The claim that power sharing at the Northern Ireland Assembly is in crisis may be overstated to suit a very obvious republican agenda, but there is a stark realisation that the two largest parties - DUP and Sinn Fein - operate on different planets when it comes to constitutional, identity and victims’ issues.
Relationships are at their lowest since the two parties became main power brokers in the Stormont executive six years ago and, with four elections at various levels coming up in the next 30 months, there is a marked hardening of attitudes that is not conducive to finding agreement on matters that so sharply divide.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly made the claim that relationships between First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are “not workmanlike”, with the DUP’s belated opting-out of the controversial Maze peace project the catalyst for naked republican ire against that party.
East Londonderry MP and influential DUP strategist Gregory Campbell countered: “Sinn Fein want to have a republican agenda at the heart of what they want and if they don’t get what they want, then they throw everything out of the pram.”
Gerry Kelly, 30 years on from the Maze prison breakout, is clearly, through comments and actions, still totally unrepentant about his IRA terrorist past and he is certainly not the right person to be lecturing or hectoring anyone, particularly unionists and victims’ groups, on a need to broker lasting peace.
With the Haass talks involving the political parties on trying to reach consensus on flags, parades and the past, ongoing unionist/republican internecine conflict is hardly an indicator that a meeting of minds is possible in the present climate.
At the same time, unionism is far from united, confirmed by the fractious, highly personal and regrettable confrontation Peter Robinson had this week with TUV leader Jim Allister in the Assembly chamber. Divided unionism allows a republican agenda to progress and pro-Union leaders must wake up to this reality.