Zero sum politics at Stormont so ineffectual
In politics, there is talk of the need for a "tri-governmental rescue effort", while some are even thinking about "Plan B".
The stalemate at Stormont on welfare reform and other issues showed itself again in a war of words last Friday.
First, Gerry Adams said the political process was facing its greatest challenge since the Good Friday Agreement. Those words triggered an immediate and terse unionist response, from Peter Robinson, Mike Nesbitt, Ian Paisley and Gregory Campbell.
The first minister accused Sinn Fein of a "self-serving attempt" to distract public attention from the real problems – blaming everyone except itself. He said: "This tired tactic does nothing to solve the problem most likely to bring down the political institutions.
"By far the most damaging issue that has the potential to end devolution is the shameless denial by Sinn Fein of economic realities resulting from welfare reform."
There are many problems at Stormont, with a senior unionist recently telling Secretary of State Theresa Villiers the Executive is in "a dire position". And it's not just about welfare reform. Partnership government exists in name only; flags, the past and parading continue to poison politics. At the weekend, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson suggested there would soon be moves in the "graduated response" threatened after the Parades Commission again blocked part of the return leg of the July 12 march past Ardoyne.
And, on Sunday, police shut down the city centre to get a republican anti-internment march along Royal Avenue and past a loyalist protest.
At a recent festival event in west Belfast, I controversially asked was there "another step" republicans could take. It was controversial for this reason: republicans believe through ceasefires , putting arms beyond use, formally ending the armed campaign, endorsing policing and entering Stormont they've already given a lot. And, they argue, without reciprocation.
So, there won't be any unilateral initiative – and the process won't be rescued without the direct involvement of London, Dublin and Washington.
Brian Rowan is a journalist and author