The North’s largest party, the Democratic Unionists, has today failed to attend the start of an Assembly meeting at Stormont.
Peter Robinson stepped aside and pulled most of his ministers from office as he promised it will not be business as usual at the powersharing institution until a row over the IRA is resolved.
In the chamber the remaining unionists highlighted failures like increased hospital waiting lists and money for social development left unspent while Sinn Féin said a “sham fight” among unionists was threatening the administration.
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Mike Nesbitt said: “What we are delivering is broken and it needs to be fixed. We have to return to values and the key value is credibility.”
Senior Sinn Féin Assembly Member Alex Maskey said the DUP and UUP should concentrate on solving pressing issues rather than engaging in inter-party bickering.
“I am calling on both unionist parties to end their sham fight and have the political will to go into these talks.
“Keep this sham fight for Scarva [a loyal order piece of pageantry marking the victory of Protestant King William over Catholic King James].
“Both parties need to ask themselves whose agenda would be best served, it is not the agenda of those trying to demonstrate to the wider public that this works.”
Hardline unionist Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), said people had peddled lies that the IRA had gone away before powersharing was restored in 2007.
“It is time we sweep away the debris of failure that this Assembly represents.”
He claimed the Democratic Unionists were running away from new elections.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said: “I do think that as we enter into these discussions that it is very, very important that we do so on the basis of no preconditions.
“And I want to see, and am working for, talks to take place with a view to a successful outcome. But if talks are not going to take place and if talks do take place and there is no successful outcome then, in my view, the next logical step is to an election, and that is my very firm and strong view. Our party has no fear whatsoever of an election.”
The Sinn Féin veteran said the choice for the parties boiled down to achieving success in the talks or facing the electorate at the polls.
“That is the stark choice facing all of the parties in this process,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Nesbitt said Sinn Féin’s attitude to whether the IRA is still in business would “kill or cure” powersharing in the North.
He made the assessment as he emerged from his party’s bilateral meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers at Stormont House.
Mr Nesbitt urged against round-table talks until Sinn Féin’s stance had been established.
“We have cautioned against holding a round-table discussion at this time until the Secretary of State gets a feel of where others, particularly Sinn Féin, are with regard to the way forward,” he said.
SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said the party had made ``constructive'' proposals during talks with the British and Irish governments this morning.
“We feel that the process would be enhanced significantly if the Americans were more involved.”
He said the party would not allow the DUP to do any further damage to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement or the North/South institutions on co-operation between Belfast and Dublin.
Alliance party leader David Ford said all issues destabilising Stormont, including the still-un-implemented Stormont House political deal of last year, needed to be addressed in the talks.
“We have made it absolutely clear that Alliance is determined that we resolve the outstanding issues from Stormont House, we resolve the financial issues and the issues of dealing with the past,” he said.
“We also must deal with the threat of violence as it exists on both sides of the community now and permanently.”
Both the SDLP and Alliance delegation were confronted by a small group of victims campaigners outside the talks venue.
The three women, who all lost loved ones in the Troubles, claimed that structures envisaged to deal with the legacy of the past could see effective amnesties handed to killers.
The latest crisis to beset the faltering administration was sparked by the murder of Kevin McGuigan.
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 disclosures about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Fein to explain why the police assess that the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.
Sinn Fein insists the IRA has gone away and has accused the two unionist parties of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.