Peter Robinson set out his plan today that seems to indicate the beginning of the end for the Executive. Flanked by his parliamentary party, he told reporters;
For our part we will take steps to ensure that pending a satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues business will not be as usual.
As a first step there will be no further meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive unless we deem there are exceptional circumstances. In addition there will be no North South Ministerial meetings in any format. Our Ministers shall be focused on the talks process and attempting to get the best outcome for our community.
We have already welcomed the talks process which should be serious and sustained in nature. If we are not satisfied that parties are applying themselves to achieving an outcome in a reasonable timeframe we will initiate a further step.
If it becomes apparent to us that a satisfactory resolution in the talks is not possible then, as we indicated in our earlier statement, as a last resort Ministerial resignations will follow. However, we must make it clear that any election that follows such an eventuality will not be an election to return to the present Assembly arrangements, as we will not nominate a First Minister until a fundamental and more wide-ranging negotiation produces a system that can fully function. The present Assembly has been blocked from delivering for over two years because Sinn Fein and the SDLP would not take difficult financial decisions.
A much lower key Sinn Fein delegation led by Conor Murphy followed saying that the entire thing was really about internal unionist politics;
Sinn Féin will not let threats or electoral battles within unionism distract us from the important work at hand.
We were elected to deliver for the people of this society and mandated to oppose the Tory austerity cuts to public services and social protections.
We want to see the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement on parading, identity and the legacy of the past as well as the welfare protections agreed last December and a workable budget for the Assembly to deliver public services.
We now have a four party Executive that isn’t meeting (unless extraordinary circumstances force it) and two parties leading that fundamentally disagreeing on the way forward.
Is there even the slightest hope of this government surviving beyond Halloween?
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs