On Saturday 21st September, for the ninth consecutive time, the Ulster Unionist Party's Ruling Council discussed the question of whether they would remain in the Inclusive Government Executive with Sinn Féin and edged closer, not only to withdrawal, but towards entirely abrogating the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
The dissident MPs, led by Jeffrey Donaldson, have almost taken control of the Council (though he denies it) insofar as they have forced David Trimble to issue an ultimatum to Sinn Féin to the effect that all Republican paramilitary violence, including that occurring on the streets, must stop or he as First Minister and his party colleagues will pull out of the Executive by January 18th 2003 when their Ruling Council will next meet.
Now as a first step they are withdrawing from the North-South Ministerial Council. Whether it can effectively continue without their participation is problematical.
This decision, apparently agreed beforehand in meetings between Trimble and Donaldson, removed any possible vote questioning Trimble's leadership or an immediate vote to withdraw. It is not only foolhardy and dangerous but sends a signal to Nationalists and Republicans that Ulster Unionists are lining up with Paisley and his No Nos who are determined to bring the Agreement and its structures to an end.
It seems to me that they want a restoration of a Unionist veto which, as Isaac Newton would say, "will have an equal and opposite reaction" – from Nationalists and Republicans of course.
The long struggle to make politics work is being undermined and negatived by this refusal to understand the dynamics and lessons of history by demanding at this juncture that the Provisional IRA should disband. Trimble knows full well that it will be counter productive, indeed he might want it to be so in order to validate his withdrawal and absolve him from responsibility.
Tunnel vision of this sort by a blinkered leadership across the board in Northern Ireland's politics that is unable to climb out of the bog of bigotry and prejudice. There is a failure to recognise that (except for the dissidents) both communities want no more blood to flow under the bridge, the very bridge so painfully constructed on Good Friday 1998.
Should January 18th next year see this withdrawal threat implemented then, after consultation between the two governments, I can only see a return to the suspension of the Assembly and the imposition of Direct Rule once again.
This time it will be for the remainder of its term and the elections for a new Assembly will, I'm sure, take place on 1st May 2003.
Thus the issue of a complete review of the whole way of its working, changes to its structures etc., will be the main questions before the electorate. Unionist parties will compete with each other to prove they are the better bet to defend their so called Britishness.
Nationalists and Republicans will compete with each other to be the leader of their Irish aspirations and, depending on the numbers each of the parties wave in the Assembly, we will see if it can be revived.
Patience will be sorely tried in the rest of the UK and the idea of integration, or 'Joint Sovereignty', will raise its head again. It would not be well received in mainland Britain.
In my review of the book, 'Making Sense of the Troubles', I referred to Joanna Braniff's view that it should be compulsory reading for everyone in Northern Ireland.
During the next three months all the people actively involved in politics in Northern Ireland should be encouraged to do so and have both their eyes and their heads tested to see whether they are fit and proper persons to be entrusted with the lives and future of its citizens.
At present it is to me an open question if they have really considered the dangerous road they are starting down. I would hope they will change their decision. . .