Only talks can break deadlock
Have we really reached the tipping point as regards the future of the power-sharing administration at Stormont? We may well know the answer later today if the DUP carries out its threat to walk out of the Executive. What is clear is that if the institutions fall they will not easily be rebuilt.
This newspaper has urged politicians to do all they reasonably can to preserve the devolved Assembly and that remains the ideal objective. But the crisis at Stormont has gathered a seemingly unstoppable momentum as events have conspired to shred trust between the unionist parties and Sinn Fein.
It must be stressed again that the core problem was the murder of Kevin McGuigan - an act in which, police believe, active IRA members were involved. The Chief Constable's assertion that the IRA retains a command structure - albeit for benign purposes - added more fuel to the fire. The decision by the UUP to walk out of the Executive, a move either inspired by principle or for potential electoral gain depending on whose analysis you take, put pressure on the DUP to make a similar gesture.
First Minister Peter Robinson's ultimatum to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to suspend the institutions or face a DUP walk-out - a decision taken after three senior republicans were arrested yesterday by police investigating Mr McGuigan's murder - leaves no room for manoeuvre. Talks which began yesterday to attempt to get Sinn Fein to distance itself totally from the IRA are now in real jeopardy. The irony is that if both unionist parties are seen to leave the Executive, Sinn Fein may well escape much of the censure which would have come its way. Republicans will argue that they were willing to attempt to resolve the problems but others were not prepared to engage with them without preconditions.
Collapse of devolution would have serious implication for the province as direct rule ministers would have no qualms about introducing measures such as water charges, bedroom tax, even more welfare reforms and gay marriage legislation.
Perhaps a window of opportunity can be opened - a temporary suspension to allow intensive inter-party talks to take place - but this is a crisis which cannot be allowed to drift on at the mercy of outside events, including forthcoming elections on both sides of the border.