NI Briefing: 'Shadow Assembly', by any other name!
Today Northern Ireland's 108 assembly members took their seats in Stormont for the first time since October 2002. The MLA's were elected over two and a half years ago, and for 40 of them this will be the first time they have taken their seats.
The session began with a minutes silence for Michael McIlveen, the 15 year old boy, murdered in Ballymena.
The MLA's then listened to a letter from Peter Hain, read by the new Speaker Eileen Bell. Ms Bell, an MLA for the Alliance Party, also made clear her intention to refrain from making any political statements in her new role.
Assembly members signed the register, stating whether they were Unionist, Nationalist or other.
No other business was conducted, and most members are expected to attend a rather wet garden party, hosted by Peter Hain at Hillsborough Castle. The dull skies added to the mood of foreboding, no-one quite knows if this assembly will be ready for devolution by the November deadline. Some believe this assembly will be no more than a 'talking shop' and will lend itself to political grandstanding, rather than constructive debate.
Ian Paisley says he will refused to accept Gerry Adam's nomination as First Minister, and Sinn Fein, are reluctant to be involved in any discussions which are not directly aimed at restoring devolved power. The Assembly is due to debate the NI economy tomorrow and it is not known if Mr Adam's and his party will contribute to this debate.
Since all previous negotiations to find political compromise have been conducted in private through intermediataries, it seems somewhat unlikely that the local parties will take the initiative to find a way forward. The onus is on Sinn Fein and the DUP to lead this process over the next few months. The question is can such polarised political entities ever be reconciled and if they can't, what is the alternative?