Gary Hart named US envoy to Ulster
Former US senator Gary Hart is to be a Washington envoy in the latest round of political talks in Northern Ireland.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Mr Hart would act as his "personal representative" in supporting the region's political parties as they attempt to overcome a series of logjams that are creating instability in the power-sharing administration in Belfast.
Mr Hart, a two-time contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1980s, crossed the Atlantic in the summer at the request of Mr Kerry to assess the state of the peace process.
Mr Kerry said the diplomat, whom he described as a "long-time friend" and one of the US's "most respected and accomplished senior statesmen", would return to Belfast before the end of the month.
Fresh negotiations involving the five parties in the power-sharing mandatory coalition convened by the UK Government commenced last Thursday and are due to resume tomorrow.
As well as the long-unresolved peace process disputes on flags, parades and the legacy of the past, over the coming weeks politicians will also attempt to reach consensus on rows over the implementation of welfare reforms in the region and on the very structures of the devolved Assembly.
Mr Kerry said: "I have asked Senator Gary Hart, one of our country's most respected and accomplished senior statesmen, creative and strategic thinkers, and my long-time friend who has been working with the State Department for close to two years, to also play a direct, on-the-ground diplomatic role.
"Whether it's through his 12 years in the Senate, or his work on the US Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, Gary is known as a problem-solver, a brilliant analyst, and someone capable of thinking at once tactically, strategically, and practically. He's been engaged already in the intellectual side of our government's foreign policy during this Administration, whether as chairman of the State Department's International Security Advisory Board, or as chairman of the Threat Reduction Advisory Council at the Department of Defence.
"Now we're fortunate that he's agreed to devote some additional time to engage in the tough and patient work of diplomacy as my personal representative, including on issues related to Northern Ireland. He does so with my confidence and trust.
"Senator Hart has spent many weeks in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the past 30 years. He has listened and spoken to the people of Northern Ireland, and he knows many of the leaders. I've asked Senator Hart to support the parties in Northern Ireland as they enter a new round of talks to achieve a lasting peace.
"We welcome these new talks, supported by the United Kingdom and Ireland. I am confident Senator Hart will help the parties strengthen the institutions and economy of Northern Ireland, as well as reinvigorate efforts to promote a shared society. Our Consul General in Belfast Greg Burton will serve as Senator Hart's deputy for his Northern Ireland work. Senator Hart expects to visit Belfast before the end of the month."
Last December intensive talks chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass to resolve long-standing disputes around parades, flags and the toxic legacy of the Troubles ended in failure.
In July an effort to reconvene negotiations in earnest, this time chaired by a senior Stormont official, suffered a similar fate after unionists walked out as part of protest action against a partial ban on a contentious Orange Order parade.
At this stage Mr Hart is not set to assume as prominent a role as Dr Haass.
The politician's second bid for the Democratic nomination in 1988 ended in scandal after the married politician was pictured on a yacht with a model sitting on his lap.