The holder of the office of First Minister or deputy First Minister may by notice in writing to the Presiding Officer designate a Northern Ireland Minister to exercise the functions of that office—
(a) during any absence or incapacity of the holder; or
(b) during any vacancy in that office arising otherwise than under subsection (7)(a);
but a person shall not have power to act by virtue of paragraph (a) for a continuous period exceeding 6 weeks.
And so, this afternoon, the DUP has duly notified the Presiding Officer that Arlene Foster is to 'exercise the function' of FM in the place of Peter Robinson while he – or the DUP – try to decide where to go next.
Six weeks to stasis is thus guaranteed, and the transfer of policing and justice is delayed yet again. By the time Robinson returns – if he returns – the parties will be on a full election footing for the upcoming Westminster elections, and so a further period of stalemate is ensured.