Parliamentary waffle and bluster leaves nobody satisfied
Last Friday, the Northern Ireland Office summoned the media to Belfast's Victoria Square shopping centre, where Karen Bradley was making a statement and apparently answering questions.
Except nobody was any wiser after the event. The Secretary of State dodged questions on what went wrong at the Stormont talks and whether there had been a draft agreement.
She was equally ambiguous about her government's plans for Northern Ireland now. The line about doing everything possible to get devolution back up and running was rigidly repeated.
There was more of the same unadulterated waffle in Parliament yesterday. Reintroducing direct rule, calling another Assembly election, cutting MLAs' salaries - every issue was decisively ducked. And it left nobody happy.
Sinn Fein said Mrs Bradley's statement represented "failure by her government to uphold its responsibilities to citizens and to implement past agreements". The Ulster Unionists described the statement as "underwhelming" while TUV leader Jim Allister dismissed it as "pathetically weak".
The DUP is clearly itching for the government to take control of the reins in Northern Ireland so it can see movement regarding the £1bn it secured in its deal with the Tories. Civil servants cannot take the policy decisions involved in spending that money on health, infrastructure and education. Expect Arlene Foster to use the muscle that parliamentary arithmetic gives her to shuffle Theresa May down the direct rule road when the two women meet today.
Journalist Eamonn Mallie yesterday published parts of the "draft agreement" between the DUP and Sinn Fein on his website. "On page five under the heading: Respecting Languages and Culture, there is specific reference to the Irish (Respecting Language and Diversity) Bill and the Ulster Scots (Respecting Language and Diversity) Bill and a Respecting Language and Diversity Bill," he wrote. "It has to be stated that square brackets obtain in this eight-line paragraph - meaning it had not yet been signed off and agreed."
DUP negotiator Edwin Poots said his party won't be publishing any of the talks papers as that would "be an act of bad faith". If others wished to publish "elements of the talks", that was their business but it wouldn't "undermine anything the DUP has said in public or private", he insisted. Despite his words, the party seems to be in uncomfortable territory on what its talks team signed up to or seriously considered.
It's ironic that Sinn Fein, which appears to have abandoned so many of its red-line issues like same-sex marriage, is facing so little scrutiny from its grassroots on what it was prepared to accept.