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We need a credible Assembly

While frustration over the prolonged failure of the House of Commons to provide viable solutions to the Brexit debacle may be growing, at least the Westminster body is actually considering the main issues of the day.

The Stormont Assembly has been suspended for over 1,000 days, and some pessimistic observers believe it could well into 2020 before a functioning Executive is back in place.

A form of business will get under way today after 31 of the 90 MLAs signed a petition triggering a recall, but, barring an unexpected turn of events, it is likely to be a fairly short session.

There can only be serious concern that important laws on abortion and same sex marriage are due to change without any input from elected representatives at Stormont unless devolution can somehow be put back in place within a matter of hours.

However, the indications are that the attempt to revive our democratic structures will fall at the first hurdle without cross-community support unexpectedly emerging for the preliminary step of electing a Speaker.

Even if a proper debate gets under way, the failure of the main parties to reach any form of prior consensus means that the prospect of ministers being appointed to form an Executive is remote.

It is essential that the key figures get back around the table for meaningful negotiations without delay, although realistically the report of the public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal will have to be published and comprehensively analysed before significant progress can be made.

The Assembly needs to return, but it will almost inevitably collapse again - possibly on a permanent basis - unless the mistakes which led to the collapse of January, 2017, are recognised on all sides.

It became clear at that stage that basic levels of understanding between nationalists and unionists had virtually disappeared and that some unelected special advisers were exercising a completely disproportionate degree of influence on the proceedings.

As DUP figures have belatedly begun to highlight the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, there must therefore be an opportunity to recreate the wider climate in which the 1998 breakthrough became possible.

If respect between the two traditions can be restored, together with an acceptance that our politicians have to work together constructively on behalf of the entire community, then sittings at Parliament Buildings may no longer be regarded as such a novelty.

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