Northern Ireland

US Envoy Gary Hart to 'listen closely' to NI parties

Senator Gary Hart
Image caption Senator Gary Hart has previously held informal talks in Belfast and Dublin

US envoy Gary Hart has promised to "listen closely" in his first meetings in the new round of inter-party talks in Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of the talks, Mr Hart said no-one underestimated the complexities facing NI leaders.

Mr Hart said many questioned whether the institutions could emerge from the "current political stagnation".

The current talks are aimed at resolving difficulties among the five parties in the Stormont government.

Mr Hart said Northern Ireland had made a "remarkable journey" in the past 20 years.

There had been major political, economic, and social successes, he said.

"The United States provided political, economic and social support throughout this period.

"In coordination with Secretary Kerry, we will determine how the United States can use its good offices to help the parties find a path that will allow compromise and renewed progress," he said.

"Working together, the parties can give Northern Ireland the stable, prosperous, and shared future its people deserve."

Mr Hart was appointed by US Secretary of State John Kerry last week to offer support to the parties.

Like the Haass talks that ended without a deal last December, the negotiators are considering the problems of flags, parades and the legacy of the Troubles.

They will also examine changes to the way the assembly and executive work.

Mr Hart is scheduled to meet the SDLP at noon on Wednesday, then the Ulster Unionists, followed by the Alliance Party.

He will speak to Martin McGuinness in his role as deputy first minister and as a senior member of Sinn Féin.

He is also due to meet Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

Last week, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) dismissed claims by Sinn Féin that the party was not engaged in the talks process.

It stayed away from the opening session of the talks on 16 October, with its party leader, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, describing it as a "circus" arranged for the cameras.

The DUP had objected to negotiating with the Irish government about Northern Ireland's internal affairs.

The party met Ms Villiers, but, so far, has not taken part in round-table talks.

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