The setting of the budget for Northern Ireland this week is the most significant act of direct rule yet.
In one respect it is a relief that this is happening, because it makes clear that the DUP are not buckling to the Sinn Fein red lines.
It is to be hoped that there will be no movement towards republican red lines after the party conferences.
This is not to say that there can be no compromise: of course in any negotiation there is give and take.
But it must be comparable levels of give and take. If one party to a negotiation gets one particular request, another should be getting an equivalent one, and so on.
Sinn Fein, however, has been issuing various demands, and the importance it attaches to each demand has been shifting from time to time. Its biggest requests, rights-based Irish language legislation and special funding for legacy inquests (that it believes will rehabilitate the IRA), are clearly unacceptable.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the last year is that a range of observers and political groups, including the Green Party, have come to see what republicans are trying to do.
While Sinn Fein’s vote has been edging ever upwards since the end of the 1990s, it is still rejected by 70% of voters.
Not only is it wrong in itself for SF to hold the process to ransom, it would be a disastrous precedent if it was to emerge from the talks believing it had been successful in doing so.
People are fed up with SF talking about respect, when, among other things, it celebrates IRA terrorism.
The feeling against Sinn Fein among unionists across the spectrum has been hardening, and for good reason.
As the shameful security scare at the cenotaph in Omagh has shown, a town that suffered grievously from a terrorist bomb (and on the 30th anniversary of the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre too), Northern Ireland has grave problems with current republican terrorism to worry about.
Unless something quite unforeseen happens in the talks, the next step will have to be full direct rule.