Belfast Telegraph

Now envoy Hart presses for progress

By Liam Clarke

The US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland has urged local politicians to move beyond "their respective party agendas" to find a compromise in crisis talks.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, retired Senator Gary Hart states: "Yes, they have their respective party agendas. But there is in each and all of them a desire to move beyond the past. It is not a question of whether; it is a question of how."

Mr Hart's intervention comes as frustration grows over the slow pace of the ongoing talks at Stormont, with the process described as "shambolic".

The envoy pledges the US's help but said the major responsibility for solving the problems would lie on local parties.

"We in the United States can seek to encourage private investments, and thus employment opportunities, to Northern Ireland. But our success in that effort will require political stability and a functioning, problem-solving government operated by men and women of goodwill."

Mr Hart represents Senator John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, and the Washington administration. He is not expected to attend any talks here until early December, after America's Thanksgiving holidays.

By that time it is expected that a public consultation on the draft budget, which contains swingeing cuts, should be completed.

The plan is to put it to the Assembly together with other matters for approval by the end of December and to publish a final budget in January. Flags, parading, the past and the organisation of devolution are also meant to be dealt with by the end of the year. On Monday discussions centred mainly on finance, and yesterday it was legacy issues.

Despite this ambitious timetable and the wide agenda there are mixed reports on the pace of progress at talks which have not yet reached the plenary, or round table, stage.

Naomi Long, the Alliance deputy leader, was the most scathing, describing the talks so far as "nothing short of shambolic", and saying there appeared to be a lack of desire to make real progress from other parties".

Ms Long said: "This is the third set of talks in the past year and I am not the only one becoming increasingly frustrated at the failure to reach agreement."

Last night Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said: "There has been a positive approach by all in trying to find an agreed way forward on some difficult issues, and I very much hope that this will continue."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph