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Heralded by the Indian Ocean tsunami last year, 2005 has been a year of disasters, with the South Asia earthquake and hurricane Katrina being chief amongst them. Whilst hundreds of thousands of people are now known to have died, it was good to see the overwhelmingly positive response of the world-wide community, with millions of pounds being donated by private citizens, and being matched by governments. While there was the inevitable grumbling at the pace of the relief efforts, once they swung into gear, their work was superb.

On a more human scale, 2005 has been a bad year on the international stage, with the occupation in Iraq continuing to fail to provide peace and security for the people of that country. Although the elections at the start of the year were supposed to herald the beginning of peace, it hasn’t worked out that way. The time taken to form a transitional government following those elections meant that the chance to bring all factions together was squandered. Since then, we have seen the approval of a new constitution and another round of elections based on that constitution that will form a full government. I may have said the same thing last year, but I hope that this new election represents a turning point for Iraq.

For the second half of 2005, the United Kingdom held the presidency of both the European Union and the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations, the G8. At the time, this was seen as a great opportunity for Britain to push global issues, primarily tackling poverty and climate change. Seen from the end, it seems that we have failed in this respect. The Gleneagles G8 summit in July was to have been the major event to help eradicate poverty in Africa. In the end, it was overshadowed by the terrorist attack in London on 7th July. This event frightened the whole country and showed a willingness to kill civilians that the IRA lacked. It was, however, the responses to that fear by politicians, the police and the populist media that has frightened me more than the threat of bombings. Ever more draconian legislation is being proposed by a government becoming more right-wing by the week; the police shoot dead an innocent man in circumstances that still haven’t been made clear – although we know he wasn’t behaving in any suspicious manner; the Sun brands MPs that didn’t vote for ninety detention without trial as traitors. And they say that they won’t let terrorism change our way of life.

Turning an eye closer to home, this year has seen the extraordinary statement from the IRA that they claim that their armed struggle is over, and that they will pursue their aims from now on in an entirely peaceful manner. While this should have been a monumental statement, reaction from the unionist side has been muted, as was to be expected from Ian Paisley and his lot, who have now been become the largest party in the Province, following the general election this year. In the five months or so since the declaration, very little seems to have happened, other than continuing violence at a low level.

This year has also seen the death of Mo Mowlam, one of the few politicians that I had much respect for and the architect of the Good Friday Agreement. She will be missed, both by the people, by whom she was held in much affection, and by Parliament, where she was a fine debater.

Finally, it’s been an interesting year in my own life. My department at work is undergoing considerable upheavals at the moment, both in terms of staff and its role in the University. An away day at the end of the year has helped clarify the future direction that we could take, but it will be some time before any real decisions are made, thanks to the glacial pace of University management, which means that we will continue to be ‘in limbo’ for the next six months or more.
The search for a wife for me continues apace, with at least one indication of interest so far which, after I met her and her family, turned out to be disappointing. I had invested an awful lot of emotional energy into the whole affair and was bitterly disappointed in the way that things worked out. Not just with her, but the attitude of her family and the reluctance that all of them had in talking to me. Ah well, chalk that one down to experience.

We live, as they say, in interesting times.

— 29 December 2005