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Lack of leadership is bewildering to Northern Ireland's friends in America

By Liam Clarke

Published 08/10/2015

Gary Hart, Nancy Soderberg, Richard Haass and Bill Clinton have all made huge efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland
Gary Hart, Nancy Soderberg, Richard Haass and Bill Clinton have all made huge efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland

Sometime soon, within the next fortnight, we are likely to see Senator Gary Hart back to try and give us the final push to solvency and self-government. Surely this is a good thing.

To a certain extent it is - like getting medicine when you are ill, it is a necessary evil, but it all goes down on your records and affects people's opinion of us. Keeping healthy in the first place is preferable.

We saw it with Richard Haass, who came here with great hopes and left with them more or less dashed. In one interview, with the BBC's William Crawley, he was asked for his memories of the types of personalities involved in the process. He laughed and replied with a question: "Is this show listened to by children?"

He added: "It takes extraordinary leadership to overcome them (identity issues) and we simply didn't have enough of it in Northern Ireland during my period."

Behind all the talk of admiring our achievements, there lies this concern that we haven't actually completed those achievements and may not be capable of doing it.

There have been a lot of false dawns; we often say we have sorted it, but then slip back to the old, destructive ways. Yes, it's better than armed conflict, but it is not where we should be.

Nancy Soderberg was involved in the peace process under Bill Clinton and has maintained a close interest in Ireland ever since. This year she said former President Clinton was ready to come back, repeating an offer he had made to Enda Kenny. Two years ago she gave her opinions to the Irish Times: "The two communities remain far too focused on the injustices of the past." She talked, like Dr Haass, of an "abysmal abdication of leadership".

She explained: "Good leaders would be able to recognise the righteousness of the other side and step forward to compromise and build a more prosperous future.

"Good leaders would get past the flags, parades and the legacy of the violence of the Troubles and work together to attract investment, technology and build the best schools, which are no longer segregated."

She doesn't represent the US administration, but it may be an insight into how well-informed and even well-disposed Americans see us. This is the voice of a friend, not an opponent.

And she hasn't changed her view. Just last month she said: "I don't mean to sit over here on this side of the pond and just throw darts, but after all that Washington has invested in this, as well as London and Dublin, the fact that they're still questioning whether you can have a devolved government is quite stunning."

She observed: "It should give the leaders pause to say: 'What's missing in this equation?'"

What is missing among parties clearly includes both trust in each other to keep undertakings and simple self-confidence.

There is a constant looking over one's shoulder at opponents on one's own side of the orange/green divide. There is constant plotting to block the other side - this is the very opposite of confidence-building.

Soderberg saw the main achievement as "governing on policing and holding the peace". She ventured that perhaps this generation of politicians were trying to nurture a new one, which would complete the journey. Maybe so; there are some interesting new co-options, but we have to live through this generation.

What should we hope for from US involvement when it comes? They could be part of a push to somehow extract more money from London for our budget; some non-administration Democrats have already done that. They could be part of some guarantor mechanism for the agreement. Perhaps most significantly of all, they can encourage inward investment.

Senator Hart and the State Department had an investment conference ready to roll after the Stormont House Agreement was signed. They had to pull it when the agreement wasn't implemented and the devolution of corporation tax looked precarious. We want to get that conference back, which means agreeing - and looking as if we mean it.

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