Sunday 26 October 2014

Ex-White House hopeful Hart in line for key role in North talks

Published 27/08/2014 | 02:30

Donna Rice and Gary Hart

A CLOSE associate of Secretary of State John Kerry is being lined up as the next US special envoy for Northern Ireland, the Irish Independent has learned.

Former Senator Gary Hart campaigned for the US presidency twice, but was forced to withdraw his second attempt after he was photographed with 29-year-old model Donna Rice on his lap while on board a boat called Monkey Business in 1987.

Mr Hart will today meet Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan in Dublin as part of a fresh bid to secure a peace deal in the North.

US diplomat Dr Richard Haass spent several weeks chairing inter-party talks late last year but was unable to secure the support of unionist parties.

His range of proposals surrounding flags, parades and dealing with the region's troubled past were parked on News Year's Eve after the negotiations collapsed.

Among the proposals was the establishment of a commission to research and report on issues related to Culture and Identity in the North.

But government sources have confirmed that Gary Hart will today assess the prospect of reviving the Haass proposals.

It's also expected that Mr Flanagan will raise the idea of Mr Hart formally succeeding Dr Haass as the new US special envoy for Northern Ireland.

The former Fine Gael chairperson, who was appointed Foreign Affairs minister in last month's reshuffle, is due to meet Mr Hart today.

Sources aware of the talks last night said it is hoped the meeting is "part of a new push" aimed at addressing the ongoing political tensions in the North.

"The Minister is keen that parties get back round the table to address parades, flags and the past as soon as possible. An enhanced role for the US is crucial at this time and could be helpful in moving things forward," a source told the Irish Independent.

One of the central concerns of the Government is a growing threat from dissidents if power sharing in the North fails to work.

"There is a concern that if the Executive isn't working there is a vacuum and that vacuum will be filled by dissidents," said one government source.

Senator Hart will hold meetings in London and Belfast in addition to his engagements in Dublin.

While he is technically in the country in a personal capacity, his visit is believed to be strongly supported by Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr Hart is a former Colorado senator and sought the party's nomination for presidency in 1984 and 1988.

Upon his retirement, Mr Hart worked as a consultant on US national security matters.

Stagnation

Mr Flanagan is expected to tell Mr Hart that people in both the North and South cannot afford another year of political stagnation.

"Support for effective partnership government in Northern Ireland is particularly important when relations within the Northern Ireland Executive have been strained for more than a year. It is clear that the Executive is not functioning effectively with a number of issues log-jammed, including welfare reform," a source explained.

Mr Flanagan is likely to propose that Mr Hart himself becomes the new envoy in a bid to solve the "political impasse in Northern Ireland", sources said last night.

The Laois/Offaly TD is also due to meet the North's Secretary of State Theresa Villiers next week. Ms Villiers was the first political figure whom the minister phoned following his appointment by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

British Prime Minister David Cameron indicated last month that he would be willing to make a joint statement with Mr Kenny on the ongoing political conflict in the North.

Irish Independent

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