Boris Johnson won’t be attending the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral this weekend.

Which presents an ideal opportunity for the Prime Minister to fly to Belfast instead for a British-Irish summit aimed at quelling loyalist street violence.

But it’s unlikely Boris will even consider the Irish Government’s proposal – and not just because he is as unpopular "over by" as he is over here.

According to an insider, the Prime Minister fears a joint summit, "would be seen as Dublin interfering in the affairs of Northern Ireland" and add insult to a sense of post-Brexit injury amongst unionists.

There is no doubt Johnson’s betrayal over the sea border has enraged unionists, but let’s be clear – it’s him they blame not Dublin. In fact, the Irish government has enjoyed huge cross-community support in the North for its management of the pandemic. Two-thirds of Northern Ireland voters in 2020 approved of the Taoiseach's performance, with Stormont’s Health Minister, Ulster Unionist Robin Swann not far behind – unusual levels of support for both halves of the "home team". By comparison, just 23 per cent of those sampled approved of Boris Johnson’s Covid management – a big, joint thumbs down.

Still, if both "Big Brothers" did step in to create a "fix" that didn’t work, it’s likely old enmities would be exacerbated and confidence in Northern Ireland’s own fragile political structures fatally undermined.

It’s 23 years to the weekend since the Belfast Agreement was signed. But the parliament it created – engineered to include all shades of political opinion – is struggling to function and failing to exert influence where it counts, on the streets.

Read more: Salmond: Indyref2: Will the Alba Party help or hinder the cause of independence?

There’s been a sense of swaggering entitlement by Sinn Fein, evidenced by their Covid rule-breaking, mask-free gathering at the funeral of IRA leader Bobby Storey. Alleged complicity in these arrangements by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has prompted calls for its chief constable to resign. Simon Byrne’s refusal to go has become a running political sore – a Dominic Cummings moment for many in the Province.

Meanwhile, the world has looked on aghast as children in loyalist parts of Belfast and Derry throw petrol bombs at buses and police, goaded on by adults. Northern Ireland’s Children’s Commissioner has condemned the operation of "criminal gangs exerting influence over children" and there’s been much hand-wringing about things slipping back towards the bad old days.

But terrible though these video images have been, they simply distract from bigger underlying issues.

The British Government doesn’t have a solution to the Irish Sea border problem, doesn't want Johnson's ‘Brexit done' narrative undone and frankly doesn’t care what happens next. If it did, Julian Smith, the widely acclaimed Northern Ireland Minister who got the power-sharing Assembly running again after a three-year stalemate, would not have been dumped inexplicably a month later.

So, in all probability North Ireland is stuck with delayed food shipments, festering resentment and import/export problems. There will be no "best of both worlds" – just an indeterminate future in a new and dangerous limbo-land where an embattled loyalist-led nation becomes increasingly distanced from Britain, but not sufficiently integrated into Ireland to benefit from continuing EU membership.

Behind all of this sits two different kinds of nationalism – the aspiring nationalism of the Republican community and the defensive nationalism of the loyalists. The latter has been little examined, but has long fuelled unassuageable feelings of bitterness and grievance in the (once) dominant communities of protestant Belfast.

Catholic communities have successfully cleared the slum housing which drove the civil rights movement of the 1970s, expertly accessing improvement funds for "floors and doors". As a New Lodge community leader once told me, the problem for Protestant communities is their sense of entitlement. They expected the state – their state – to provide automatically and without application. It didn’t. Republicans expected nothing and quickly became skilled in advocacy, case-building and form-filling. Now the galling truth for some loyalist communities is that across the peace divide, Catholic communities are visibly in better physical condition. That’s not how it was meant to be.

Read more: Election 2021: This is a proxy independence election ... it’s all about the journey, not the destination

Northern Ireland's enduring reliance on the outdated 11-plus exam (axed in 2008 but still used in many secondary schools) also accentuates religious and class divides. The hierarchy of "achievement" it created gave middle-class protestants the UK’s highest rate of university admission during the 1990s but also gave working-class protestant lads the UK’s highest rate of leaving school without any qualifications whatsoever.

Add to that generational unemployment in all parts of working-class West Belfast and it's clear resentment has been slowly building.

Amy Gribbin works for Forthspring Inter Community Group, one of many operating on the peace line since 1997. She told BBC Radio 4 this weekend that the petrol-bomb-wielding youngsters captured on phone cameras may have been born into a period of relative peace, but have experienced no peace dividend.

This is a vital point. Put very bluntly, the poorest Republican communities have always expected little from the British Government and haven’t been disappointed – the poorest Loyalist communities have long expected something better. At the very least a maintenance of differentials – a higher position in the pecking order.

It hasn’t happened.

A defensive nationalism like loyalism always reacts strongly to change, because it only brings a further loss of privilege.

That reality will be driven home when the latest census results are published. It’s widely expected to confirm that Northern Ireland’s demographic balance has dramatically shifted so the next Assembly elections in 2022, will have the first predominantly Catholic/Republican electorate.

Of course, these labels are clumsy tools for analysing modern political beliefs, but the changing size of religious affinity groups demonstrates how quickly and completely the status quo has unravelled in Northern Ireland.

Unionist expectations of preferment within the UK – so recently encouraged by Theresa May’s deal with the DUP – have now been dashed by Brexit and by a devolution settlement that hasn’t delivered for the loyalist working class, sadly bereft of credible, progressive leaders like the late David Ervine.

The Northern Ireland protocol issue has just been the last straw – a tough truth that cannot be undone until Northern Ireland leaves limbo-land, one way or another.

So, Boris is in no hurry to cross the Sheugh.

No wonder.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.