Imagine if the news had been different. Imagine that a Catholic policeman had been shot dead in Garrison, Co Fermanagh on Saturday night and that at, the same time, dissident republicans had demolished the headquarters of the Policing Board with a massive car-bomb.
The political context we are living in now would be different.
After the last major crisis created by republican militants opposed to the peace process, the leaders of Sinn Fein and the DUP pulled together in a demonstration of unity that would be much harder to effect today.
Now try to imagine what made the difference between political crisis and the semblance of normality we currently live with.
Intelligence work had enabled the police to intercept the attack in Garrison; a mere accident by a bomb-maker is probably all that prevented a huge explosion in the middle of Belfast on Saturday night. It can't be ruled out that the bomb may have been tampered with by someone working for the security services; that sort of thing has been managed before.
But the reality we currently live with, and which has not sunk in with most people, is that a successful attack may be launched by the Real IRA at any time and that it will not only take innocent lives, it will rock the foundations of the power-sharing government at Stormont. Only someone who is very naive and out of touch with the daily news in Northern Ireland could fail to see that.
It may be that the republican dissidents themselves are calculating the impact they might have on the political structures and that a vision of their collapse is what motivates them.
The current state of relations between Sinn Fein and the DUP, the senior partners in government, is tetchy and distant. The DUP is procrastinating on the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Executive.
Sinn Fein is sustaining much greater humiliation than it had expected to - and greater perhaps than its core base can endure much longer. The party has been unable to deliver its core objectives, unless chaos in the school system was one of them.
In March, after the murders of Constable Stephen Carroll and Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey, Martin McGuinness made his strongest declaration of contempt for the dissidents when he said that they were "traitors to the island of Ireland".
McGuinness had disavowed core republican ideology through the political compromises he had made since the start of the peace process, but he had never said so plainly that those who maintain the ideology of traditional republicanism are treasonable in their refusal to accept the reforms in the movement which Sinn Fein had delivered. In simple terms, it is wrong to speak of the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA as 'dissidents'. They stand on the same ideological ground that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness stood on 30 years ago and it is Adams and McGuinness and their followers who have vacated that ground.
They are rightly to be thought of as republican reformers who led the greater part of the republican movement away from tradition, from the assumption of the right to kill for Irish unity and also from perpetual defeat.
They made the journey that every intelligent republican has had to make in the past hundred years, towards seeing that the core ideology had to be compromised for political progress. In the same way, since the start of the Troubles, every unionist leader - presented with the challenge to change or lose ground - has made the same decision. But both have, every time, left traditionalist ideologues behind.
And occasionally the rump of the republican movement - the old diehards - have seen the untenability of their position. It happened in 1962. The IRA had been attempting to mobilise popular support for a campaign of attacks on police stations around the border area. After six years of this, the leadership issued a statement saying that they could not continue because the Irish people were not behind them.
They said that people had been distracted from the national cause. Well, that is the kind of language you use when you don't doubt that you're in the right and that everyone else is wrong.
It would not be outside the bounds of precedent for the traditionalist groups to do the same thing. For now, however, they may be focused on a prospect that was not available in 1962: the prospect of creating political havoc by driving a deeper wedge between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
When Martin McGuinness stooped to calling his ideological foster parents traitors, he had a prize in sight himself.
That prize was the early devolution of policing and justice and a demonstration to his support base that Sinn Fein goals could be achieved within the Executive. Now he must doubt that. Imagine if Saturday night's undercover operation had not been put in place, or had failed. Imagine if the bomb had worked.
Peter Robinson would be condemning militant republican traditionalists in the most vociferous terms and pledging his support to the chief constable in all his efforts to track them down and destroy them. He would be speaking the kind of language that a British Government minister would be using if Islamists had achieved something similar in England.
But what language would Martin McGuinness be using? He would probably be saying what Sinn Fein always says after the Real IRA attacks; that these are micro groups with no support and that they should come forward and make their case.
And imagine if the police had killed a gunman or bomber to prevent an attack. Some politicians would have been congratulating them, others bemoaning the awful prospect that republican blood in the gutter might drag on the old traditional sentiments that pervade the entire republican base.
What this amounts to is the simple reality that traditionalist republican militants present a ghastly challenge to our political stability and that our political system must repair its divisions and face up to it.