Have you been lying awake at night worrying about how our poor MLAs are going to manage without their salaries if Stormont collapsed?

A rather sarcastic introduction to this week’s column, perhaps, but the fact that such a remark would cause a wry smile of irony to pass many lips tells a tale in itself. Such has been the disillusion with politics over the past decade, the fact is that more and more people are staying at home at election time.

And is it not significant that while we watch the latest Stormont crisis unfold and snort with cynic derision, a common theme I’ve heard from ordinary people is frustration and folks wondering out loud if the Assembly would really be missed?

What do you think? Would it? If they locked the doors of the big house up on the hill, saving bucketloads of dosh, sure what odds. Politicians wouldn’t be missed, would they? So, who cares?

Well, you should care. Politics and politicians do matter.

For those of us old enough to remember, the old Stormont parliament was closed in 1972 and a series of Ministers arrived from Westminster to run this place. They didn’t make much of a fist of it, hampered to be fair by a backdrop of decades of the bloodiest violence imaginable.

Direct Rule was to last 26 years until the new Assembly was up and running, and after a few false starts locally-elected representatives are making decisions for local people.

If you read Stormont files in this newspaper most weeks, you will see that, actually there is plenty of work going on. And in defence of politicians, not many of them are in it for a cushy career.

The problem for us is the quality of the business being done overall, and it would seem that the dysfunctional nature of politics here is resulting in a wasted opportunity for our, yes our, representatives making a real difference to people’s lives.

For example, I read the excellent reporting on the detail data website about the incidence of domestic violence in the Province. The website, www.thedetail.tv reports that the head of the Women’s Aid refuge told them that it is “an absolute disgrace” that refuges for women escaping from violent partners in Northern Ireland are full 365 days of the year.

Yet investigative journalist, Kathryn Torney writes: “Health Minister Simon Hamilton told Detail Data that the domestic abuse strategy has been endorsed by his department’s top management group but added that consideration is now being given to how the strategy’s aims may be progressed ‘in the exceptionally difficult financial environment we all face’.” Ah, no money to protect people in danger, but plenty to protect the flag-wavers. The Detail previously reported that an £80 million poverty fund was frozen for years by what insiders claimed was a row over whether more of the money should go to poor Catholics or poor Protestants. And that three campaign groups are challenging the continuing political failure to deliver policies to tackle poverty, racism, and homophobia in Northern Ireland.

The nature of our divided society is reflected in the make-up of the Assembly and the agenda they pursue often ignores real deep-rooted issues such as these.

And this fundamental division now even threatens the future of the institution itself – 21 years after the first IRA ceasefire.

The latest crisis has been precipitated by the murders of Republicans Kevin McGuigan and Gerard “Jock” Davison in Belfast.

The assessment that the IRA still exists, but is not involved in terrorism, was seized on by Ulster Unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt. It was undoubtedly for political advantage and, sure enough, the DUP had to respond.

That’s politics. But, that doesn’t absolve Republicans. Frankly, nobody really accepts that the IRA has “gone away, after all you know”; it doesn’t really wash with many people, especially families who have suffered at their hands in Belfast in recent years. The statement by Bobby Storey that the IRA was a caterpillar that had become a butterfly and flown away wasn’t just crass; it was ludicrous.

The great Muhammed Ali used to say he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” And Unionists and the rest of society need to know what sting the Republican movement is still capable of inflicting.

Sinn Fein has a strong political mandate, and this current controversy doesn’t remove that; and many Republican politicians deserve credit for working so hard to make politics work here. In the history of Northern Ireland, certainly in my lifetime, there is an opportunity for both sides of the community to feel included to play a part in creating a better place.

In some ways, though not to minimise the problem, the existence and role of the IRA is one that could be addressed relatively easily through technical monitoring processes. And indeed, through courage and goodwill by the leading parties.

An election won’t solve it. All it will do is result in similar power blocks being returned to Stormont. Ok, it will be interesting to see what inroads the Ulster Unionists can make into the DUP, or how will the Sinn Fein vote hold up; but at the end of the day Unionists and Republicans/Nationalists will end up sharing power and facing up to the same issues.

Welfare reform, flags, the past, plus bread and butter issues.

And more fundamentally, can we make any progress on a shared society? Can we respect each other and live together? The signs aren’t good, if the past two decades of politics are anything to go by.

But, the prize is too great, is it not?

As the Chief, Sitting Bull said: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”