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Pessimism grows at Stormont

There is a growing possibility that our memorable front page picture from yesterday, which showed Stormont's Great Hall with all the lights on but no one at home, could become a very familiar image indeed.

While the inter-party talks have only been put on hold until after the Easter holidays, there is little indication that the resumed process will deliver any more progress than the meandering discussions since the Assembly election of March 3.

In all the circumstances, it was striking to hear secretary of state James Brokenshire suggest yesterday that a restoration of devolution remained achievable but "more time and a more focused engagement on the critical issues are required".

As his comments clearly implied a lack of direction over the last six weeks, when he was supposed to be in charge of the proceedings, the case for introducing one or more outside facilitators has become overwhelming.

However, even the arrival of a fresh face with a credible track record elsewhere may not be capable of bridging the enormous gap which exists between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Although it is quite reasonable to expect that proposals for an Irish language act can move forward, and a final verdict on the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal will have to wait until the official inquiry reaches an outcome, the long-running failure to reach a consensus on the legacy debate is reaching a particularly serious stage.

With a full-blown crisis over Brexit also looming, it is difficult to envisage an accommodation in the short term which would allow the return of the executive.

A suspension which stretches across the summer and potentially into the autumn is not an attractive proposition, but, one by one, the other available options are fading away.

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