Yesterday this blog expressed the optimistic hope that the humbling of another one of Northern Ireland's political families could lead to a more realistic and less tribal form of political discourse. However yesterday's hope may have been naïve. As this blog put it: "A first, and quite obvious, test of the chances of new humbler engagement between the two political blocks will come very soon" – that test was to be, of course, the meeting yesterday between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to discuss movement on the transfer of policing and justice.
Today it is reported that "no progress has been made during talks to resolve the policing and justice dispute …"
Tomorrow, therefore, Martin McGuinness will brief the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle accordingly. Added to this mix must be the comments (unreported on the DUP website) from Maurice Morrow, DUP MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, in which he said "there will be no devolution of policing and justice during the lifetime of this assembly….it is not going to happen and that is it. It will not happen before the general election or the assembly election. It is not an issue."
Sinn Féin has been consistently frustrated in its attempts to make progress on the transfer of policing and justice. The DUP has delighted in this frustration, reporting gleefully that they had blocked Sinn Féin. But ultimately Sinn Féin's patience must wear out, and when it does, the risk is that it will trigger a collapse of the institutions, or at least a fresh Assembly election. And that is something that the DUP surely do not want, particularly at this moment.
Sinn Féin's options are relatively limited. The party could collapse the institutions, freeze them, or accept the DUP continuing humiliation of them. No rational person could envisage that third option being followed, at least without some compensating movement elsewhere. But there is no evidence of compensating movement. So it appears that the outcome of this weekend's Ard Comhairle meeting will be a mandate for either the collapse or a strategic go-slow operation of the institutions. Sinn Féin is unlikely to repeat history by applying a blanket freeze on the Executive, as it did last year – it is much more likely, over the past few months, to have drawn up a plan to block issues of specific importance to the DUP. The DUP would naturally respond, and then the freeze would become complete.
The situation is approaching that of a Mexican stand-off, and the blame for it lies entirely with the DUP. That party has failed to understand either the collaborative nature of the new political arrangements in the north, or the basic political skills required to co-govern. It remains mired in the mindset of the past, and cannot see beyond its visceral hatred of nationalists. 'No surrender', 'not an inch', and 'Ulster says no' may have served it well in its climb up the greasy pole, but they are woefully inadequate political positions when you actually exercise power.
Sinn Féin, playing a long game as usual, are letting the DUP prove the truth of Charlie Haughey's famous put-down of Northern Ireland as a 'failed political entity'. They have successfully marshalled every other voice, without any exceptions, into supporting the transfer of policing and justice. The Irish, British and US governments, the churches, the business world, even the Chief Constable of the PSNI – all are on record as supporting, or not opposing, the transfer. Unionism, of all shades, is opposed. So if (or when) the institutions collapse over unionist intransigence on the issue, unionism will get the blame.
Lemming-like, unionism seems incapable of doing what is necessary to survive. Paralysed by fear of being branded Lundies, fear of the TUV, and fear of change – and consumed by their irrational hatred of even moderate nationalism – the DUP are likely to destroy themselves and the whole unionist project.