Belfast Telegraph

Caught in a buzz of expectation and hype, all we were left with by end was the usual waiting game

By Claire O'Boyle

It's not often the big guns come to town. The Taoiseach is one thing, and a handsome one like Leo. But the Prime Minister too - and on the same day? Well, that's big, surely.

So expectations were high on the Hill yesterday. To start with at least.

Before midday more than 25 reporters' cars and satellite vans lined the walkway up to Stormont.

Photographers and journalists stood huddled in excited bunches, wrapped up against the biting wind.

"Was something actually going to happen?" people asked. Did anyone actually have a clue?

And as the chit-chat continued and the wind whistled through the air, a half-filled bus of tourists passed. What was this, they wondered, nodding back and forth.

They gawked and waved from the cold top deck, curious to know what momentous moment they'd stumbled upon in their half-term trip to Belfast.

But it wasn't long before the buzz that had built up over the weekend began to fizzle out, becoming little more than another damp squib in the long, dull road to any restoration of devolution.

It started with the first nod to action, a call to leave Carson's statue and march our way behind officials through the gates to Stormont House.

As we got there, the first of many let-downs was upon us - we'd missed the Taoiseach. Mr Varadkar had been waiting in his car for a while, we were told. So where was he, we wondered. Then it dawned on us the tall, dark stranger in the dashing suit we'd seen through the gates was him - he just hadn't hung around to say hello.

We weren't going to miss the PM, though, that was for sure.

Penned in behind some sturdy rails like teens at a Bieber gig, there was no chance of anyone grabbing out at Mrs May or fainting at her feet.

In fact, so determined was she to keep a lid on our excitement, the Prime Minister didn't cast her eyes in our direction, heading straight, instead, to the safe, warm arms of Secretary of State Karen Bradley for a familiar double kiss.

Her huge entourage emptied itself from her cavalcade of 4x4s and traipsed its way in behind her.

Before we had time to say 'Was that it?' the wooden doors shut behind the lot of them and we were asked to move along.

On up in the main Stormont building the buzz was still low-level.

Ian Paisley had been spotted, some other top team faces too. But left wandering the corridors, as much in the dark as the rest of us, were the leaders of the other parties. Colum Eastwood, Jim Allister, Robin Swann were there. Rumours of Naomi Long as well.

Doug Beattie said the whole thing was an anti-climax after a weekend of hype. "It's all a bit flat," he said.

"We arrived expecting something to happen, but we've been here before.

"You hear the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are in town and you think there's some serious substance. But so far, nothing.

"We'll have to wait and see, yet again, if anything comes of all the talk."

Alliance's Kellie Armstrong agreed. "We've been here so many times," she said.

"The choreography looks like we could be moving to an end-game, but until we see the whites of everyone's eyes, we're cautious."

Mr Eastwood said he hoped something came of the "buzz" but added if rumours about a three-pronged take on the Irish language was the way Sinn Fein would get its Language Act over the line, then it had wasted months.

"As far as I can see that's more or less what the NIO suggested last year, so what's new? Why wait all this time, why would Sinn Fein hold the whole place to ransom for months just to agree something they could have done months ago?" he asked.

Mr Allister wasn't expecting a deal.

He recalled how the DUP had kept Mrs May waiting before. "They'll do it again," he said. "It's a power play."

As a series of Press conferences was scheduled for the afternoon, the buzz from earlier bubbled up again - but only briefly.

First came the SDLP, and it was clear no deal was done.

Then the DUP, followed quickly by Sinn Fein. Progress, hard work, hopes for more.

Then it was back to Stormont House for the stars of the show, the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste, followed by Theresa May. Again, despite the throng of reporters and the many flashing lights, the atmosphere was decidedly flat. Platitudes aplenty, and promises that progress had been made.

Hopes of more in the coming days.

But nothing to report. Not really.

Belfast Telegraph

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