Saturday is Sinn Fein’s decision day for its Ard-Chomhairle…

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodward will discuss the political crisis in Northern Ireland today. Both men are in Armagh city where ninety two year old Cardinal Cahal Daly’s funeral is taking place. President Mary McAleese and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will also be in attendance.

A DUP spokesman said Peter Robinson will not appear in public this week. He added: “He is staying at home taking care of family matters.” Later this afternoon Irish foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin is at Hillsborough Castle for in-depth talks with Shaun Woodward. Both men are attempting to work out how the two governments can help to keep the institutions of the Assembly afloat.Sinn Fein is currently viewing the future of the Assembly with a jaundiced eye believing that the DUP is in the business of driving a horse and cart through power sharing with Republicans. Martin McGuinness warned before Christmas in the absence of a date from Peter Robinson for the return of policing and justice powers to local politicians the institutions would be in “deep trouble.”

Mr McGuinness didn’t hear from the First Minister before Christmas and neither man has spoken directly since Iris Robinson announced her withdrawal from public life. Sinn Fein has made it clear this coming Saturday will be decision day when its Ard-Chomhairle meets to take stock of the merits and demerits of staying in an administration with the DUP.

The current assessment of Sinn Fein’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ is that the institutions are not sustainable if the Good Friday and St. Andrew’s agreements are not fully implemented.

The current very personal and private crisis enveloping the Robinson household will be factored into any Sinn Fein assessment but failure by Peter Robinson to engage Mr McGuinness directly on this matter could militate against any necessary understanding of Peter Robinson’s plight, on the day.

The penny is suddenly dropping at Parliament Buildings that a crisis is looming. It had been suggested in some quarters that Gordon Brown would touch down in Northern Ireland on Wednesday or Thursday to try and broker a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is now viewed as unlikely.

A DUP source who revealed that Peter Robinson is remaining behind closed doors at home all this week seemed to question the merit of the Prime Minister coming if Mr Robinson is out of circulation.