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Leo Varadkar: DUP and Sinn Féin 'not close to a deal'

Former US President Bill Clinton pictured at the Culloden Hotel outside Belfast after meeting DUP leader Arlene Foster. Picture by Mal McCann.

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar last night warned that the DUP and Sinn Féin were "not close to a deal", as former US President Bill Clinton had discussions with both party leaders.

During a visit to storm-hit parts of Co Kildare, the Fine Gael leader said hopes of an imminent agreement had receded.

"At the moment they are not close to a deal," he said.

"Things did look encouraging at the start of last week and became less favourable during the week."

While he said he would let the parties "account for themselves as to what went wrong", he warned that "big things" including Brexit and challenges in the health service were not being dealt with because the former government partners were "arguing about the intricacies of an Irish Language Act".

"It would seem to me that what the people of Northern Ireland want is for their politicians to get together and start looking after the business of Northern Ireland and making sure that Northern Ireland has a unique voice in these negotiations on Brexit," he said.

Mr Clinton had sounded a more positive note following his meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Culloden Hotel in Holywood, Co Down.

He told her he did not like describing her as the "former" first minister and expressed his hope that power-sharing could be restored soon.

"We are going to get this going again I think," he said.

While a later DUP statement made no reference to any discussions about the Stormont talks, Sinn Féin said the impasse had featured during its separate meeting with Mr Clinton

The party's northern leader Michelle O'Neill, who met the former president along with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, said: "We had a wide ranging discussion on a number of issues including the current difficulties facing the political process, efforts to restore the political institutions on the basis of rights and equality and the implications of Brexit."

During an address earlier yesterday in Dublin, Mr Clinton suggested that many people who backed Brexit may only now be realising the full impact of their decision.

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