Statements from the Stormont Executive’s press office don’t tend to set the blood racing.
But even by the Executive’s modest standards, Thursday night’s statement after a hyped seven-hour meeting of the five main parties was particularly insipid.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have regularly accused journalists of being unfairly critical of the coalition they head up but it would be hard to spin Thursday’s release as anything other than a bland statement of almost universally-accepted principles – such as opposition to attacks on the police and support for the rule of law.
The five-sentence statement reads like something which started as a dull civil service statement but which the leaders then spent seven hours toning down.
Peter Robinson, probably sensing the public mood ahead of the event, said the night before the meeting that it could only be useful if it went beyond talk and produced “action”. He proposed a public consultation and review of flags.
Judging the meeting by the First Minister’s standard, it failed because the only part of the agreed statement which even vaguely resembles action is the commitment to another meeting, hardly something which is likely to persuade the protestors that they should give up.
Though none of those present at the Stormont talks will do interviews, sources suggest that it was Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party who refused to negotiate about flags while under threat.
Unionists refused to sign up to a joint statement with the parties who voted to slash the number of days the Union Flag flies at Belfast City Hall, arguing that in a climate where protestors are not listening to unionist leaders, they were unlikely to welcome unionists joining forces with Sinn Fein to call for the protests to end.
There is logic to that because Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness released a joint statement on Sunday night calling for the protests to end and, if anything, it seemed to incense those organising the demonstrations.
By all accounts the meeting was heated, something which is to be expected given what the parties have been saying about each other over recent days.
So, despite the weak statement which it culminated in, Thursday’s meeting may have been a necessary clear-the-air opportunity before the real talks begin in January.
Each of those parties have faced difficulties over their handling of the flag vote and protests. It is unlikely that any party saw the situation escalating as it has and it is difficult to tell exactly who comes out of it worst – though unionism has been undoubtedly damaged by the violence.
One unionist source suggested that Alliance was privately aware that it had lost support because of its vote to only fly the flag on designated days; Alliance says that scores of new members and thousands of pounds in donations have come its way since the crisis erupted almost three weeks ago.
While there has been great focus on the open split in the UUP, there is a less obvious but more significant split opening up in the DUP. The party leadership – through both Mr Robinson and Arlene Foster – have made very clear that the protests should be suspended or taken off the streets.
But others, especially many more traditional DUP members who joined a party of protest, are privately less than happy at being told not to protest in support of their national flag.
The party insists that any of its members present at protests are there to keep protestors peaceful or dissuade them from protesting. But in some cases – such as Belfast councillors Ruth Patterson and William Humphrey – they appear to be out in clear support of the protest.
Those mixed messages are unusual in today’s slick DUP.
But as the party increasingly becomes the broad church which the UUP has been, such strains are only likely to become more pronounced, providing a challenge to a leader whose vision is to not just keep the current party together, but extend its support base to take in pro-Union Catholics.