US cannot ‘dictate solution’ to North’s problems - Gary Hart

Envoy says agreement between parties on budget positive but ‘basket of issues’ remains

US envoy to the interparty talks Gary Hart speaking at a press conference in the US Consulate General offices in Belfast today.Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

US envoy to the interparty talks Gary Hart speaking at a press conference in the US Consulate General offices in Belfast today.Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

 

The US has no interest in “dictating” a solution to long-running political differences in Northern Ireland, US envoy Gary Hart has said, urging the parties involved to advise where and when it can help.

Speaking in Belfast, Mr Hart said the resolution of problems around the North’s budget yesterday was a substantial achievement but that a “basket of issues” ranging from welfare matters to legacy issues such as parading remained.

Mr Hart met DUP First Minister Peter Robinson for the first time yesterday, and said they had a very good discussion but time was required for trust to be built between them.

“I think there is a sense perhaps on his part that ‘these are our problems for our devolved government to solve and we welcome your interest and your concern but when the chips are down we have to make the decision’ . . . I think that’s a fair and accurate description,” he said.

Mr Robinson said he looked forward to “encouragement but not direct involvement from the United States in terms of moving forward”.

Talks process

Mr Hart, a 77-year-old former senator, was appointed by US secretary of state John Kerry to provide support to the Northern Ireland parties during a UK government-convened talks process.

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 at the beginning of the year.

The DUP and UUP pulled out of the last round of talks on flags, parading and the past during the summer after a decision to bar Orangemen from parading past the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast on July 12th.

Mr Hart, who travels home today, also met Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan in Belfast. Mr Flanagan said he was confident Mr Hart could play an important role in the talks process but cautioned that “many challenging compromises” would need to be made by all parties in the Northern Ireland Executive if the issues were to be resolved.

On Wednesday the former senator met the SDLP, Alliance Party, UUP, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Hart said the main question from the US perspective was how it could help to bring about a resolution to the issues facing Northern Ireland.

He said there was disappointment the Haass talks had failed to yield a resolution but the proposals were still on the table.

Asked if there was a deadline for the talks, he said the coming weeks would be important as there was unlikely to be much activity around the Christmas period or early next year given the Westminister elections were approaching.

In the event of stagnation in the process, he said, “Maybe the best thing the US government can do is put a big package of proposals on the table that encompass all the issues and say: ‘Here’s something for you but you have to give something up.’”

However, he said such an approach would likely be too ambitious at this stage and for now his job was to listen to the advice coming from the talks process.