Belfast Telegraph

New US peace envoy for Northern Ireland: Senator whose presidential hopes were buried by photographs with model

By Niall O'Connor

A close associate of US Secretary of State John Kerry is being lined up as the next US special envoy for Northern Ireland, it has been learned.

Former US Senator Gary Hart will today meet Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan in Dublin as part of a fresh bid to secure a deal on Northern Ireland's most divisive issues.

It follows a failed attempt by US diplomat Dr Richard Haass to broker agreement late last year. His proposals surrounding flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of a troubled past were parked on News Year's Eve after the negotiations collapsed.

But Irish sources have confirmed that former US senator Hart will today assess the prospect of reviving the Haass proposals.

It's also expected that Mr Flanagan will raise the idea of Mr Hart becoming the new US special envoy for Northern Ireland.

Mr Flanagan, who was appointed Foreign Affairs minister in a reshuffle last month, is due to meet Mr Hart today.

Sources aware of the talks said it is hoped the meeting is "part of a new push" aimed at addressing the ongoing political tensions in Northern Ireland.

"The minister is keen that parties get back round the table to address parades, flags and the past as soon as possible. An enhanced role for the US is crucial at this time and could be helpful in moving things forward," a source said.

One of the central concerns of the Irish government is a growing threat from dissidents if power sharing fails to work.

"There is a concern that if the Executive isn't working there is a vacuum and that vacuum will be filled by dissidents," said one Dublin source.

Senator Hart will hold meetings in London and Belfast in addition to his engagements in Dublin. While he is technically in Ireland in a personal capacity, his visit is believed to be strongly supported by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr Hart is a former Colorado senator and sought the party's nomination for presidency on two occasions in the '80s.

He withdrew during his second attempt after his campaign was damaged by negative publicity over his alleged relationship with model Donna Rice.

Mr Flanagan is expected to tell Mr Hart that people in both parts of Ireland cannot afford another year of political stagnation.

"Support for effective partnership government in Northern Ireland is particularly important when relations within the Northern Ireland Executive have been strained for more than a year," a source explained.

"It is clear that the Executive is not functioning effectively with a number of issues log-jammed, including welfare reform."

Gary Hart sought solitude in Ireland after 1987 photo scandal

Former US senator Gary Hart is no stranger to Ireland.

But he will be hoping that this visit is much less controversial than last time - with no monkey business.

In April 1987 Hart announced the beginning of his second presidential campaign.

Less than a month later a newspaper published a photo of a woman who wasn't his wife leaving his home.

Hart expressed outrage, but within a week it published photos of 29-year-old model Donna Rice sitting on Hart's lap on a yacht called Monkey Business. He dropped out of the race and sought solitude in Ireland.

In 1974 Hart ran for the US Senate. In the election he challenged two-term incumbent Republican Peter Dominick. Hart won by a wide margin and was subsequently labelled a rising star. In 1980, he sought a second term, and in February 1983 announced his candidacy for President in the 1984 campaign.

To raise his profile Hart hit the hustings early, and as a result attracted national media attention.

Hart became the main challenger to Walter Mondale for nomination. He gained exposure as a candidate with "new ideas". The most famous television moment of the campaign came in a debate.

Mondale mocked Hart's "new ideas" by quoting a line from a Wendy's television commercial at the time: "Where's the beef?" Hart's campaign could not effectively counter this remark, and when he ran later negative TV commercials against Mondale, his appeal as the "new kind" of Democrat never fully recovered. Following his campaigning he resumed his law practice but remained active in politics, gaining a reputation as an expert on security issues.

A week before September 11 he gave a speech to an American international law firm warning that within the next 25 years a terrorist attack would lead to mass deaths in America.

In 2002 he considered another run for President, but decided against it.

In September 2007 The Huffington Post published his letter 'Unsolicited Advice to the Government of Iran' in it he stated "provocation is no longer required to take America to war".

In the same year he founded the American Security Project.

Hart is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Factfile

There have been five US Special Envoys. Bill Clinton appointed George Mitchell in 1995. He chaired the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. In 2003, President Bush appointed Richard Haass. He and his successor, Mitchell Reiss, took a tough line with Sinn Fein. Next was Paula Dobriansky. Declan Kelly, whose role was economic, was the last. He resigned in 2011.

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