After recent events it would be very easy to assume that the Stormont Powersharing arrangements are in jeopardy. However, I don’t believe that’s going to be the case.

When Michelle O’Neill assumed her position as First Minister of the newly-restored Northern Ireland Assembly, Saturday, February 3, 2024 became the day that changed everything – not just symbolically, but practically, too.

It’s not just the fact that she’s the first woman from a Nationalist or Republican background to hold the position.

She’s also just the second female to ever take charge of this administration in just over a century of on-off governance from that grand building on Belfast’s outskirts.

Equally significantly, she is working alongside Emma Little-Pengelly as Deputy First Minister.

Things have come a long way since women made cups of tea in the back rooms of politics.

And if I remember rightly, that’s a comment once heard on a documentary that I watched about Ian Paisley and the DUP.

On the Nationalist and Republican side, stretching back as far as Constance Markievicz through to Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey and beyond, women have always played a major part.

Mind you, when I once suggested that to a work colleague in Belfast, she said: “Aye – banging the bin lids.”

True in certain places and particular times, but when you’re given no voice, maybe you’ve got to bang the bin lids to get heard.

Besides, both sides of ‘the great divide’ seem to love a good bin lid-banging match at more decibels than health ‘n’ safety would ever allow.

Importantly though, Michelle O’Neill isn’t engaging in any kind of whatabouttery. Instead, she’s been trying very hard to come across as a leader for all the people.

And she’s done that right from the moment of her carefully crafted maiden speech.

Acknowledging the suffering of all sides in a conflict that is now yesterday’s, she spoke of the need to move towards a shared future.

Strikingly too, she talked of “this place we call home, this place we love’ – a marked departure from Sinn Féin being seen by Unionists as a party that historically cannot say the words “Northern Ireland”.

It was hugely symbolic then for a Republican First Minister to speak of a “Northern Ireland, where you can be British, Irish, both or none”.

Having taken up the baton of leadership, she showed a politically mature recognition that everyone is equally entitled to their own visions not just of the future, but the here and now.

And that’s where we’re at, and likely to stay.

There are so many things that need to be fixed at a local level that Westminster politicians aren’t the main focus any more.

In fact, with the state of play in a British Parliament that’s slowly dying on its feet, the old guard of “no, nay, never, no more” seem quite impotent right now.

If turned to a Spitting Image puppet, they’d be a red-faced man in a grey suit spitting rage, demanding to be made Home Secretary for the 1690s.

It’s no wonder that even the Apprentice Boys have turned to satire beneath the banners and saltires.

Last weekend, when passing through a certain village on their way to Enniskillen, a marching band in Peaky Blinders caps were playing ‘The Irish Rover’.

I almost half expected the TUV to come up the road doing a conga of rage behind them.

But seriously, everything just feels like it’s moving on.

Emma Little-Pengelley can turn up at a hurling session in West Belfast, and it doesn’t mean that five years from now, Glentoran Gaels will be playing Portadown Padraig Pearses in the Irish Cup Final.

Similarly, Michelle O’Neill can stand for the British National Anthem without it changing anything of her own political views.

Just the same, you can listen to flutes and drums without becoming an Apprentice Boy.

After all, if somebody’s listening to Country ‘n’ Western, it doesn’t necessarily make them a cowboy.

Other places in the world recognise that, but this corner has been slow on the uptake. However, it seems to be learning fast.

Apart from those who cling to the past, the direction of travel’s shifting – and it has been shifting for a while.

Most of all, the focus is shifting towards local politics and local issues – dare I say it, politics centred on the island of Ireland, rather than across the water.

Many times, it’s been said – and ever truer – people now care more about bread-and-butter issues than the symbolism of abstract things such as Irish Sea borders.

Public services are at breaking point, with devastating levels of poverty and disability in the region, according to research by the Trussell Trust.

Therein it was discovered that one in six people across Northern Ireland had faced some form of hunger or food poverty in the 12 months preceding the summer of 2023.

A large part of that can also be attributed to the UK Treasury, with the incompatibility of the UK-wide Barnett budgeting formula to the particularities of the Northern Irish context.

However, the absence of governance and political accountability in Stormont exacerbated this.

For too long, Northern Ireland has been a place apart from the rest of the UK for political and cultural reasons, but since the political earthquake of Brexit, it has also become a place that is economically apart, too.

These are the things that people want to see fixed. They want roads without potholes, and local surgeries with doctors.

Obviously, many people still care about constitutional issues, and there is most likely a Border poll looming on the horizon of this decade, but we are where we are, with two capable women at the helm.

Even before the events of Easter weekend, Jeffrey Donaldson’s life seemed to centre around London, Westminster and whatever lifestyle goes with it.

He’d left the local politics of Lagan Valley in the hands of Emma Little-Pengelly.

And now, both Michelle and Emma have moved away from what’s often referred to as ‘ideological purity’.

That phenomenon of seeking perfect solutions for one side has toxified the tides of change brought about by the 1998 Belfast Agreement for far too long.

Some of Northern Ireland’s parties have seemed criminally slow in understanding Otto von Bismarck’s famous statement that “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best”.

Seeing the leaders pragmatically working together here, and just getting on with things (at last), is reason enough to welcome seeing them striving for their own shared next best.

Paul Breen is @CharltonMen on Twitter/X