatives around the world as if they were in the next room. It is also helping people to form networks and meet like minded souls.

In 2011, a psychologist, Steven Pinker, wrote on how violence is in global decline. Lives are also being saved on our roads. Deaths from collisions are a fraction of 1970s levels (next week I will write on how 2017 is one of the safest years ever).

Global disaster could be ahead. Recently I read a book on the period from the Great War to after World War II. The description of early 1914 had resonances with today: big economic and industrial advances and lots of affluence and complacency.

But while it is possible that we are on the verge of catastrophe, perhaps this is a prolonged golden age in which the political bitterness reflects how spoiled we are and how high our expectations have become.

Here’s to 2018, and all the good things it might bring.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

Ben Lowry: Hastings and Hayes helped keep NI functioning during the Troubles