In the topsy-turvy land of Northern Irish politics, First Minister Peter Robinson can excoriate Sinn Fein for allegedly allowing the IRA to still exist while writing a letter of support a few days earlier on behalf of a Loyalist paramilitary caught after years on the run.

Robinson sees no correlation between the two events, no contradiction in terms, but in fairness he is not alone. They have a way of doing one-eyed business in the North, what Seamus Heaney labeled “whataboutery.”

The Good Friday Agreement is 17 years old, but the art of compromise at the heart of that agreement, the ability to see the other person’s position, is still sadly lacking.

Instead of growing closer the communities seem further apart, more fractious and ill tempered than ever. It is a cold peace but still far better than a hot war.

The first IRA ceasefire came in August of 1994, an event that transformed the conflict. Again quoting Heaney, this time his epitaph, “Walk on air against your better judgment.” We all did back then.

Sinn Fein is being attacked for allowing some part of the IRA structure to exist. This came to the fore when the Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable fingered possible IRA operatives either past or present, no one knows, in the revenge killing of an alleged drug dealer.

The true reality is that when the IRA went on permanent ceasefire in 2005 there were still dangerous Continuity and Real IRA operatives very much not on ceasefire.

Discussions were held between the British government, the Irish government and Sinn Fein about the need for IRA leaders to defend themselves.

After all, there would have been nothing more enticing to the radicals than gunning down the IRA leadership and taking over themselves.

That never happened, and we can assume one of the reasons was that the IRA leadership had access to guns.

In the event it was a remarkably smooth transition to peace, unlike other Republican feuds.

It was also the art of compromise that such a method was realistically the only way to deal with the possibility of dissidents taking over and restarting the war.

The death of one alleged drug dealer has now dragged up the usual unholy mess. Parties in the south desperate to blunt Sinn Fein are on the offensive.

They never look beyond their own nose and see the catastrophic consequences of losing the elected Assembly in the North. They think only of their own narrow interests.

Robinson actually made quite a lot of sense in his recent article on what will come next, calling for prolonged political talks to find a way out of the mess. He also excoriated the opposition Ulster Unionist Party for walking from the Northern Executive at the first sign of trouble.

There are more than enough reasons why everyone could have walked away from the Northern Ireland furnace many times over the years. Yet somehow the institutions have endured if not flourished.

Robinson appears to see this, and his conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron surely reinforced it. No one wants a return to direct rule, or worse, violence.

So it's time for the big boy belt and trousers and big girl blouse and real negotiation towards a resolution of this crisis. Anything else is a waste of time.

Peter Robinson: No one wants to return to home rule or violence. It’s time for some grown up negotiation.Photocall Ireland