Do you know that story about the Skibbereen Eagle and the Czar of Russia? In 1898, an editorial in the west Cork newspaper warned Nicholas II that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded.

For almost 90 hours last week it seemed the Czar of Westminster was following the instructions of the DUP Eagle.

The DUP - with one member of the 751-strong European Parliament, ten MPs in the 650-member Westminster Parliament, 28 MLAs in the currently-closed 90 member devolved Stormont parliament - had forced Theresa May to pull back from signing an agreement with the European Union, affecting 28 countries and 550 million citizens.

But then, with lightning speed, the non-negotiable nature of power politics kicked in and the DUP’s moment on centre stage had passed.

It is blindingly obvious that some age-old conventions and protocols have become redundant.

The occupant of the Oval Office has time to indulge his fondness for tweeting unusual messages in the small hours. A kindred spirit In North Korea is firing off missiles with increasing frequency.

The sight of Theresa May, explaining to the European Commission President that she couldn't, after all, follow through on the agreement drafted by their officials seemed to be part of the pattern of night not necessarily following day anymore.

But if you can embarrass the Prime Minister from the mother of all parliaments on a Monday morning, you risk defying the laws of political gravity by threatening to do it a second time four days later.

In midweek I didn't anticipate the decisive advance. Like many in Northern Ireland I’ve become conditioned by the nature of stodge.

A distinguished High Court judge, Sir Anthony Hart, came out of retirement and spent two years chairing an inquiry into how children were abused in a range of institutions. He recommended that the victims who provided harrowing, truthful testimony should be compensated by the state.

But one more Christmas will pass without the cohort of vulnerable men and women receiving even a down payment of the money they were promised.

The impasse in Northern Ireland politics that keeps its power-sharing administration closed is the reason why the Hart recommendations and a wide range of policy initiatives in areas including health, education and infrastructure remain on hold.

The harsh lesson of this week’s events is that Brussels, indeed Westminster, were not prepared to become contaminated by the stand-off politics of Stormont.

Whither now the DUP?

In Westminster, Theresa May’s minority government continues to rely on the support of ten DUP members for its very survival.

But last week may well have seen the consequences as well as the high point of thumb-screw politics.

Some Tory grandees may quietly file away the memory of their Prime Minister being forced - by remote control from Belfast - to equivocate, in full public view, on the European stage. The Labour Party, with its factions and sometimes confusing public positions, is acutely conscious of how DUP support is keeping its rivals in power.

Another profound question surfaces as the DUP wonders if it is on the right side or the wrong side of history. Has it reverted to being a party of outsiders, on the hard right, or has it the instinct to return towards the centre ground, where it gained access to a central if uncomfortable role in Stormont power-sharing for almost a decade?

Inaction as well as intervention will have a role in deciding these issues. They will shape the future and the legacy of current DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Arlene Foster

An able, complex figure, with reserves of stamina and a regularly exercised short fuse, she has become a magnet for attention on a scale to match Northern Ireland controversialists of recent decades, such as Paisley, Adams and McGuinness.

The DUP’s position on Brexit, making it the only Northern Ireland party to support leaving the European Union, was no surprise. It was always a Eurosceptic party and in Westminster its handful of MPs, usually peripheral figures, invariably found their natural soulmates were the anti EU-supporters who stalked John Major and his successors.

The DUP’s founding father, Ian Paisley, showed a pragmatism on the European stage that wasn't expressed on his home patch until the final decade of his life.

True, he berated Pope John Paul II spectacularly in the Strasbourg chamber 1988. But while ‘Never, Never, Never’ remained the Paisley rallying call in Northern Ireland, with the SDLP leader John Hume and the Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson, Paisley formed a lobbying trio that effectively accessed EU funding for their home patch, free of Orange/Green demarcation lines.

Ian Paisley served for 25 unbroken, pensionable years as an MEP. His administrative assistant in Europe for several years was the current party deputy leader, Nigel Dodds MP.

His son, Ian Paisley Junior, was also a familiar face in the Brussels and Strasbourg corridors.

When British prime minister David Cameron announced the holding of the UK’s EU membership referendum on 20 February 2016, Arlene Foster was just two months into the DUP leadership job.

Privately, Cameron's office assured the DUP that he would comprehensively carry the Remain argument.

Cameron was full of his own invincibility. Nine months before in the general election he defied the pollsters and saw off Labour. In the Brexit Referendum he would bury the UKip and Tory Eurosceptic cabal.

Pragmatism suggested that a pro-Brexit stance would strengthen newcomer Foster’s position behind the DUP wheel. Two months beforehand, Sammy Wilson had resisted running in the party leadership race, leaving Foster a free run.

On the home front the most articulate challenge to the DUP was coming came from right of centre, via Jim Allister, the sole member of the Traditional Unionist Voice party in Stormont. (An uncomfortable irony is Allister succeeded Ian Paisley as the DUP's member of the European Parliament in 2004 but left the party over its decision to enter power-sharing with Sinn Féin.)

By positioning the DUP on the Leave side of the Referendum debate, Foster was on the same page as her Westminster MPs and also boxing off the danger of an Allister challenge from right field. It was a measure of the seriousness the DUP attached to Brexit that it put a member of Belfast City Council - Councillor Lee Reynolds - in day-to-day charge of the Northern Ireland campaign.

As voting day approached, the 'it will be alright on the night, trust me' assurances kept coming from Camp Cameron in Downing Street. One DUP stalwart had a four figure bet on a Remain Victory. One DUP Assembly member told me he was voting against Brexit. But when the result came through Cameron’s post-election self-confidence was his undoing. Icarus melted and disappeared without trace.

The DUP were on the winning side in the overall result (52% leave v 48% remain) but in a minority position within Northern Ireland (44 leave v 56% remain).

And since then Arlene Foster has been struggling with the Brexit hoodoo. It played a role in the collapse of power-sharing and the continued closure of Stormont. It prompted Theresa May to call a disastrous snap general election that gave ten DUP members unprecedented influence but potential pitfalls as well as clout.

In Northern Ireland it placed the DUP front and centre promoting a policy rejected by a majority of voters. And it has poisoned relations between the DUP and Dublin.

In the rancorous atmosphere, the DUP have accused the Taoiseach and Tánaiste of aggressive tactics during the Brexit negotiations, where their thinly-disguised agenda is to exploit instability in order to pursue a United Ireland.

The facts would suggest otherwise.

Leo Varadkar spent Sunday 12 November with Arlene Foster in Fermanagh.

Like Enda Kenny before him, he participated in the Remembrance Day services at the Memorial where an IRA bomb killed 12 people in 1987.

He next attended a service in the Presbyterian Church and went with the DUP leader to visit Enniskillen Hospital, where personnel tended the dying and the injured three decades before.

Mr Varadkar then did something never before broached by a Taoiseach. He went to a function in Enniskillen’s British Legion Centre and addressed the gathering, Arlene Foster included.

The enclosed footage is my iPhone record of his speech. It does not chime with the agenda of someone seeking to undermine Unionism.

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Similarly Simon Coveney's behaviour, since replacing Charlie Flanagan as Minister for Foreign Affairs, does not suggest that a descendant of the 'Men of the South Flying Column' as depicted in Sean Keating’s painting, has taken over in Iveagh House.

His comments, that he would like to see a United Ireland in his lifetime, were made when answering a question at the Dáil’s cross-party Good Friday Agreement Committee.

Mr Coveney’s views are usually accompanied by "only possible by consent" caveats and, as set out in the 1998 Agreement, are as legitimate as the right of Unionists to express their wish to keep Northern Ireland British.

In the so-far unsuccessful efforts to restore power-sharing at Stormont, every time the Minister for Foreign Affairs has sought to meet the DUP leader Arlene Foster during visits to Belfast, she has refused to engage with him.

He travels north in his role as a Co-Guarantor of the 1998 Agreement (the Good Friday Agreement to Nationalists/the Belfast Agreement to Unionists).

Mrs Foster says Dublin has no role in Strand One of the Agreement - the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. She sends colleagues like Edwin Poots and Simon Hamilton to meet Mr Coveney but she will not engage. The only Co-Guarantor she will talk to is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin - abstentionists in Westminster and the DUP's rivals in the Stormont bust-up - talk to James Brokenshire as well as Simon Coveney. The cold-shouldering is a reality Mr Coveney has absorbed and processed, without comment.

Writing off the DUP as headbangers, comfortable on the far-right, would be as misguided as the assessment of Irish politics offered by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Sammy Wilson did indeed describe Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney as "not Indians but a pair of cowboys".

When he was Finance Minister in the power-sharing administration, his brief included management of the Stormont Estate.

A request came to him from Gerry Adams, seeking permission to plant a tree in the Stormont grounds.

According to the Sinn Féin president, Sammy's approval came with the quip "it's better to have someone planting trees than planting bombs". But if the East Antrim DUP MP says things others would not dare say, he is an individualist on other fronts too.

By pure chance one Christmas Day I came upon him manning the kitchen of a Belfast Salvation Army Centre, helping to serve up Christmas Dinners for the needy.

Edwin Poots came under fire for his tweet posted in the early hours of Tuesday 5 December "Little Leo needn’t think an unacceptable deal on Monday will be acceptable by Friday."

The same Edwin Poots won respect in many quarters as a competent Minister for Health and impressed even some sceptical Sinn Féin members during recent Stormont negotiations.

The DUP's fondness for argy-bargy surfaced in Westminster on Wednesday 6 December.

Independent Unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, a supporter of the Remain campaign and a widow of a former RUC Chief Constable, said in a House of Commons speech that she "felt deeply embarrassed" for Prime Minister Theresa May when the DUP vetoed her plans in Brussels.

The DUP’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, intervened to say many in Northern Ireland viewed Lady Hermon as being on the side of the Irish Government. From some in the sparsely-populated green benches, there were comments of "shame, shame".

Brexit is not a perfect equation for the Dodds family.

Nigel’s wife, Diane, is the DUP's sole MEP, the successor to defector Jim Allister and before him Ian Paisley.

The Brexit process places her in the invidious situation of hastening her own redundancy, methodically sawing the perfect circle through the ice beneath her.  

A Dublin-born, GAA-loving EU official who has regular dealings with Diane Dodds recently told me she impressively pursued funding for Northern Ireland communities, regardless of their political allegiance.

She and her husband live with the knowledge that in 1996 armed IRA members shot and injured an RUC officer guarding them as they visited their seven-year-old son in a west Belfast hospital. The boy died from his spinal bifida and hydrocephalus condition two years later.

Arlene Foster remains the most important of the DUP team.

17 December will mark the second anniversary of her succeeding Peter Robinson as leader.

For the DUP it was an appointment with potential to expand its brand and popularity - a qualified lawyer, a former member of the Ulster Unionist party, a woman, a member of the Church of Ireland, and like the late Martin McGuinness, she is from west of the Bann, outside the Belfast bubble.

South of the border, the development was watched with interest – Mary McAleese had lectured Arlene Foster in Queen’s University, former Fianna Fáil tánaiste Mary Coughlan gelled with her with they both held the Enterprise portfolio, Brian Cowan and Michael Martin had noted how she was one of the few who stayed by the side of the then DUP leader, Peter Robinson, as they negotiated the devolution of Justice and Policing.

But since the Brexit Referendum result, whether it's a coincidence or something deeper, she hasn't been able to buy a break.

The Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (the "cash for ash" affair) is a DUP-supervised project - Mrs Foster will give evidence to the resultant public inquiry in the spring.

Her "feeding the crocodiles" comment during the row about Irish language provisions galvanised nationalist antagonism and suspicion towards her. 

Soon it will be 12 months since the collapse of the DUP-Sinn Féin administration. The formula to restore it will require the DUP to make concessions in a way it has not done during its decade at the heart of power-sharing and the DUP continues to struggle with that unavoidable reality.

Yet even under pressure, there have been glimpses of Foster, the potential leader.

The late Martin McGuinness once gave an oration at the funeral of an IRA member, linked with the attempt to murder her father. Last March, against the pleadings of one of her closest friends, Mrs Foster travelled to Derry’s Long Tower Church to pay her respects to Mr McGuinness, whose resignation had caused the collapse of their power-sharing administration. She was moved by the warmth of the welcome from mourners. 

In November, her meeting at Belfast’s Culloden Hotel with former US president Bill Clinton, was a rare occasion when Mrs Foster seemed attracted to the role of First Minister, a position she does not currently hold.

The Brexit process is set to influence Ireland-UK and North-South relations for the foreseeable future.The signals coming from some sections of the DUP suggest confrontation will be a factor in the next phase of negotiations .

In the House of Commons on Monday 13 December, Nigel Dodds sought assurances that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" - shorthand for "we will try to get more of our way in round 2".

Three anecdotes recall a time where there was no border between the DUP and its southern neighbours.

In a spontaneous address, delivered at the Battle of the Boyne site in August 2008, Eileen Paisley told of returning from the US on a transatlantic flight and her joy at seeing "home", the green island below her.

In October 2006, the 50th wedding anniversary of Ian and Eileen Paisley coincided with the Saint Andrews talks.

The Irish government had arranged a gift – a wooden bowl, made from a walnut tree, thousands of years old, found on the site of the Battle of the Boyne. The British government had brought a photo album. When Tony Blair spotted the disparity, he sought to become associated with the Irish presentation but Bertie Ahern declined. The Paisleys were deeply moved by the thought behind the Irish choice. 

In December 2015, at his final North-South meeting in Armagh before retirement, the DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister, Peter Robinson, was presented with the nine volumes of Dictionary of Irish Biography by then-taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Mr Kenny also pulled from his pocket an envelope containing two tickets for the Spurs v Arsenal match.

In this new phase of post-political life, Mr Robinson is now an active Board member of the Co-Operation Ireland organisation.

A fortnight ago he was moved to write on his Facebook page in relation to Brexit that "Dublin should wind its neck in".

There was no follow-up posting. 

During the decades when Ian Paisley led the DUP, Peter Robinson was often considered the party’s strategist. When he assumed the leadership role, he further developed the image of moderniser. In 2014 his message to the DUP membership was "stop looking for Lundies (traitors to the Unionist cause) and start looking for converts".

The Brexit process was not initiated by the Irish government but it is happening and is unlikely to be stopped.

Nobody can predict what it will ultimately produce. But as the DUP and Arlene Foster weigh up a future as hard-right outsiders or occupants of the middle ground, Mr Robinson's advice about Lundies and converts may be worth a revisit. 

When tempers are raised, we risk losing sight of our interconnectedness, our complexities and our contradictions. We saw an expression of that equation, in full technicolour on 5 August 2017.

The Taoiseach crossed the porous border and supported a Gay Pride event in the nominally most pro-British region of the UK where, uniquely, same-sex marriage is not permitted.

Next April will see the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast/1998 Agreement. Sinn Féin as well as the DUP will decide if a power-sharing administration will be in place to mark that birthday. Many coherent arguments can be made about the Agreement's shortcomings. But its undeniable magic is that regardless of hard or invisible borders, it stopped the cycle of neighbour killing neighbour.

In the Brexit debate, the DUP and Sinn Féin have taken polar opposite positions.

But events of the past fortnight may have revealed an uncomfortable truth they share.

In the most important power-play, the Friday morning deal in Brussels, the DUP's influence, provided by the unusual mathematics in Westminister, reached its peak and then dissolved.

Sinn Féin (abstentionists in Westminster, an opposition party in the Dáil, with four of the 751 members in the European Parliament) were not players at the top table.

One obvious way they can make some input to the next phase of the Brexit negotiations is via the Stormont institution they currently keep closed.