US patience with Stormont is fast wearing thin, warns peace envoy Gary Hart
US special peace envoy Gary Hart has warned Northern Ireland's leaders that American investment in Northern Ireland is conditional on political progress.
In an exclusive article for the Belfast Telegraph, the former US Senator makes it clear that US patience with Northern Ireland's political class is fast running out.
Mr Hart spells out an unmistakeable message that the kind of sustained US investment that our economy needs - and all our political leaders aspire to - simply will not happen unless Northern Ireland can demonstrate a far greater degree of political maturity and economic stability than has been shown so far.
"The US contribution here is limited," he said.
"We can continue to demonstrate concern, seek involvement in discussions, propose ideas, and urge compromise. But we cannot solve Northern Ireland's problems. We can help with public contributions, exchange programmes and private investments.
"But large scale private investment requires a greater degree of economic and political stability."
The explicit warning from the US government envoy, appointed by secretary of State John Kerry in 2014, comes after months of political wrangling and brinkmanship at Stormont, fuelling speculation that the Assembly may collapse unless a workable Budget can be agreed between the parties of the Northern Ireland Executive.
In a passage reflecting on the relevance of sectarian and ethnic conflicts around the world for Northern Ireland, the former Senator recognises that advice from outsiders is not always welcomed by those who need it most.
"Much turmoil in the Middle East arises from arbitrary lines on a map drawn by dominant colonial powers, France and Britain, during and following World War I.
"As an American who has studied in England and travelled in Ireland, and who most recently has attempted to provide constructive support to political leaders in Northern Ireland, I have occasionally received instructions from one or more members of the local public to go home and stay home and not interfere.
"But we all know there are many Americans, Irish Catholic and Scots-Irish Protestant, who care about Northern Ireland, its people, and its future and who wish to help.
"Among American politicians, including former politicians, my personal inclination is very much against imposing, instructing or lecturing other people and other nations."
But Mr Hart goes on to suggest that the development of a common identity for the people of Northern Ireland could represent a viable way forward.
"This is somewhat unusual in a nation some of whose politicians think America was created to direct the rest of the world in the path we most favour," he said.
"But intensive involvement in Northern Ireland politics has increasingly brought me back to this reflection: finding a common identity might hold a key to Northern Ireland's future."
Mr Hart also reveals how his time at Yale Divinity School continues to influence his thinking about issues confronting Northern Ireland.
"I began adult life as a student of religion and theology, and it was my religious convictions that brought me into public service as a way to better the lives of people in this life and on this earth.
"And it is those studies and those convictions that shape these reflections about identity in Northern Ireland and America:
"Some of us are Protestant and some of us are Catholic, but we are all human beings and we all are the children of God.
"Some of us are Irish and some of us are British, but we are all human beings and we are all the children of God. Some of us are progressive and some of us are conservative, but we are all human beings and we are all the children of God."
Born in Kansas in 1936, Gary Hart represented Colorado in the US Senate for more than a decade. Educated at Yale Divinity School and later Yale University, he came to national prominence when he twice sought the Democratic Party nomination for President in the 1980s.
Neither bid was successful and in 2014 he was made US Special Representative to Northern Ireland.