Take a stroll through Stormont. Have a seat.
Wherever you go there is a conversation and the question. What’s happening?
Yet the real question is: What happened? Now, among some, there is a sense of panic.
No one blinked in the “game of chicken” and, on Thursday, at Stormont Sinn Fein again made its position clear.
Monday will pass without a nomination for Deputy First Minister. “We need to move to an election,” Michelle O’Neill said.
Yesterday, she had spoken of the need for “fundamental change”.
The thinking, if not out loudly but quietly, is around a salvage operation post the counting of the votes; how to avoid a long period of suspension and direct rule; how, after a very public breakdown in relations, can a DUP/Sinn Fein divorce be avoided?
On Thursday, the two governments were in the Stormont space – Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan. Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster were also in the building.
Flanagan’s assessment is that an election is “even more likely”. He described a window of opportunity, but not a very clear window. It was also “very narrow”.
Almost 20 years after Good Friday, something has gone badly wrong.
Think of those two very different images from Monday.
Martin McGuinness frail, his voice weak, struggling and needing all his energy to answer just a few questions about his resignation as deputy First Minister.
Then, later, that set-piece performance by Arlene Foster sitting by the fireside, scripted, scolding – no longer First Minister as a result of the McGuinness decision, perhaps shocked that in the “game of chicken” she had described that, this time, Sinn Fein had not blinked.
Two governments – disengaged from the detail of the politics of this place for too long – now see a Stormont picture that is in disarray. They have come running, but too late and after too much damage has already been done.
Those listening in will have heard the very public arguments today between Mairtin O Muilleoir and Paul Givan on bedroom tax. The two of them on different pages.
The new beginning for this Executive did not last long. It is now so broken, so damaged, it will not easily or quickly be fixed.
So, what about this New Agreement that could be needed as part of a post-election salvage operation?
Think of what will be thrown onto the table; a reconciliation process, mandatory coalition versus voluntary coalition, flags and parading, an Irish Language Act, the Maze/Long Kesh project, certainty about partnership and power-sharing and don’t forget the legacy process, the impossible issue of the past decade dating back to the Eames/Bradley consultation.
Add to this the RHI fallout, then think how long a negotiation would take to begin to shape that New Agreement.
Is there the new thinking for such; the making of that New Agreement out of old issues, the will to try?
How much more damage could be done in a predicted “brutal” election campaign?
There is no magic wand.
The republican script lines since the McGuinness resignation on Monday have been no return to the status quo and no business as usual.
“If there is no bringing the DUP to heel, then it is moth balls,” a republican told this website. Moth balls for the Stormont institutions.
A senior DUP source told this website: “We believe the republican movement is hunkering down for a period outside government to manage the transition to their new leadership. If you can’t crack something in the next three days, it’s not happening. The election will happen. It solves nothing. It will be bruising. It will be over.”
He means this phase of devolution. Then what?
“A lengthy period of direct rule. We might not be talking months. We could be talking years.”
On Wednesday, the former Stormont MLA and PUP leader Dawn Purvis tweeted: Unionism needs to say that their war is over.
In other words it has to be partnership government or no government.
This is the point at which we have arrived.
There have been too many Fresh Starts and False Starts – Agreements that have become Disagreements.
Alliance leader Naomi Long spoke yesterday of the many “patch ups” that have not worked.
So, the next steps have to be certain.
There is no point or purpose in another Executive until there is an Agreement that will work.
Almost 20 years after Good Friday, it is another of those decision moments.
Is Stormont more important to the DUP or Sinn Fein?
Is it to be make-up or break-up?
Big questions, and not much time to decide.
Take a stroll through Stormont. Have a seat.
All of this is the talk of the place.
In the words of the song, “Totally Amazing Grace”! Eamonn this piece is a meditation on the best to which human nature can elevate itself; oh that it could begin a kindred epidemic! Thank you for the courage and wisdom of those words.
Twenty years ago, a commentator (American senator?) doubted the existence of anyone in Northern Ireland sufficiently endowed with “statecraft” to run the Province; seems like no one has qualified in the meantime.