Conservative pact with unionists on the brink
I am writing this from Belfast where, amid concern over the future of the Northern Ireland government, another major political agreement here could also be on the point of collapse.
The Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Paterson is seeking an urgent meeting with the Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey today over the future of the Conservatives' pact with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
This follows revelations on BBC Northern Ireland last night that the Orange Order helped organise a secret meeting last month to discuss a different electoral pact - between the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists.
The concern among unionists is that a three or four way party split in unionist ranks may enable the former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, now of Sinn Fein, to become First Minister here after the next Stormont elections.
I understand this secret meeting took place without the knowledge of Mr Paterson.
Some in Belfast think that the Conservative-UUP pact is now effectively dead, and that Conservative leader David Cameron will be forced to announce its demise within the next few days.
Last week, three of the most prominent Conservative candidates in Northern Ireland resigned over the situation.
UPDATE at 15:58:
Commenting on UUP & DUP talks, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson said: "In his capacity as Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey regularly meets all strands of opinion throughout Northern Ireland. He referred 'in passing' to a meeting, requested in October and held in December, but I was not aware of the content or the participants.
"As there was nothing of consequence arising from the meeting he did not mention it to me again. Sir Reg Empey has made clear to me that it has no bearing on our joint determination to stand together as 'Conservatives and Unionists at the forthcoming Westminster elections to bring national, mainstream and non-sectarian politics to Northern Ireland."