There are increasing fears that the Northern Ireland Assembly will collapse this side of Christmas because First Minister Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party refuses to go ahead with the devolution of policing and justice powers.

Robinson is beginning to resemble David Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist leader, who accepted the Good Friday Agreement and then spent the rest of his political life backpedaling away from it.

Ironically, it took the Reverend Ian Paisley to come into power and take the courageous steps that led to the first power-sharing government.

Now Paisley has retired, we are witnessing Trimble mark II in the actions of Robinson, who faces a right wing backlash against his presence in government with Sinn Féin.

Instead of confronting the critics, however, Robinson is sending so many mixed signals that it is impossible to decipher what he intends to do.

When he was in the U.S. recently for the Clinton Global Initiative, he made it clear that he was standing with Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and that progress was imminent.

He was hardly back in Ireland when the backpedaling from that position began, and a string of increasingly absurd preconditions began to be put forward.

Robinson must learn that if he wants to be taken seriously over here he cannot speak out of both sides of his mouth and send directly conflicting signals.

He claims he is dedicated to economic investment, but no investor worth a salt will go to a country where the first minister cannot make up his own mind about whether he wants the peace process to work or not. 

Worse, Robinson has clearly bamboozled both the Irish and British governments, and they are forced to go along with his bizarre behavior. They need to grasp the nettle and make clear they will not put up with these antics any longer.

One day he promises action on the devolution issue, the next he decides that he will inject more preconditions into his acceptance of the policing and justice step.

It is not a very clever game, and it is certainly one we have seen many times before from Unionist politicians.  Without exception, all those politicians ended up on the scrap heap of history.

It is hard to fathom that there are still members of Robinson’s party, and outside his party, who believe that the good old days of Unionist rule can still be restored to Northern Ireland.

That is essentially what his critics are seeking to do, and Robinson should be confident and strong enough to stand up to the absurdity of this position.

Irish America has watched and waited for Robinson to deliver. Time is clearly running out.

The recent opinion poll by The Belfast Telegraph shows him with 7 per cent support - yes 7 per cent - among Unionists and 0 per cent among Nationalists. McGuinness, by contrast, has 45 per cent support among Catholics and an amazing 11 per cent among Protestants.

McGuinness has gained respect and admiration even from the Unionist community for standing up and being counted, especially when dissident IRA members shot two British soldiers in March and he was direct and convincing in his condemnation.

Robinson has shown no such political courage. It is high time he displayed it.