Few people have as close up a perspective on what divides the DUP and Sinn Fein as David Gordon:
Given the Sinn Fein electoral surge, you can guarantee that unionist unity and unionist turnout will be major themes of the next Assembly poll. And for all its damaging losses last week, it has still, if anything, tightened its grip on unionism, given the UUP’s woes and the TUV’s failure to make inroads.
The last DUP-Sinn Fein Executive collapsed in the most spectacular and acrimonious of circumstances. Yet the two parties still triumphed comfortably over the Opposition. That’s a remarkable situation.
There’s neither much love nor trust between the two after this bruising election. In fact, there never has been. The past ten years have been characterised by controversy, intermittent breakdowns, calling for the ref, and always the alcoholic’s promise of yet another fresh start.
But, Gordon warns, if Stormont collapses like the last time (October 2002), they can expect little help or indulgence from London, Dublin of Washington:
Back in the early years after the 2002 collapse, the talk was of government here being kept in “warm storage” under direct rule. Nothing too radical on the policy front, the place kept ticking along until devolution returned. That changed under Peter Hain, when more controversial policies like water charges were pushed.
The chances are that Tory direct rule would become more like the Hain era sooner rather than later. Secretary of State James Brokenshire might not want to do anything too dramatic, particularly early on, but budgetary pressures will mean that some unpopular decisions can’t be ducked.
Will he look at those policy areas where people here enjoy a better deal than his constituents in England? Will household taxes, student fees and welfare reform protections be in his sights? There’s an awful lot at stake in the talks at Stormont.
Like Haye and Bellew late on Saturday night, we’re all a bit punch drunk already. But it’s the only show in town.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty