NATIONALISTS across the board, including much of mainstream republicanism, have had doubts and misgivings from the start about the Stormont structures.
Misgiving of late has far outweighed optimism. But by and large the nationalist world has wanted the arrangement to work, for want of better and as a means to an end of the Troubles, the slow evolution of a properly-shared Northern Ireland.
The most lasting problem, from the start, has not been IRA guns under the table, nor an IRA structure that became a freeze-dried husk, in the words this week of the most anti-republican Dublin minister involved in negotiations about decommissioning, Michael McDowell. The problem that has hobbled progress most is, and has been, the state of unionism.
Jim Molyneaux, then leader of the biggest unionist party, baffled many elsewhere when he called the first IRA ceasefire one of the most destabilising events since partition. But the odd statement reflected a widespread instinct that if Protestants could no longer claim to be under attack they would have to strike a deal with Catholics.
Unionists from the start were split down the middle about parity for British and Irish identities, and all that implied. The loudest hostility came from the DUP, which eventually signed up to a revised agreement but again were internally split.
Carried into Stormont largely out of desire for political jobs and to lord it over Ulster Unionism, a sizeable DUP element went in to spoil. The spoilers set the tone: grudging, ungiving, unpleasant. Sinn Féin are not innocents, the SDLP a sorry bit-player.
BBC Spotlight and other exposes including this paper’s investigations have shown a culture of scraping the expenses-barrel with impunity. Suspicion of corruption and the buying of influence is a strong under-current. Stormont is a spoilt institution, devoid of unionist goodwill, lack of accountability, its promise curdled.
Two men are dead because of what looks like bloodthirsty revenge, a mindset that justifies killing carried over from youth spent in an arrogant and callous secret army.
Those violent deaths gave unionism a pretext to get out of a Stormont in which power is at least notionally shared, while professing its own virtue.
Mike Nesbitt may well say that by inviting the SDLP to join his Ulster Unionists in opposition he is suggesting a cross-community alternative to a discredited DUP-Sinn Féin.
But like UU leaders before him, Nesbitt is quick to sign up to pan-unionism, rubbishing Parades Commission curbs on loyal order marches, splitting hairs to deplore flag-protest rioting while blaming the Alliance party for provoking rioters. His is not a leadership that inspires hope of genuine power-sharing. But he had a good Westminster election, installing a liberal and an Orangeman as MP, re-instating the old self-image of Ulster Unionism as a broad church. By pulling his party’s single minister off the executive, Nesbitt can further destabilise a Peter Robinson leadership whose authority has long since departed.
In the same move, he has thrown the SDLP into further disarray, and will stroke a Protestant communal instinct to be done with devolved arrangements that require continuing compromise.
Chief Constable George Hamilton, Theresa Villiers and Michael McDowell might as well not have explained why they credited an IRA caretaker role.
Unionists didn’t like the ceasefire, and they haven’t liked the peace process. It wasn’t their idea.