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Trump administration to abolish special envoy to Northern Ireland

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US President Donald Trump and wife Melania

US President Donald Trump and wife Melania

George Mitchell

George Mitchell

Gary Hart

Gary Hart

US President Donald Trump and wife Melania

America's special envoy to Northern Ireland faces the axe amid plans by the US government to slash its overseas diplomatic operation.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has proposed abolishing more than half of envoys.

The last envoy to Northern Ireland was former Democrat Senator Gary Hart.

His appointment lapsed when the Obama administration left power, and the position has not been filled by President Trump's team.

A spokesman from the US State Department in Washington told the Belfast Telegraph: "Regarding the personal representative for Northern Ireland issues - that position will be retired.

"The 1998 Good Friday Agreement has been implemented with a devolved national Assembly in Belfast now in place.

"Legacy and future responsibilities will be assigned to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs."

It comes amid a substantial reduction in American involvement in the peace process in recent years. The US has sent a special envoy to Northern Ireland for more than two decades.

Bill Clinton floated the idea in the early 1990s amid growing transatlantic interest in Northern Ireland's affairs.

But it was not until 1995 that a decision to appoint a special envoy was finally made.

The first envoy was former US Senator George Mitchell, who played a key role in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He served between 1995 and 2001, and was followed by Richard Haass who later led talks to resolve the impasse on issues surrounding parades, flags and the legacy of the Troubles.

Mitchell Reiss and Paula Dobriansky followed, before Hillary Clinton named the New York-based Irish businessman Declan Kelly as economic envoy in 2009.

The position was vacant from 2011 until Mr Hart's appointment in 2014. Slashing some of the special envoy positions has been on the cards for several years, amid criticism their role and impact was reduced by the sheer number of posts.

Mr Tillerson proposed the cuts in envoy posts in a letter to Senator Bob Corker, chair of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The Trump administration has vowed to slash the funding of the state department, which manages US relations with foreign countries and governments.

Mr Tillerson has suggested that the special envoys for climate change and the Iran deal, Afghanistan-Pakistan, disability rights, international labour affairs and for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, as well as the Northern Ireland role, will be eliminated.

However, Democrats have pledged to oppose the move.

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, took issue with the idea of eliminating several posts.

He said: "None of these are incidental. Each one of these areas has a reason why they have a special envoy."

In 2014, the American Foreign Service Association said that the number of special envoys and representatives had "increased substantially, diluting the brand and reducing effectiveness".

Belfast Telegraph