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On another level, Peter Robinson, now on a leave of absence from his First Minister job, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, have barely been speaking for months.

The words "crisis" and" abyss" have been dusted off over the years in relation to Northern Ireland politics. They certainly apply this week. One critical difference this time is the absence from the situation of a U.S. special envoy.

When she visited Northern Ireland in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the parties to embrace policing and justice.

But while the Obama administration was committed to helping, Clinton stated that Washington felt that it was up to the parties at Stormont to do the deed themselves. Northing has happened since Clinton's visit, and the latest debacle augers ill for any progress in the foreseeable future. So how can the Obama administration now help? Many will be anxiously awaiting an answer to this question.

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