If you are looking for the moment when the politics of this place began to turn in the wrong direction, then just think back to this week a year ago.
November 8th – the unveiling of a portrait of the Queen by the highly acclaimed Irish artist Colin Davidson and Martin McGuinness present at that London event with other political leaders, including Arlene Foster.
None of us watching on television, or reading the various posts on social media or the many news reports blinked an eye.
We had come to expect this sort of thing; take it for granted and turn the page to whatever was next; but we were missing something.
Out of our vision and hearing, there was a mood change; a questioning among significant republican figures of Martin McGuinness’s presence at this event.
It had nothing to do with the Queen, whose contribution to reconciliation had long since been acknowledged; nothing to do with the artist, whose 2015 exhibition ‘Silent Testimony’ was praised as a remarkable contribution; a memorial crafted in the care and the colours and the brush strokes that Davidson applied to those 18 portraits.
Tens of thousands of people visited the Ulster Museum to hear the silence and to see into those talking eyes.
In this exhibition, the artist had remembered things long since forgotten; the people he painted all had stories to tell about the horrors of the conflict years and the hurt that simply refuses to go away.
This was not about the past, but, to borrow Davidson’s words, it is about “right now.”
To return to November last year, and the unveiling of his portrait of the Queen, the focus of republican questioning was on the unionist political leadership; on what was coming back – or not coming back – in terms of healing and reconciliation.
Peter Sheridan – Chief Executive of the peace-building organisation Cooperation Ireland – had organised the London event and, soon afterwards, met Martin McGuinness again:
“His concern was the continual reaching out. He didn’t see himself reaching out to the Queen, but reaching out to unionism through meeting the Queen.
“Republicans didn’t see that reaching out being reciprocated in any measure – [rather] a lack of generosity from the DUP,” Sheridan told the eamonnmallie.com website.
This is the mood that played into that period late last year turning into the New Year; the unfolding story of the RHI débâcle now under the spotlight of a public inquiry; the Martin McGuinness resignation as deputy first minister; the collapse of the Executive; the elections since; the endless negotiations and still no agreement.
Now read from November 8th 2016 to November 8th 2017 – and the headline on Jim Gibney’s Irish News column on Wednesday of this week: ‘Republicans will ask: Is the north ungovernable?
Gibney is a former prisoner and a veteran of the republican movement – now PA to Senator Niall O Donnghaile.
The final paragraph of his column sums up the mood: “After ten months of interminable and frustrating talks with the DUP, the question that republicans will now be asking themselves, based on this failed experience: is the north ungovernable?”
November 8th 2017, was also when the people of Enniskillen again remembered the bloody horror of the Remembrance Day bomb 30 years ago; what the IRA did; the murder and the slaughter of that day; the hurting “right now” – the unanswered questions from another broken day that cannot be fixed.
Have republicans said all they can in response to those questions?
NO they haven’t.
Next year, in the period of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Colin Davidson’s ‘Silent Testimony’ will be on exhibition at The Clinton Centre in Enniskillen.
That Agreement is held up worldwide as the political example of how you confirm peace, yet in today’s political play at Stormont, the past and the present are becoming bigger arguments.
For more than a week now, there has been no talking about the talks.
Is there to be another phase of negotiations, or after Secretary of State James Brokenshire moves the budget bill at Westminster, will the focus become some Plan B?
We wait for the next public commentary – and as we wait for that, Stormont moves ever closer to a full year without functioning politics.
In that 12 months span from November 2016 to November 2017, everything changed and nothing has changed since.
Stormont remains stuck.
Is this place really ungovernable?