Squabbling and name-calling are par for the course when it comes to politics. Even the coalition at Westminster isn't always a harmonious single entity. But where it differs from Northern Ireland is that it gets its work done. That is more than can be said for the power sharing Executive at Stormont. Even the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, admits to be embarrassed by its dysfunction.
He argues, of course, that the fault lies with the other major party, the DUP, and he accuses its leader, Peter Robinson of dancing to the tune of extreme loyalists. He also points out that the coldness between the two parties is not just on policy but is personal, with three quarters of DUP MLAs refusing to acknowledge him when they meet in the corridors of power. Many people will wonder how we got to this position. We thought, understandably, that local politicians had crossed the Rubicon in 1998 when they signed the Good Friday Agreement, and then underscored that quite astonishing achievement in 2007 when the DUP and Sinn Fein agreed to share power.
Mr McGuinness admits he had a good relationship with former DUP leader Ian Paisley, but says that his relationship with Mr Robinson is simply workmanlike. Whatever the reason for the frost in the Stormont air – personal or electoral – it is a worrying development.
Both parties can veto any progressive policies – Sinn Fein is just as capable as the DUP of throwing a spanner in the works both inside and outside the chamber – and potential investors, for example, will feel the chill and could decide to go elsewhere.
There is a sense that the relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein has deteriorated beyond the normal rough and tumble of politics, and the fear now is the huge leaps of faith – taken by both politicians and the public at large throughout this island 15 years ago – are not going to be fully realised.
There is too much at stake to allow those hopes to crumble and the politicians of all parties must redouble their efforts to make Stormont work.