Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Former White House Gary Hart hopeful bids to get Northern Ireland parties talking again

Former Senator Gary Hart has built up a formidable reputation as an expert on security issues
Former Senator Gary Hart has built up a formidable reputation as an expert on security issues

Twenty years after the IRA ceasefire - and 19 since America appointed its first special envoy to Northern Ireland - a former US senator and presidential hopeful will once again try to persuade the political parties to work together

Senator Gary Hart will today hold talks with the five Executive parties before reporting direct to John Kerry, the US Secretary of State.

The decision to send him is described as a personal one by Mr Kerry, who is essentially the US Foreign Minister. However, it has all the hallmarks of a State Department initiative and it is clear that the US government may become directly involved in the role of 'honest broker' if Mr Hart receives encouragement from the parties.

Mr Hart is personally and politically close to Mr Kerry.

"The Senator is primarily here to assess how the US can assist the parties. He is not coming in with preconceived ideas. It shouldn't be perceived as 'Haass 2'," one source said, referring to failed talks chaired by US diplomat Dr Richard Haass last year. The negotiations on flags, parades, and dealing with the past broke up without agreement at New Year, though a document, which Vice President Joe Biden endorsed at the time, was produced.

Hart arrived here from Dublin late last night after meeting Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

After meeting the Stormont executive parties today, he will travel to London afterwards.

The DUP said its deputy leader Nigel Dodds would update Mr Hart on the predominantly peaceful summer. However, the North Belfast MP will also outline "the significant challenges facing Northern Ireland".

Sinn Fein is expected to be represented by junior minister Jennifer McCann. Yesterday its leader Gerry Adams urged the Irish and British governments to bring pressure on unionists to reach a deal. Recalling the peace process which followed the 1994 IRA ceasefire, he said "the direct involvement of the Irish and British governments and the support of the US Administration was crucial to that achievement. The same level of engagement is now required to deal with those outstanding issues which have bedevilled the political process."

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said he hoped Mr Hart would build on the ground that Haass covered, rather than starting from scratch. But UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he will tell him that the Haass proposals won't work as they stand.

Background

Former Colorado Senator Gary Hart campaigned for the US presidency twice. But the married politician was forced to withdraw during his second attempt in 1987 after he was photographed with 29-year-old model Donna Rice on his lap while on board a boat called Monkey Business. Afterwards, he sought solitude in the Republic, and he has a deep affection for Ireland. He once said: "Only half of me wants to be president – the other half wants to go write novels in Ireland."