The soft exit option has now been removed from the Stormont equation.
In a number of interviews First Minister Arlene Foster and party colleagues have made it clear that she will not be stepping aside until there is a preliminary report of an investigation into the RHI scheme.
“I’m not going to roll over to Sinn Fein. I’m not going to roll over to my political opponents,” the DUP leader told Sky News.
No one will be surprised by that response. There has not been the slightest hint that the First Minister was going to take Sinn Fein’s advice on this issue – no suggestion that she would give way.
“Unless they [the DUP]are keeping something in reserve, I don’t think they are going to blink,” one observer told this website in recent days.
There has been no blinking in the DUP interviews since.
So, that soft exit option – that Mrs Foster would voluntarily step aside – is out of the frame.
The focus now will switch to what a hard exit could mean. If Sinn Fein does not step back from its words and statements of recent days – repeated again on Wednesday – then there is the prospect of the politically nuclear option.
This would mean Martin McGuinness resigning and an early election in the frame.
A Sinn Fein motion will be brought forward when the Assembly reconvenes, but other parties want to see it toughened up.
“Over the next few days we’ll be putting to other parties, including Sinn Fein, proposals for an amendment which will make the Sinn Fein motion much stronger,” SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told the eamonnmallie.com website.
“We don’t believe it is sufficient to call for an investigation concocted by the Executive Office,” he continued.
“In order to ensure that we get some confidence restored in the political institutions, we need a full public inquiry under the inquiries act. The public will accept nothing less at this point,” he said.
On Wednesday, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy made clear there is no agreement with the DUP on the terms of reference for an independent investigation and he repeated his party’s position that the First Minister should step aside.
This has been restated in a sequence of Sinn Fein statements in recent days from Michelle O’Neill, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Matt Carthy and Declan Kearney – said so many times that there appears little or no room to step back from that position.
Indeed, it was repeated again on Wednesday after Martin McGuinness and Michelle O’Neill met with Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds. That meeting was at Sinn Fein’s request. The read-out afterwards is that there is no difference between public and private positions – the standoff over calls for the First Minister to step aside being likened to “a knot that can’t be untied”. “We have to let the next short time play itself out,” an insider commented. “It is difficult to see how we find our way through this impasse,” he added.
Sinn Fein has a big card to play in a Stormont row that goes much wider than the RHI fallout.
The joined-up nature of politics envisaged in the 1998 talks and agreements is now in this frame – the Irish language, legacy, reconciliation and other issues all now part of this crisis.
To this point no one has blinked. Politics is being talked deeper into crisis and closer, it seems, to an election. But an election to what?
Back into the same mess and into the Stormont ordure in which politics is stuck with the RHI fallout, Irish language, reconciliation, legacy and other issues still waiting to be addressed.
What will have changed?