Doubts over appointment of US Northern Ireland envoy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hadn’t considered the matter despite predecessor’s pledge

Former CIA director Mike Pompeo, pictured at Thursday’s Senate hearing, became Secretary of State after Donald Trump fired  Rex Tillerson. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former CIA director Mike Pompeo, pictured at Thursday’s Senate hearing, became Secretary of State after Donald Trump fired Rex Tillerson. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

Doubts have been raised about the appointment of a US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had not considered the matter.

Mr Pompeo, appearing before a session of the House Foreign Relations Committee, was questioned about the matter by Philadelphia Congressman Brendan Boyle. But he indicated that he was not aware of the proposed appointment and a letter by 32 members of Congress late last year requesting that the position be filled.

“I don’t know. I’m happy to consider it. I haven’t considered whether to appoint a special envoy or not,” Mr Pompeo said under questioning about the matter.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed in February that the Trump administration was preparing to appointed a special envoy to Northern Ireland, when he met Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in Washington. But Mr Tillerson was fired by President Trump shortly after, and was replaced by former CIA director Mike Pompeo.

A spokesman for the US state department said that the appointment of a special envoy was a matter for the White House.

During his questioning, Mr Boyle said Mr Pompeo’s reply was “very concerning.”

“As I mentioned, 32 members of Congress have written on this issue I believe we’ve previously been given positive indications that it was under consideration.

“The fact that this issue hasn’t been considered by the leadership of the secretary of state — I would urge you to please consider it and to do so promptly as the negotiations right now are at a tenuous point.”

Mr Boyle also said that Brexit had “unintended consequences” for Northern Ireland which were of concern to Ireland, Britain and members of Congress in the United States.

The first US special envoy to Northern Ireland, Senator George Mitchell was appointed in 1995. Successive appointees, including Richard Haass and Gary Hart have played a central role in the Northern Ireland peace process, but the position has remained unfilled since the election of Donald Trump.

The ongoing political impasse in the North and the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement have prompted renewed calls for the position to be filled.

The state department has yet to appoint an ambassador to Ireland, though Ohio businessman Ed Crawford is believed to be under consideration. Dozens of diplomatic posts remain unfilled across the globe more than 16 months after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president.