The British and Irish governments must "rediscover their concerted and often visionary approach" to move politics forward in Northern Ireland, the head of the North's Community Relations Council Peter Osborne has said.
Mr Osborne, adopting a relatively optimistic approach at a time of political deadlock, said next year may offer an opportunity “out of crisis” and a time to strengthen the peace process.
In a New Year statement, he said 2018 “could well be a seminal year”.
“There is no inevitable forward flow to the peace process. But there are times when a critical point is reached; times for big decisions and step change. Twenty-eighteen may be the year to push on or run the risk of a withering impact.
“Opportunity can come out of crisis. Twenty-eighteen may be the year for a seminal and positive step change. It needs leadership, will and imagination,” he added.
Mr Osborne said that civil society in Northern Ireland was well placed to deliver seminal change, but it needed support from a “functioning and motivated political sector”.
As Dublin and London exert more pressure on the DUP and Sinn Féin to reach a new year political compromise, Mr Osborne said: “We are 20 years into a 50-year-plus peace process, and we must continue to invest energy, focus, time and funding.
“We must keep moving forward with a clear and credible path for reconciliation that overcomes a debilitating disillusion; and that deals with issues including segregated housing, segregated education, and how we commemorate the past. And whilst much positive work is happening in these areas, much more needs to be done,” he said.
“This is not a game, and everyone with a stewardship and safeguarding role needs to realise those responsibilities. Input from the two governments has always been critical. It is in all our interests that they rediscover their concerted and often visionary approach of the past,” he added.
While there were still major challenges such as divided communities, paramilitary attacks, hate crime and legacy issues unaddressed, he said the “opportunities for significant progress is still there”.