Is anyone else profoundly, stultifyingly, mind-numbingly bored by the saga unfolding at Hillsborough?
From its outset I’ve been cynical about the process. Talks conducted between the DUP and Sinn Féin, Siamese twins bound together by common dependence on dysfunctional carve-up at Stormont, were never likely to deliver a genuine fresh start for power-sharing.
But over the course of the past week cynicism had been replaced by tedium. We have had news of countless ’breakthroughs’, several impending and significant arrivals by prime ministers and even a US foreign secretary, a welter of leaking and spinning which has amounted to nothing.
Meanwhile, at Stormont, Assembly business has effectively ground to a halt. The UUP and SDLP have participated, waiting to be included in the process at Hillsborough, but the DUP and Sinn Féin have been working with skeleton teams. Indeed Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel Dodds and other figures have been consigned to the business of every day politics, seemingly to keep them out of the loop.
On the DUP benches Edwin Poots’ lugubrious little tales about high hedges in suburbia take on added pathos against a near deserted backdrop in which a couple of disconsolate troops can be spotted muttering and intriguing.
Forget suspending politics in Northern Ireland until Peter Robinson sorts out his complicated personal and financial affairs. Despite the province suffering the effects of unemployment and collapsed industry everything else has been forgotten whilst the DUP and Sinn Féin argue about parades and the Irish language.
It is completely in keeping with the nature of the carve-up.
Power-sharing is, in reality, defined by a series of cultural set-pieces between the two sides. That is the nature of community politics as it is now practised in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin and the DUP haggle over their particular cultural preoccupations and the majority, who have no ambitions either to don a collarette and walk through a Republican area or to fill in a car tax form in the Irish language, look on with bemusement.
The reality is that we’ve developed a system which currently manages our differences but does not resolve them and it is fragile and will ultimately prove unsustainable.
Gerry Adams’ yesterday declared that any agreement would represent another ‘staging post’ on the road to a united Ireland. His party sees power-sharing as strictly transitional. It is useful only insofar as it allows republicans to wring concessions out of the British government and unionists.
Without its weapons his party is rapidly running out of leverage but it still has the capability to threaten the very existence of the Assembly when it doesn’t get its way.
And then there are those convenient ‘dissident republicans’ to whom Sinn Féin is, we all wholeheartedly believe, vehemently opposed but who still represent the bogeyman in case anyone forgets where the inevitable trajectory of history should take us.
Unionists, meanwhile, broadly view devolved government as a permanent settlement which can cement Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. Yet commitment to it is also highly conditional.
Martin McGuinness for instance, must not under any circumstances become the First Minister, even with a unionist co-equal. Some unionists, it should be stressed, didn’t negotiate the agreement which made made such a scenario possible, those that did are rightly renowned for hypocrisy.
The whole depressing spectacle looks set to continue for some time yet. The latest rumour is that the DUP faced a wave of resignations had Peter Robinson insisted on ploughing ahead with a deal.
Whatever conclusion is reached there will simply be another crisis down the road, unless something is done to change the culture of the Executive. Either it must be replaced by a genuine coalition or alternative structures must be put in place to allow a voluntary coalition to be formed.