Time for imaginative thinking about switching to voluntary coalition?

For good reason, it makes sense to treat the Belfast Agreement as a key historical document. It does not make sense to treat it as an immutable constitution, not least because as we are seeing now, its provisions are so subject to political whimsy.

Daithi argues it is unionists who are not ready, whilst most other parties willingly concede it is Sinn Fein which does not want to re-engage with the institutions of Stormont. Whatever the case the fragility of our peacekeeping democracy is plain.

As Sam McBride noted at the weekend, even parties who share a platform on progressive social issues are coming to the reluctant conclusion that this is an unsustainable state of affairs

…unlikely voices have joined in what is not quite a chorus but is no longer merely a lone singer. A fortnight ago the Green Party leader, Steven Agnew – someone who politically disagrees with Mr Allister on almost everything – said that it seemed that “Sinn Féin has no intention of going back into government” and that as a consequence voluntary coalition needed to be examined.

One of the most eloquent cases for a voluntary coalition comes from Allison Morris’ column last week, in which she more or less asks Sinn Fein and the DUP to stop pretending and get on with constructing a system that can bear political disagreement:

Mandatory coalition was never intended as a long-term form of government, nor was it intended to have two political enemies in power. It was a forced form of rule originally designed with the SDLP and UUP in the two top jobs.

The change in voting patterns will not be reversed any time soon and neither can the fact that the DUP and Sinn Féin are just too different to share power.

They aspire to very different things, they hold polar opposite views.

It is time they were honest and admitted that sharing power with a party you don’t agree with or even respect will never work on a long term basis.

We do need to govern ourselves but it’s time for imaginative thinking about how we do that with voluntary coalition, despite all the associated risks, now seemingly the more desirable option.

The current talks are never going to produce anything other than a sticking plaster and we deserve better than stop start political dodge ball.

It’s time for Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill to come clean and admit mandatory coalition has had its day.

If we are to have real lasting political peace and respect we need a government of people who want to work together, not one where they are forced to.

That would entail a government without Sinn Fein, an idea they’ve fought tooth and nail in the past. But with SF councillors and MLAs candidly admitting that they have no appetite for selling their record in a mandatory coalition, maybe it’s time?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty