“For much of the time, the Stormont Assembly looks more like a talking-shop.”

With the announcement on Girdwood [and any other business? – Ed] as a stark example of the semi-detached polit-bureau back in action, Ed Curran looks ahead

The mark of the Stormont Executive has been its ability to take longer than could be imagined to arrive at decisions on many important issues.

No agreed legislation means little, or nothing, to debate in the Assembly chamber. MLAs have been hard-pressed to stretch out debates in plenary sessions in recent months. For much of the time, the Stormont Assembly looks more like a talking- shop.

We are told that legislation is coming down the pipeline. On the evidence to date, it is a slow drip and far from satisfactory.

Stormont’s greatest achievement has been in the preservation of peace in Northern Ireland, but the point has come where more is required.

That means we are likely to see a welter of legislation in the next year or two, in contrast to the failure of the Executive to govern effectively and decisively to date.

The Executive and Assembly has got until the next election, in 2015, to prove that devolution really delivers and is not simply a costly, bureaucratic, over-manned replacement for direct rule.

The two main parties are incentivised to barter behind closed doors in an effort to unblock the pipeline of future legislation.

Maybe that is the only way forward for Northern Ireland – the politics of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you agree to scratch mine’. Where it leaves the other three parties in the Executive is anybody’s guess.

At best, the deals between the DUP and Sinn Fein amount to political pragmatism in a divided society. At worst, they ensure our divisions will never go away.

As Lord Justice Girvan said yesterday in January

A working democracy must have in place effective mechanisms for holding the Executive to account if its conduct, actions and practices fall below appropriate standards of good and fair administration.

Indeed.