US representative at Stormont ‘to listen’

Gary Hart
Gary Hart

The US government representative meeting Stormont parties about political agreement will not be taking his agenda from Haass but will start with “a blank canvas”, it is reported.

US government sources told the News Letter that former senator Gary Hart would be meeting all political parties on here in listening or “receive” mode on Thursday.

A former Colorado Democratic senator, Mr Hart sought his party’s nomination for president twice in the 1980s, withdrawing the second time due to allegations of a relationship with a model, Donna Rice.

He now works as a consultant on US national security.

The DUP was quite relaxed and positive about the meeting, having taken much criticism for refusing to accept a list of proposals for agreement made by Senator Richard Haass eight months ago.

But US sources are putting clear blue water between the two men and their approaches - the picture being painted is that while Haass was given the backing of the US government, he was not here on an official mission but was rather invited by the First and Deputy First Minister to bridge the gaps between the parties under a fairly tight timetable.

By contrast, Mr Hart is here at the formal request of US Secretary of State John Kerry, but is under a much less pressured agenda - officially at least he is just here to listen to the main parties.

A US government source said the exercise was to explore “where the gaps are and where the US government might be a positive influence or honest broker”.

He added: “This is certainly not Haass II, although the challenges and opportunities of parading, flags and the past will be raised. But this is very much a blank canvas. We will not take the agenda from Haass - we are here to listen.”

Speaking ahead of yesterday’s meeting, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “This is an informal discussion about Northern Ireland and we are happy to accept the invitation to provide an update.”

He added that his party worked with all the unionist parties to ensure that parading frustrations over the summer were channeled in a lawful and peaceful manner “despite a series of appalling decisions by the Parades Commission”.

The MP said he would also brief Mr Hart on the “irresponsible” blocking of the National Crime Agency from Northern Ireland by the SDLP and Sinn Fein and the latter’s “reneging” on the welfare reform package .

Sinn Fein were invited to comment but had not done so at the time of going to press.