US expected to take a role in NI’s reconvened talks

Charlie Flanagan sees role for US in helping ‘to break the logjam’ in the North

The United States is expected to take a role in Northern Ireland's reconvened inter-party talks aimed at attempting to resolve outstanding political issues, including flags, parades and issues of the past.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan said that he saw a role for the US administration in helping, facilitating and supporting the efforts "to break the logjam" in Northern Ireland.

Speaking after meeting US vice president Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, Mr Flanagan said he would like to see a "greater level of engagement" by the US in the Northern Irish talks whether that involved the new American ambassador in Dublin, Kevin O'Malley or an envoy, or a deeper interest in the negotiations.

After attending Mr O'Malley's official swearing-in by Mr Biden in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, Mr Flanagan said that a "level of oversight" from the US was important for the Northern Ireland talks, which have been reconvened by the British government.


“The important thing is that there is a level of engagement to help and support and facilitate the parties in issues that they have found impossible to date to deal with,” the Minister said.

Mr O'Malley's swearing-in was attended by former US senator and one-time presidential contender Gary Hart who conducted a fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland in August on behalf of the Obama administration to assess how the US can help the parties advance the peace process.

Mr Flanagan met Mr Biden and Mr Kerry jointly and also met White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. Mr Flanagan said the meeting with such senior members of Mr Obama’s team “underlines the importance of Irish affairs at the heart of the US administration.”

At the Irish ambassador’s reception to mark the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Ireland, Mr Flanagan joked that he met Mr McDonough over “a very important informal cup of coffee at Starbucks.”

The Minister told The Irish Times that he impressed upon the senior administration figures the "need to ensure that they still have a very important role and function to play, notwithstanding that the primary duty and primary obligation remains on the parties in Belfast to further a solution to their own affairs."

Mr Flanagan said that he hoped to meet Mr O'Malley, a lawyer from St Louis, Missouri, next Tuesday on his arrival in Dublin.

His appointment marks the end of the longest period that the post of US ambassador in Dublin had been left vacant in the 90 years of diplomatic relations between the countries. Mr O'Malley succeeds former ambassador Dan Rooney who stood down in December 2012.

Speaking at last night's reception, the new ambassador said that he would arrive in Ireland on the 90th anniversary of Timothy Smiddy's presentation of his credentials to American President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 as the first Irish envoy to the United States.

He looked forward to working with the Irish Government and people "to make sure that we launch this next 90 years in such a way that it is never misunderstood by anyone anywhere that Ireland has a friend in the United States of America - has now and will always."

"We are connected by bloodlines, by history and by family," he told the large crowd gathered at the residence of Irish ambassador to the US Anne Anderson.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent