A scheduled sitting of the Stormont Assembly to nominate new leading ministers has been axed after talks to restore a powersharing government collapsed.
The decision of the party whips to pull the plenary makes it all but inevitable that Monday's 4pm deadline for forming an executive will pass without agreement.
Focus will then shift to Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire.
Under legislation he is required to call another snap election if the deadline passes.
However, he is not obliged to set a poll date immediately, rather within a "reasonable period".
Mr Brokenshire may therefore delay calling an election to give a few more weeks to reach consensus.
He could countenance the nuclear option of reintroducing direct rule from Westminster, but that move - which would require emergency legislation - looks unlikely at this stage.
Talks collapsed on Sunday night after Sinn Fein announced it would not be nominating a deputy first minister in the Assembly on Monday.
Without both first and deputy first ministers it is impossible to form an executive.
In the absence of a functioning devolved government, a senior civil servant is set to take control of the region's public finances on Wednesday, albeit with limits on his spending powers.
Green Party leader Steven Agnew voted against axing the Assembly sitting in the whips' meeting.
"Today was an opportunity to explain to the public what has been happening since the election, since they gave us a resounding mandate to get the Assembly and institutions back up and running," he said.
"That opportunity has been wasted and an agreement among the parties to not hold the sitting today denies that openness, that transparency and that accountability."
Powersharing collapsed in January after a row over a botched green energy scheme estimated to cost the taxpayer up to half a billion pounds.
The late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in protest over the Democratic Unionists' handling of the scheme, triggering crisis in the institutions.
Sinn Fein has said it will not share power with Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster as first minister until a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme is concluded.
Republicans have also been seeking movement on issues such as an Irish language act giving the tongue official status in Northern Ireland, a hugely symbolic measure but deeply problematic for some unionists.
New mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles also remain a source of vexed dispute.
A voting surge by Sinn Fein in the snap Assembly election earlier this month saw the party come within one seat of becoming the biggest party at Stormont behind the DUP.