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Taoiseach and prime minister leave empty-handed

When it was announced that Leo Varadkar and Theresa May would be visiting Stormont on Monday, there was a sense of anticipation - fuelled by positive noises the previous Friday - that a deal could be finally in the offing.

In the event, the two premiers left empty handed, leaving a bemused public wondering why they were even there.

It is not the first time we have seen the leaders of the Irish and British governments arrive with some fanfare only to slink away with nothing to show for their visit.

Enda Kenny and David Cameron were put in an embarrassing position in 2014 and it seems the lessons of that sorry episode have not been learned.

It is not clear who thought it was a good idea to bring Mr Varadkar and Mrs May to Belfast on Monday.

Expectations of an imminent deal were downplayed by the DUP, with Arlene Foster yesterday describing the presence of the premiers as a 'bit of a distraction.'

She added that the two governments had been told in advance that 'the deal wasn't done.'

The taoiseach and prime minister are entitled to feel disappointed and frustrated at this point in the protracted talks process.

The wider public will share their exasperation, particularly as there was a growing sense that a deal was imminent.

Hopes that Sinn Féin and the DUP may reach agreement this week have now been dampened with Mrs Foster talking in terms of 'a couple of weeks' or even months.

Whether that is a true reflection of the current situation is hard to say as little firm information is making its way into the public domain although it was significant that the DUP dispelled some of the speculation about what might be included in legislation around the Irish language.

That sounds as though she is preparing her supporters for some sort of move on the Irish language but when that might happen is anyone's guess.

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