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Gone baby gone

Perhaps it is due to all the hype that greeted the arrival of the year "Y2K" that the passage of the intervening ten years has seemed even quicker than the passing of decades past.

Those final, hugely expectant, days of 1999 still seem close, closer than a full decade that itself has been full, though perhaps somewhat harder to define than some of its immediate predecessors.

After all, we still don't quite know how to refer to the outgoing decade in numerical shorthand. Was it the two thousands, the zeros, the noughts?

This has been a decade of war for Americans as a result of the appalling crimes committed on a sunny September day when the decade was yet young.

It has been a decade of edgy security and color-coded terror alerts. It has been a decade of scientific innovation, especially in the area of personal communication.

The past ten years have presented all of us with a heightened awareness of the fragility of our planet, this even as we seem to be easing back on earlier inclinations to send ourselves to our celestial neighbors, the moon and Mars.

The debate over climate change continues to rage while world leaders, as made clear by the recent fiasco in Copenhagen, have a long way to go in terms of formulating a sane and sensible response to the majority opinion of the world's scientific community.

Unfortunately, the past ten years was a decade of greed and largesse in the extreme, the result of it all being a deep recession at decade's end, one that has all but banished from memory the economic optimism of the final days of the last century and the opening days of this.

In a specific Irish context, the past ten years has been a bit of a roller coaster. The island's economic fortunes soared and then faltered but - and any bit of consolation should be gripped tight at this juncture - the old pessimistic resignation was at least shown the door.

The people of the island of Ireland have seen much in the last ten years that would have been considered beyond the possible in earlier decades.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from even the best of times and Ireland's former high flying prosperity carries with it a cautionary tale that should be passed on to the next generation - along with all the post-boom debt.

Northern Ireland faced into this new century with every reason to believe that the 21st would be better than several of its predecessors.

While we can easily compare decades to previous decades, with the politics of the island of Ireland we invariably find ourselves drawing on longer time spans.

But in talking about just the past ten years, it's clear that there has been very significant progress in the North, even if much of the early days euphoria has evaporated and some bad old political habits have either survived, or have been revived.

Clearly, the year ahead will be an important one if for no other reason than the need for full devolution of policing and justice powers to Belfast. We shall see.

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