Is it a case of won’t do or can’t do?
Why is this place stuck in another summer standoff over marching – still unable to walk in step and unable to talk things through?
The Twelfth scenes on the Woodvale Road were a disgrace; shameful, negative, predictable and a complete contradiction of the post-ceasefires narrative of peace.
It was back into the past; nowhere near what the present and the future are meant to be.
Since then, the storyline has been filled with the usual; ‘not our fault’, standoff, stalemate, stuck and struggling for explanation and answers.
Some will say and have said that the Parades Commission is to blame because of its decision to prevent the return leg of a Twelfth march that passes Ardoyne, but that is too easy.
Until the questions of flags, marching and cultural expression are answered, there will always be a need for a parading referee and there will always be controversial rulings; decisions that will hurt and anger one community and then another.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott did not use military support but mutual police aid from other UK forces.
It was about trying to keep some sense of normality within scenes that were anything but normal and certainly not consistent with the idea of new days and new ways.
In 2013 there is still no light at the end of this parading and protesting tunnel, and so this place waits for help and waits for Haass.
It also waits in hope.
The backdrop and background to a new talking initiative is filled with those recent scenes; the bricks, bottles and banners that were part of the Twelfth -the water cannon, plastic bullets and barking dogs that coloured in the picture.
Scratch our surface and scratch our skins and you will find many of the old problems; the things that make this peace unfinished and incomplete.
So, the next step is the arrival soon of US diplomat Richard Haass to chair all-party talks on flags, parading and the past; a dialogue that will have to reach far outside the frame of Stormont politics if it is to find answers.
“I welcome Haass, but I’m concerned about what the Executive will do with his recommendations,” PUP leader Billy Hutchinson told me in a recent conversation.
“Is it realistic to think that the Executive parties will accept those recommendations?” he asked, before answering his own question:
“I don’t think so.”
If this is the outcome, then we are no further forward.
These all-party talks have to make all-party agreements and then sell them to as many as possible.
It is what leadership is about.
The alternative is back to the past; back to some other spot next week or next month or next year – to another scene where marching stands still at some police line and with some protest literally a stone’s throw away.
Of course this Haass initiative is not just about north Belfast; not just about what walks or doesn’t walk there.
The challenge is about something much bigger; an overall marching template, agreements on flying flags (all flags where and when) and some framework within which the questions of the past begin to be answered.
Again to quote Billy Hutchinson we need to move from “horse trading” to “resolving issues”.
Doing that means everyone and every side will have to give.
No one, no side, is going to get everything it wants. This is a reality of negotiation.
On a recent visit to the Short Strand the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness spoke of a lesson learned in his home city of Derry:
“When you show respect it brings results and rewards for everybody,” he said – “and the outcomes have to be outcomes where everybody can feel that they were rewarded as opposed to being penalised.”
He also spoke against any notion of using numbers to get your way:
“The republican community in Derry could have ended Orange marches ten years ago,” he said – “could have ended Apprentice Boys parades 10 years ago.
“We took a conscious decision that we weren’t interested in that, that we wanted to bring about a scenario where people had the opportunity to have their culture recognised and respected,” Martin McGuinness said.
He knows, as we all know, the numbers game is no way forward – not in Derry and not on the Woodvale Road.
These issues need something more thinking and thoughtful than that.
Talking at all the levels of leadership can begin to move us from the mind-set of cultural war and closer to a cultural peace.
It can’t always be about who got what.
It has to be about everybody getting something, and it can’t always be about blame and fault.
The Parades Commission, the Chief Constable, the Secretary of State are easy targets for those unable or unwilling to make the next steps and decisions in this process.
Haass will be here soon bringing with him outside thinking and ideas.
He can mould the clay, but only when he knows what shape the leaders of this place – political, community, church, republican and loyalist – want to make.
We can have something looking into the past or something that looks up the road towards something different and at something that challenges us all.
Which is it to be?
To that question, there is only one answer.
(You can follow Brian Rowan on Twitter by clicking here)