Nationalist and unionist cynicism is responsible for these grotesque caricatures

They say that the creepiest place on earth is the Aokigahara Forest in Japan, home to the damned hordes of yūrei, or ghosts of the dead.

Drawing the short straw for Northern Ireland in any cabinet reshuffle must often feel like a one-way ticket to that mythical Sea of Trees: Once a Secretary of State goes in, they seldom make it out. Certainly not with a plausible reputation.

James Brokenshire, now officially in a reflective mood, must be mournfully aware of this.

Theresa Villiers and her genuinely endearing, strained smile have been missing, presumed dead, for almost a year now. Occasionally, within the dark spaces of Hillsborough Forest Park, something rises up and rattles around the woods in a terrible, shrieking crescendo.

But, nobody hears. Nobody listens. Nobody talks.

Lenny Kravitz’s iconic hit ‘Fly Away’ was fittingly released in 1998, but the risk of our own politicians deciding to roost up in the treetops of temporisation was downplayed by Arlene Foster on Tuesday:

“We will [actually] keep working over the summer months to try to get agreement and come back again in the autumn.”

Foster’s deciduous words are genuinely upsetting. Their textured bark generates a feeling inside that essentially says “So, you mean… that’s that, then?”

The entire process is a delicate one but putting the Talks resolution on the long finger, this time, is another poke in the eye for a loyal and (increasingly) masochistic electorate.

Theresa May should just pull the plug entirely. The entire mess might just finally drain away and wash out into the Irish Sea. Charlie Lawson wouldn’t have to worry about how many counties there are in Ulster then.

All that would be left are the gnarled and wet roots of blackened hope, and the chainsawed tree-tops of circumcised progress.

If anyone anywhere possesses a scrapbook of a time when our parties were actually able, or willing, to be pulled, pushed and cajoled, they’d smile thinly.

Fond moments, with meaningful Memories of Mo and Pictures of Peters, Hain and Mandelson, would stare up from the pages inside. (Scratch that last one – sure we didn’t really like him that much, did we?)

If those seminal figures of the peace process embodied the terms Strong and Stable, then their recent contemporaries in the office of Secretary of State have been to look like painted pastiches with a poisoned chalice.

But make no mistake: it is the artists of nationalist and unionist cynicism who are responsible for these futile caricatures.

The image of Foster’s Saturday morning wedding trip and Adams’ afternoon attendance at the equality march was indeed a beautiful marrying together of two distinctive styles; a post-conflict post-modern composition you might call it!

An oceanful of warnings and ramifications and blame have been frequently uttered in the first half of this week. Michelle O’Neill yesterday sought to clarify the current impasse, citing it as a “consequence of the DUP supporting the prime minister”.

The grand old Oak Tree of her party, An Máistir Puipéad, Gearoid, stared stoically ahead. You could barely see his lips move.

The DUP leader said on Monday that“[Sinn Fein] can lead us inexorably towards direct rule, and they know the consequences of that.” When Mrs Foster spoke to the media her collar was up, the tone was raised and her words sparkled sharply like the bejewelled suit of Elvis himself.

Brokenshire yesterday began that relentless garden path expedition to Direct Rule, by implying that he might soon implement an NI Budget from Westminster itself.

Yes; a little less conversation and a little more action please. Thank you very much.

The restless irritation of the Thistle and The Dragon across the water should also be calmed. There is no threat from this inconsequential Island outpost.

On talks that have gone on for far too long, a logical person would now surely expect a focus on the finer details of deals, compromises and potential legislation and implementation.

But the timeless Us and Them politicking has obscured our vision: We’re seeing, not enough wood, but too many trees.

The political waters lie cold and still at the moment, numbed by the chilling effect of the latest deadlock. But the worry of what lies beneath is bubbling beneath the surface.

It’s clear that life vests will be mandatory if our Political Institutions have any chance of staying afloat, in our very own Sea of Trees.

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