No sooner had I left Stormont than the parties had agreed a deal which saw government return after a marathon three-year absence.
I am sure, despite what one wag suggested, that my absence had nothing to do with with the new atmosphere of bonhomie and common purpose!
But, it certainly was a momentous day at Stormont on Friday when Arlene Foster and then Mary Lou McDonald signalled their willingness to compromise on a deal which has been torturously negotiated since the awful killing of young writer and activist Lyra McKee in Derry.
Saturday brought even more cheer with the election of Alex Maskey as Speaker – it’s been quite a journey for Alex: from death’s door after being blasted by a shotgun in his home in 1987 to taking the Speaker’s seat at Stormont.
And what a delight to see Deirdre Hargey another former Belfast First Citizen take up the crucial post of Minister for Communities. Now, there is a young, talented politician — and with an impeccable sense of timing. Deirdre was co-opted to take my seat on the Thursday and finds herself responsible for housing, inner-city development and, crucially, our under-pressure arts sector, on the Saturday, Principled, passionate and a real people-person, I wish her every success in delivering seismic change for the entire community.
For me, the highlight was a significant and substantial Irish Language Act. I was tossed out of my first meeting of Belfast City Council in 1987 for speaking Irish – branded by one rival in City Hall as a “leprechaun language”. From Leprechaun Language to Language Legislation has been quite the journey as well.
But let’s park the past and celebrate Irish in future as a shared treasure belonging to all who call this land home.
A red letter day indeed for the Irish language which will now enjoy official status but the return of a government committed to inclusion and powersharing is a much greater breakthrough. Much momentum has been lost in developing our economy, creating a 10,000-student university in Derry, building 21st century infrastructure and tackling our health and education crises.
But now the work can begin anew. There will be much heavy-lifting to do but together our many hands can make light work.
My pal, Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, urges us all to put inclusion above exclusion, in all things including language, as we raise our glass half-full and toast this new beginning. As he puts it in his inspirational blog: