Hart holds meetings to end deadlock of Northern Ireland interparty talks
US envoy to ‘listen closely’ in seeking progress on flags and parades issues
US envoy to the inter-party talks, Gary Hart (right), is met at Parliament buildings Stormont by SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell and party colleague Joe Byrne. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
The United States envoy to the North’s interparty talks has held a series of meeting aimed at ending deadlock over flags, parades and legacy issues of the conflict.
On day one of his first visit since the role was announced former senator Gary Hart arranged meetings with the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the UUP, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Mr Hart has promised to “listen closely” to help “find a path that will allow compromise and renewed progress”.
It is hoped the talks will result in some form of agreement after the collapse of the last all-party talks in Northern Ireland, chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass.
As well as flags, parades and the past, Mr Hart – who was appointed by US secretary of state John Kerry to offer support to the parties – will also be discussing changes to the way the Assembly and executive work.
Today SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said Mr Hart had “breathed new life” into the Stormont talks process. Dr McDonnell explained his party has consistently called on the US administration to use their substantial influence to help parties come to “a decisive and comprehensive settlement”.
“The appointment of an envoy of the calibre of Sen Hart shows a deep commitment and interest on behalf of the Obama administration,” said Dr McDonnell.
“He has already breathed new life and new energy into the talks process. Sen Hart has demonstrated his commitment already with a deep knowledge of the issues and a willingness to engage with the parties as well as the British and Irish governments.”
Speaking after meeting the US envoy, Sinn Féin MLA Jennifer McCann said it was an important signal of ongoing interest and engagement by the US administration.
“We had a very positive and constructive engagement with former senator Hart and are deeply appreciative of the ongoing interest of the US administration in the talks process,” she said.
“It remains our view that the best way to move forward on all of the outstanding issues is through a plenary involving all parties, the two governments and the support of the US administration.”
Tomorrow the US envoy is meeting Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan as well as First Minister Peter Robinson. Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness both took to Twitter to advise their online followers they had taken a call from US vice-president Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness revealed he will be addressing members of the Relatives for Justice group tomorrow at Stormont. He is meeting with relatives of victims of state violence ahead of next week’s visit to Belfast of EU commissioner for human rights Nils Muiznieks.
Mr Muiznieks will speak at a human rights event at the Ulster Hall on November 6th. Mr McGuinness said: “It is vitally important that the voice of victims is heard in relation to dealing with the past.
“The British government has a responsibility in addressing the legacy of the past in an open and honest way. It cannot be allowed to shirk that responsibility or continue to hide and deny the actions of its agents in the conflict.
“Sinn Féin will continue to work with victims of the conflict to ensure that their needs are paramount.”