It is extraordinary that a Conservative-led government should be so terrified of conceding that direct rule is a distinctly possible outcome from the current Stormont stalemate.
The government is under huge pressure over Brexit, and is now battling the ‘sex pest’ controversy, which could yet spiral out of control.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland nationalists are getting ever more bothered about what they claim is the denial of their rights.
The temptation in such circumstances is to stall for time for as long as possible, perhaps into next year, in the hope of a deal. But this merely delays an inevitable coming showdown.
If Sinn Fein was to get its various red lines now, it would be a huge victory for them (rights-based Irish language legislation that would clog up the courts for decades to come, as well as disproportionate funding for legacy inquests, that will be used to vindicate the IRA - hence Sinn Fein’s determination to get these inquests going on a large scale).
But not only would this mean that a Tory government had failed to protect the reputation of its security forces, it would also ensure a fresh crisis in the near future.
Sinn Fein would work out what its next red line would be, and then if need be bring down Stormont again. Dublin, even if it was not then under a coalition government including Sinn Fein, would be certain at to urge both sides to ‘compromise’.
But not only should SF not be rewarded with movement towards its red lines, it should not be allowed to be seen to have achieved a slight move towards joint authority, via an increased say for Dublin. That too would be a huge vindication for its conduct to date.
It is becoming ever more likely that there will be nationalist uproar if London introduces direct rule. For all the risks that come with such an approach, it is increasingly clear that there is no plausible alternative, unless SF pulls back from its demands. There is no indication of that happening.