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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
'Chuckle brothers' enjoy 100 days
Thursday marks 100 days since power-sharing returned to Stormont, and political correspondent Martina Purdy has been assessing the honeymoon so far and the prospects for the next 100 days.

Historic day: The two leaders sat side by side at Stormont

David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were quickly dubbed the odd couple when they shared power as first and deputy first minister.

And the honeymoon between Mark Durkan and the Ulster Unionist first minister did not last either.

By the end of their partnership in 2002 a frustrated Mark Durkan was ready to do battle with David Trimble over whether or not there should be flags on license plates here.

In fairness the UUP-SDLP partnership had more strains than just personality clashes: the DUP were refusing to attend Executive meetings and the IRA had yet to decommission, never mind disband.

But with the arms issue settled to the DUP's satisfaction, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness seemed to have giggled their way through 100 days of power-sharing.

Whatever of their public personas, and the chemistry that officials speak of, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness still make an odd, if giddy, couple
So jovial do they appear that one Ulster Unionist has dubbed them "the chuckle brothers." Another critic complained it was a "giggle a day" instead of "a battle a day".

A recent Mori poll, conducted for the Belfast Telegraph, indicated that a majority of Sinn Fein voters believed Ian Paisley was doing a good job, and about 48% of DUP voters felt the same way about Martin McGuinness.

But approval ratings are not universal and certainly the independent MEP, Jim Allister, who broke with the DUP over power-sharing, says devolution has made no difference to direct rule.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness have been getting along well
Mr Allister also claims that it is republicans, not unionists, who have made the gains from devolution.

"It certainly hasn't brought us an end to the army council," he says.

Ian Paisley, naturally disagrees. In a statement, he declared that the new administration was having a positive early influence on issues such as flooding, the foot-and-mouth scare, and attracting investment, not least Aer Lingus.

Mr Paisley added: "Republicans have been forced to give up their weapons, end their terror campaign, support the rule of law and accept partition."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was asked recently for his assessment of Stormont's first 100 days.

He pointed to ongoing problems such as economic inequality and sectarianism before adding: "The fact that the institutions were in place and that you will have 100 days is a huge achievement and fair play to everyone involved in that.

"But it is all a work in progress. I'm minded of when someone was asked what they thought about the French Revolution. They said it was too soon to tell."

Past experience would suggest the honeymoon can't last
There have been precious few banana skins, with Ian Paisley Junior's remarks on gay people the most controversial event so far.

A case can be made to support the notion that devolution has made some difference. The Executive went to Washington and brought back the promise of an investment conference next year.

Some direct rule decisions have been delayed. Ministers have announced reviews of water, rates and councils, and the education minister's decision to put on hold the reform of education boards.

Nurses can thank Health Minister Michael McGimpsey for breaking with London and introducing upfront 2.5% pay hikes.

And flooding victims benefited from funding. Devolution has staved off water bills for a year, at least.

There are tough decisions ahead, and where there is power and money, there is always tension
North-south relations seem friendlier than ever, with the first minister declaring an end to "the ice age".

But past experience would suggest the honeymoon can't last.

Whatever of their public personas, and the chemistry that officials speak of, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness still make an odd, if giddy, couple, and the Executive they lead is not naturally collegiate.

After all, the Ulster Unionists have been exploring ways they can exploit an opposition role while remaining at the table.

The Executive is cash-strapped and faces a plethora of controversial decisions: whether to give the go-ahead to the Maze stadium and the International Centre for Conflict Transformation, how to tackle academic selection, what to do about nationalist demands for an Irish language act and how to finance public services.

The water and rates review will soon come to a conclusion, as will the environment minister's rethink of the seven super-council model.

So there are tough decisions ahead, and where there is power and money, there is always tension.

The trick will be to keep the rows behind closed doors and deliver real change for an expectant population.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Martina Purdy assessing the last 100 days



SEE ALSO
Snapping left to summit photocall
16 Jul 07 |  Northern Ireland
Stormont for beginners
05 Jun 07 |  Northern Ireland
Paisley declares ice-age is over
17 Jul 07 |  Northern Ireland
A benchmark for improbability
08 May 07 |  Northern Ireland



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