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No marquee moment at Northern Ireland talks as process fizzles like damp squib

By Noel McAdam

The sense of winding-down was hard to escape up at Stormont Castle yesterday.

And sure enough, by mid-afternoon the politicians had in effect wound up. Incessant rain had returned to the talks but it did not stop play. That's because there was no real play in the first place.

Some form of contact between the parties is to continue, apparently - though how and when was not spelt out - over the rest of the summer.

But there will be no deal. Not now, and maybe not even later. And so, even though they have yet to sit for one day as an Assembly since being elected in March, MLAs are about to begin their summer holidays.

Even if by some miracle a deal to restore devolution had been achieved over the last few days, the Assembly would have started its annual recess this Friday.

And the traditional route has been that August is usually the month when the Executive took a break. So don't expect a whole lot of activity. The five main parties were not slow to return to the negotiation coalface yesterday in the aftermath of Secretary of State James Brokenshire's 'do nothing' speech in the House of Commons on Monday.

Hot on the heels of his speech they were already ensconced in meetings by 10am. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was said to have left Dublin at 6am to drive up - but his team made clear he would be away again by early afternoon for a meeting with Scottish minister Fiona Hyslop.

Though still relatively new in his post - and under the DUP cosh for publicly backing Sinn Fein's demand for an Irish Language Act - Mr Coveney had travelled in hope.

He tweeted: "Back on road to Belfast early - parties really must make political breakthrough today if NI assembly is to be back before summer recess."

Midway through the morning came the news that Mr Coveney would be coming out to the gazebo to speak to the media, and a time was given. But then that was cancelled and party sources began to brief that there would just be a statement from Dublin and London instead. The Stormont gazebo, meanwhile, has set up its own Twitter account.

"Where there's a gazebo there's hope," it told us. Obviously, on the inside track, Gazebo also revealed: "Everyone is settled and having a game of beetle drive."

But even it was downbeat yesterday. "Looks like my extended booking at Stormont is coming to an end. The only que (sic) here is at the printer for easyJet boarding passes".

A Northern Ireland Office statement was put out just before 5pm - and then withdrawn. The only thing one official was sure of was that the parties will probably not be back today.

Yet it appears there will be some kind of meetings this month and next, but hard information may prove hard to come by. Already there has been an internet barrage of commentary, as journalists endured new thresholds of boredom.

A picture of Stormont, with 'RIP' across it. And Donald-Trump-style fake news with Mr Brokenshire on an apparent TV screen admitting "I'm weak as water".

It was, of course, the black humour of the trenches. There was disappointment that all the days of talks and deadlines bust - four at the last count - had come to naught. But the main emotion among the Press corp was relief.

"All parties have emphasised their determination to return," a Government official, accentuating the positive, said. But no one could be sure of when. So not only is there no new deadline, we don't have a start date either.

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