Former senator Gary Hart has been operating as Secretary of State John Kerry’s personal emissary to Northern Ireland since last October, but that needs to change.
He does not have the status of a special envoy as George Mitchell and others had. He needs to have the full-throated support of the Obama administration behind him as the latest crisis hits the peace talks
President Obama needs to step forward and express leadership on the Irish issue given the current crisis there. It took almost two years to appoint an ambassador. It should surely take far less to put in place a powerful American plenipotentiary and make a personal statement on the US desire for a crisis to be averted.
Hart has done Trojan work but shortly embarks on a book tour that will take him away at a critical time from the crisis there. He has also been hamstrung by his lack of an official role other than that of personal emissary.
A dispute over welfare cuts has meant that potentially the power-sharing executive could collapse and direct rule return to the north which would be disastrous.
The Orange card is looming large. The new Tory government is holding a small majority of twelve seats. They are keenly aware that they could end up needing the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. A divisive European Union membership vote, deaths, defections for other reasons could quickly cancel their current tiny majority.
That means that David Cameron will be listening to the DUP, which wants to pass his welfare cuts, far more than he will listen to Sinn Fein or the SDLP, both of which think the welfare cuts will devastate the poorest of the population. Little wonder that Cameron has met DUP leaders but not nationalist ones since the election.
The solution to the stand-off is surely here in the US as it was so often during the Clinton/George Mitchell and later the Richard Haass years.
America can propose and put forward compromises that all sides can agree to if they are coming from a neutral interlocutor. In addition, the US can be a powerful counterbalance to the Orange alliance for Cameron and the DUP in reassuring nationalists of a fair deal as can the Irish government.
Gary Hart worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get the Christmas Stormont House Agreement together and deserves great praise. That document covered the major bones of contention such as flags, parades, etc. No one thought it would be the welfare issue that would spark a new crisis.
That agreement had begun to unravel due to Sinn Fein’s unhappiness with the harsh welfare cuts contained in that deal especially with more to come it seems.
The issue is confusing to many Irish Americans as it seems to have arisen out of nowhere.
Nonetheless, it is all the more important that it is dealt with now before it becomes a fully blown crisis. President Obama and a newly empowered envoy need to step in.