Parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly have voted to reject a Democratic Unionist proposal to adjourn the power-sharing institutions – a move that brings suspension or collapse a step closer.
First Minister Peter Robinson has said his ministers will resign – forcing the fall of Stormont power sharing – if his proposal failed or the British Government does not suspend the institutions.
It follows a murder linked to members of the IRA which has rocked the political institutions.
The Democratic Unionists have sought suspension or adjournment of the Assembly until intensive cross-party talks on the paramilitarism crisis are completed and have halted meetings of the ministerial Executive.
Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists voted against the DUP adjournment proposal, which was supported by the cross-community Alliance Party.
The decision throws the spotlight on the Government and whether it intends to enact emergency legislation to suspend the institutions. Without suspension, Mr Robinson has pledged to walk out by the end of the day.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: “The decision of the (Assembly’s) business committee is a very, very clear democratic reiteration of the integrity of these institutions and of the need and the wish for these institutions to continue the work which we were all elected to do on behalf of citizens in this state and across this island.”
Mr Robinson issued his ultimatum on Wednesday after the arrest of three senior republicans, including Sinn Féin's northern chairman Bobby Storey, over the fatal shooting of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan. The men remain in custody.
Police have said current members of the IRA were involved in last month’s shooting of Mr McGuigan in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard “Jock” Davison in Belfast three months earlier.
The revelations about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Féin to explain why the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.
The Executive cannot function without the DUP, the region’s largest unionist party. However, if the party resigns its ministerial posts the institutions will not fall immediately, as the party will be given seven days to renominate ministers. If no renominations materialise then the power-sharing Executive will collapse, prompting the prospect of snap elections or a lengthy spell of direct rule.
The Ulster Unionists have already resigned from the Executive, claiming trust in Sinn Féin has been destroyed, but unlike the DUP they did not have the electoral weight to bring the institutions down by leaving them.