Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson (l.) and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness

Is First Minister Peter Robinson serious this time in his Christmas message that he does not want Northern Ireland ruled from London?

As the political crisis over devolving of policing and justice continues, Robinson has once again played the conciliatory card.

"I do not pretend that the government we have at Stormont is perfect – no government is – but it is infinitely more preferable to the only alternative: direct rule, with no say for local people in how we are governed. I have no desire to see the country I love relegated to the status of a colony and presided over by a series of here-today-gone-tomorrow direct rulers, Tory or Labor."

Amazingly, it is a statement that could have been written by any nationalist leader of the past thirty years, and shows how close both sides have become in their outlook of what is best for Northern Ireland.

But there is no certainty that Robinson intends to follow up and try and heal the rift between himself and Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness on many key issues.

There is a tantalizing clue however, in other comments he made in his statement, in which he gives McGuinness a major backhanded compliment for speaking out against the killing of two British soldiers earlier this year.

"The universal reaction of all right-thinking people in our community, including some who had previously refused to condemn such barbarity, showed us that such wreckers will not succeed. Devolved government in its current form might not be the ideal, but it is the best way to make a success of our province."

If Robinson can only see that what McGuinness did then is what is required of him now. That single act of bravery led to a complete rethinking on the part of many unionists about McGuinness. That was proven in a recent opinion poll showing McGuinness had significant support on the unionist side.

Robinson needs to grasp that same nettle now, and do the right thing by the devolved government he leads in Northern Ireland.

The American trips, the chats with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the access to Dublin at the highest level — are all predicated on a good-faith effort to make the process work. They will not continue forever unless political courage is shown. There are many in America who are already dismissive of Robinson as another David Trimble, unable to deliver.

Robinson has been wavering on that point for several months now. It is time to come off the fence and deliver on the program for government.