Belfast Telegraph

Gary Hart, latest US envoy sent to Northern Ireland is a 'real visionary with can-do attitude'

Senator Gary Hart is to be the US's newest envoy to Northern Ireland (AP)
Senator Gary Hart is to be the US's newest envoy to Northern Ireland (AP)

By jim dee

Former US Senator Gary Hart will arrive in Belfast later this month as the latest in a decades-long parade of special US peace process envoys - and a man long off the radar of mainstream American political life.

However, according to a longtime friend and political ally of Hart's, that doesn't mean the former Colorado senator should be taken lightly.

"I think Gary Hart is one of the real visionaries of our time, in terms of his ability to understand the forces at work in the United States and how they relate to the forces at work around the world," said Jim Lyons, who was Bill Clinton's economic envoy to Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2001.

Hart represented Colorado in the US Senate between 1975 and 1987, and launched failed bids for the Presidency in 1984 and 1988.

The latter imploded dramatically after details of his extramarital affair with Donna Rice became public.

Still, more than a quarter century after his Presidential dreams crashed, Hart remains on the radar of Washington's power elite.

In 1998, Bill Clinton tapped him to co-chair a panel on homeland security.

He has also served on various commissions for the US State Department, Defense Department, and Department of Homeland Security.

Bruce Morrison, the former Connecticut congressman who was key to stoking the Clintons' interest in the peace process, welcomed Hart's appointment.

"It's good that Secretary Kerry wants there to be an American voice and wants there to be it to be someone that he feels close to, and that he can rely on," Mr Morrison said.

"And the fact that (Hart) hasn't been engaged particularly in the past on Northern Ireland can be a virtue in the sense that I don't think that anybody could reasonably attach any partisanship, in Northern Ireland terms, to his history."

So what are the chances Gary Hart will help break the logjam?

"I think anybody going to Northern Ireland trying to help faces stiff odds," said Lyons, who's just published a book about his Northern Ireland experiences entitled Peace Meets the Streets.

Lyons said that what Americans usually bring to tough negotiations was a pragmatic optimism. "We say 'OK, let's understand what the problem is'.

"Let's understand what the working pieces are to solve the problem. And let's solve the problem.

"And I think Gary comes to this with that sort of can-do attitude."

One Washington insider with long-time involvement in Irish affairs said that Belfast's politicians shouldn't take high-level US governmental attention for granted.

"Northern Ireland, like lots of places around the world, tends to think that their problems are the biggest on the board. And they aren't," he said.

"The reality is we've got Russia and Ukraine, we've got Ebola, we've got Afghanistan, and ISIL. There are all kinds of problems."

Mr Morrison thinks American interest in Northern Ireland won't soon wane.

"There will always be 40 million Irish-Americans. And so there will always be an interest," he said.

"This is a big country. And we can walk and chew gum at the same time," he quipped.

Perhaps Hart's experience may help forge an agreement where Richard Haass failed.

Belfast Telegraph

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