So just what the hell was the whole of last week all about?

Well, if you weren’t confused before, the strangely inconsistent messages leeching out onto two of Belfast’s morning papers would have ensured you are now:

Tonight, it seems like the only sticking point left is over whether Arlene steps down or not. She won’t, and from her own party political point of view she probably shouldn’t. Sinn Fein has no means to make her do it (and never had).

Indeed, a quiet sense of collusion between the two runs through this story.

An independent investigation handily takes the whole politics of the matter out of the hands of the Opposition parties. And, despite all the flim-flam to the opposite effect, it won’t have the powers of a public inquiry to compel witnesses.

It’s pretty much in line with what the DUP themselves suggested before Christmas. Leaving the rest of us to scratch our heads and ask what on earth all of this was about? [Sets his family-sized bucket of popcorn gratefully back in the larder].

If SF has no means to force her to stand aside,  but perhaps some form of words is being cooked up somewhere to spare their blushes. It’s certainly been a strange vaudeville burlesque.

For Arlene, the patina of competence has fallen, and she’s exposed a weakness many presumed wasn’t there. The nature of that weakness (which appears to be a weak grasp of detail) means that is unlikely to be her last embarrassing moment as First Minister.

That abrasive personality of hers put her on the defensive when, as Jim Allister put it, some humility would have carried her much further. And she’ll have serious internal bridges to mend and sort out after all of this dies down. Not least that wee matter of the too many SpAds.

Mike Nesbitt had a reasonable phoney war, articulating alternatives without getting drawn into the fray. Eastwood started well, but was eclipsed by Alliance’s Naomi Long towards the end.

Yet that pre-emptive (hubristic) decision to go for a decapitation leaves them all outside the final denouement.

  1. Sinn Fein clearly missed Martin at the local tiller. Without him, it was a shaky and inconsistent performance with a rotating dramatis personae (and short-lived plans) giving the impression of individuals jostling for his succession.

Advertising the fact the DUP treat them like office juniors suggests that after nine years SF is still a party in search of a reason to be in government. How long will they wave their failure to get an Irish language Act out of the DUP in the faces of their voters?

We await, of course, the possibility of further eruptions before this gets put to bed. But when it does conclude publicly, the opposition parties will need to examine the anatomy of this story and figure out what went well for them, and what didn’t.

No advantage comes easily in any democracy, least of all one where the opposition can never reasonably hope to displace the government. A focus on strengthening their use of accountability mechanisms they already have might be a start.

As for the public, I guess they must be wondering: just what the hell the whole of the last week was all about?

Fresh start? How are ya?