Events in recent months, particularly recent days, raise grave questions about the prospects of stable government with Sinn Fein.
That in turn raises doubts about Stormont’s viability, because we have been told since 1998 that Sinn Fein must be in power at all times, regardless of what it does – an ace card the party knows it holds.
It brought Stormont down in January, despite the fact that its wayward conduct over the years has always been indulged, including the 2015 report that found it was perceived still to be under the influence of an IRA army council that should not even exist.
The party announced on Sunday that talks were over.
It dictated throughout that it would not accept Arlene Foster at the helm of the DUP – a type of demand unionists never issued despite having to deal with men such as Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, who remind people of a republican movement that caused so much destruction.
Its near red lines have come into view – legacy, gay marriage, yesterday the Irish language. All the while a demand that Mrs Foster step aside.
But the big question is now for London.
At what point will it dismiss pressure from Dublin and realise that Sinn Fein, which is not the first choice of 72% of voters, cannot hold Northern Ireland to ransom just because the party doesn’t care if the Province fails?
Might it be that pending, urgent health and budget decisions lead a unionist prime minister to make that call?
London is naturally afraid of a return to violence, perhaps in the form of seeping support to (softly treated) dissidents who tried to kill police again last week. But there is only so long you can act timidly due to such fears.
Sinn Fein has demanded respect of others while behaving like an ill-mannered child.
Imagine the international outcry there would be if Arlene Foster stormed out of a meeting with the (ever present) Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan accusing him of “waffle, waffle, waffle” – something Michelle O’Neill did with James Brokenshire, but which Mrs Foster, who is subject to relentless criticism, has never come close to doing.
Yet Ms O’Neill is a sideshow. While many people mistook for a breakthrough a heart-warming moment when she and Mrs Foster shook hands last Thursday, the Mid Ulster MLA is hardly likely to take command over her party hierarchy.
There would hardly be a better illustration of a political process in crisis than the fact that Sinn Fein, of all organisations, is insisting – not merely requesting but actually demanding – the stalled legacy structures, such is its confidence that they will work to republican advantage.
It is almost comical, but in fact telling and alarming, that a party long associated with an IRA that murdered far more people than anyone else does not want the past to disappear. This is the post 9/11 age, in which the rest of the western world has come to experience the terror of which we are long aware – reinforced last week in Westminster. Such brazenness is another clue why London and unionists should be confident to reject republican blackmail if necessary.
Gerry Adams spoke in 2014 of using the ‘Trojan Horse’ of equality to break unionists. We can see what he meant.
Only a party that inverts the truth would claim discrimination over an Irish language that got £170m in public money in five years. Language legislation might work, as it does in other parts of the UK, if it was not for republicans who would use it to change the fabric of Northern Ireland.
The News Letter has shown its independence from unionist parties in our relentless scrutiny of RHI.
Now Northern Ireland faces another governance scandal.
Regrettably, direct rule is looking the least bad way forward, so that hard decisions can be made free of a Sinn Fein veto.