Politics has long been described as the art of the possible. Northern Ireland is proving that it is the art of the impossible.
Who would ever have believed until a couple of years ago that Sinn Fein and the DUP could be working together in government? Not only working together, but often keen to defend each other against upstarts in the SDLP or Ulster Unionists.
Indeed, sometimes — apart from the rhetoric at election time — it is nigh impossible to get Sinn Fein or the DUP to say a bad word about each other. There might be the odd sly dig, but nothing serious, nothing that would imperil their positions as Northern Ireland’s leading parties.
Although Northern Ireland’s devolved government is now a five-party affair, with the appointment of David Ford as Justice Minister, the real decisions are taken — or more often, not taken — by Sinn Fein and the DUP. This is not a real coalition government, but five parties, each with their own agendas, who muddle along at running the province.
But for all their faults, it is a fair bet that Sinn Fein and the DUP will still be in power and still running this place after the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government bites the dust. Come on, be honest, can you really see it working?
The coalition was only formed because David Cameron was desperate to get into 10 Downing Street and Nick Clegg was desperate to hide an appalling election result. Nick is also as power hungry as David.
It was a case of mutual desperation by two leaders who were able to convince their parties of the value of a coalition. The Tories, having been out of power for so long, just wanted back in at any cost. The Lib-Dems could hardly believe their luck that they were suddenly important, holding the balance of power, and able to grab a few governmental posts.
Both parties were able to put to the back of their minds that they actually hate each other and that their politics have little in common. Needs must and so a deal was struck.
At the moment it might seem to be going well. David Laws was getting set to slash public spending when it was discovered he had dodgy expenses and, er, a gay lover. Will his replacement be as keen?
There is also disagreement over capital gains tax. The Tories will be slaughtered if they go ahead with raising it to 40% or 50% as the Lib-Dems are pressing for. And then there is the question of electoral reform. That’s the big demand from the Lib-Dems. They want some sort of voting system that will turn their votes into more seats.
The Tories had to agree to a referendum on electoral reform and they will have to do it early next year if the Lib-Dems are to stay on board.
For it doesn’t really matter what Nick Clegg says to David Cameron or how desperate he is to be seen as the deputy Prime Minister, the Lib-Dems would turn on him like rabid dogs the moment they feel the Tories are double-crossing them.
After the initial euphoria, the cracks will start to appear in the coalition soon and it could be over even before Northern Ireland next goes to the polls for the Assembly.
Sinn Fein and the DUP is like a marriage made in heaven compared to the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.