But the politicians of that region deserve credit as well as disapprobation. While they have not moved with the haste many people hoped for, they have, by and large, persevered with the peace process through some very testing times.
We welcome the resurrection of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont this week. The 2002 collapse of the devolved institutions remains a murky business in which Denis Donaldson, the Sinn Fein official and British spy who was murdered last month, played a central role. But whatever the truth at the dark heart of that episode, it is long past time that the Assembly got back on its feet.
The reintroduction of the Assembly represents only part of the journey towards full devolution, of course. The real test will be faced between now and the deadline of Nov. 24 imposed by the Irish and British governments for the formation of a new power-sharing Executive.
If the parties do not reach agreement by that date, they will then face the indefinite suspension of all the institutions while the governments work towards implementing other aspects of the Good Friday agreement. (Members of the Stormont Assembly would also have their salaries stopped in such a scenario.)
Some genuine concerns still remain – republicans are anxious about policing arrangements in the new Northern Ireland and unionists are still not wholly convinced of the republican movement’s bona fides.
But all sides can be certain that those issues will never be resolved in the absence of dialogue. It is vital that both Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party find within themselves the generosity to surmount these obstacles.
The Assembly came together last week in an atmosphere relatively free of enmity. It was, in fact, tragedy that produced civility – all members observed a minute’s silence for Michael McIlveen, the 15-year-old Catholic boy murdered in Ballymena on the weekend before last.
Such dignified conduct reflects well on all Northern Ireland’s politicians. If the same spirit animates proceedings in the months ahead, a lasting peace should – finally – take root.