ANALYSIS: Plenty of DUP huffing and puffing but no plans to blow the house down
It wasn't entirely that clear why Peter Robinson wanted the assembly adjourned while talks aimed at addressing Stormont's latest crisis took place. Some have speculated that it was a gesture to show that it was no longer "business as usual" while others felt it was designed to remind everybody on the hill, including the Ulster Unionists, what the consequences of pulling the plug on devolution would be.
The decision of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and UUP members of the assembly's business committee to block the extension of the summer recess bloodied the DUP's nose but it was only a symbolic setback. The DUP strategy for dealing with the fall-out from the Kevin McGuigan murder, whatever it may be, has yet to be derailed. The first minister knows it is not the assembly but the British government that has the capability to exclude Sinn Féin, though he must also understand that this is not a move David Cameron is likely to make unless the prime minister has exhausted all other options.
Wrong-footed by Mike Nesbitt leading his party out of the executive, the first minister is looking to exert as much pressure as he can on Sinn Féin but without bringing an immediate end to devolution. He's huffing and puffing but won't blow the house down – not just yet anyway. Emerging from Number l0 last night Mr Robinson looked mildly frustrated that the prime minister had not promised decisive action against the DUP's partners in government.
Meanwhile, Martin McGuinness's assertion that this controversy is now about an electoral battle in unionism is increasingly ringing true. The animosity between the DUP and UUP – allies at the polls in May – is also growing by the day, as is the political process's vulnerability as each bids to outmanoeuvre the other.
But with the focus on spats within unionism it's easy to lose sight of what the issue at the heart of this matter really is – political unionism's distrust of republicans. Last night the deputy first minister underlined his view that those responsible for the murder of Kevin McGuigan were "dissidents" and "low life criminals", yet he appears to have some way to go before his words are seen by unionists as sincere.
He did, however, welcome Peter Robinson's talks proposal. That said, the last two rounds of talks – Haass and Stormont House – have promised a great deal but delivered very little, which just leaves the public wondering how even more dialogue can possibly lead to a lasting resolution?
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