Monkey business at Stormont

Gary Hart It is understood Mr Hart will use his visit to assess how the United States can assist the parties in Northern Ireland to advance the peace process

Related Stories

The arrival of former Democratic senator Gary Hart in Belfast just as Northern Ireland is about to mark the 20th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire is a bit of a surprise.

Senator Hart has long harboured an interest in Ireland.

Back in the 1980s, he was quoted as saying: "Only half of me wants to be president - the other half wants to go write novels in Ireland."

Since his retirement from US Congress, he has specialised in security matters, and is a long-term friend and ally of current US Secretary of State John Kerry.

He is also associated with the Council on Foreign Relations, the same think tank that gave us Richard Haass.

Listening mission

But whether Senator Hart likes it or not, he will always be best remembered internationally for the scandal that forced his withdrawal from the 1988 US Presidential race, after pictures emerged of him with a glamorous model on board a yacht called "Monkey Business".

So what will Senator Hart makes of the "monkey business" now afoot at Stormont?

The last time the US sent a senior official, Victoria Nuland, to Belfast, she found it impossible to persuade the politicians to gather in the same room.

Ms Nuland welcomed the talks then getting under way on parading, flags and the past.

But it wasn't long until unionists walked out of those discussions in protest against the Parades Commission's determinations in north Belfast.

Senator Hart, we're told, is on a listening mission; which is just as well, because any suggested way forward has its drawbacks:

  • Should more Haass-style talks be reconvened?
  • What would be the point while unionists are still waiting for the Northern Ireland Office's response to their demand for a specific north Belfast parading inquiry?
  • Should such an inquiry proceed? Unionist say yes but nationalists say no.
'Where's the beef?'

The domestic nitty gritty of how Northern Ireland runs its health service or pays its welfare benefits isn't usually an item on any agenda for discussions with US diplomats.

But if Senator Hart ignores the financial tensions between the Stormont Executive parties he will only get half of the picture.

That's because there seems little likelihood of the politicians making progress on security and conflict-related matters, when they are at each others' throats over finance.

If the unionist "graduated response" on parading doesn't destabilise Stormont, then the stand-off over welfare reform might well.

Senator Hart once had to deal with rival Democrat Walter Mondale's challenge about his new ideas for the US presidency.

Mondale famously asked Hart, "Where's the beef?"

If Senator Hart wants to meet a group of politicians who have a beef about everything and everyone they deal with, then he's come to the right place.

Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker row: When is a deal not a deal?

Does the Northern Ireland Assembly's failure to elect a new speaker have ramifications for the outcome of new government talks, beginning this week?

Read full article

More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The truth about Northern Ireland is that it’s a failed experiment. You can fiddle around the edges, using stick and carrot methods, but that only buys time. Loyalists are trashing their own culture to the disgust of the British and in the end Britain will say enough is enough and it will be the Loyalists, not Nationalists, who force Britain to pull out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Not wanting to face up to facts is the stocking trade of our politicians. They have buried their heads in the sand until its too late and now there is a bow wave about to wash them and the sand away. It is only a mater of time until we see at least two if not three hospitals shut. Public sector works are now in decline if not stopped but no one wants to accept the inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    On the same day we hear that more people are leaving NI than entered it...Mixed messages from Soderberg and Hart. Soderberg nailing it over the lack of political leadership on both sides and Hart attempting diplomacy. Its rapidly coming home to roost that Devolution here, with the USA's name all over it, is unworkable. USA leadership should acknowledge this and stop trying to make a penguin fly

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I increasingly wonder why the U.S. and other countries still bother with us, Nancy Soderberg's comments just highlight how petty and small minded our politicians are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    A waste of fuel and shoe leather in my opinion. Unionists continue to say NO to everything and the Sinners can't say YES to Welfare Reform given the all-Ireland party stance. I hope my children/grandchildren look back at this debacle in 50 or so years and think 'Really? Flags and marching? This is what held us back?


Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • FutureThe future is now

    Get the latest updates and biggest ideas from BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit


  • A virtual girlfriendClick Watch

    Using the latest tech to find friends on a night out and meet a virtual girlfriend

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.