Urgent need for American and European ‘hands-on’ role in Stormont talks

There is real risk of political drift, culminating in a British position which attempts to dilute the Haass compromise proposals

AS BILATERAL TALKS took place on Wednesday in Belfast between political parties and the Irish and British governments to discuss dealing with the past, parades and other issues, DUP leader Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist Party Mike Nesbitt spent a second day visiting Brussels.

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness went to the European Parliament one month ago to encourage cross-party support for the landmark resolution on the Northern political process (passed overwhelmingly today – Thursday) and to meet the leaderships of all political groups and senior officials in the parliament. The two unionist leaders’ trip was a belated political reaction to that Sinn Féin initiative.

No similar resolution about Ireland has been passed in Europe before.

It expresses concern that the implementation of the Peace Process has reached an impasse, welcomes the current talks and urges all parties to participate constructively to resolve all outstanding issues.

It was supported by every political group in the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, the talks in Belfast continue to lack a process and political momentum. Both are required for any possibility of progress to be made. Increased international attention will be needed to bring that about. 

This Conservative Party-led British Government has been completely indifferent to what is needed to end the current impasse. 

Its relegation of the North to a political backwater, an associated lack of positive politics, commitment and negotiation capacity, and their system’s loss of institutional memory and skills on Ireland all negatively feed into this British approach.

Add to that the Conservatives’ own unionist political bias, the political crisis in the British state, next year’s Westminster elections, and hedging their bets with the DUP.

The Conservatives and the British system are not concentrated on making these talks work. 

Sidebar conversations involving them about negative default scenarios regarding the New Year, if not before, are counter-productive.

As a result of the European Parliament resolution, it is now prepared to offer any support which can be of assistance to the Northern political process.

The United States administration is keenly aware that the Good Friday Agreement itself and the viability of the political institutions are directly threatened.

Gary Hart starts talks

US Senator Gary Hart has already conducted one round of meetings here to offer encouragement.

It is clear that unless the US Government – through Gary Hart – is directly involved in these talks, no substantive political negotiation will occur while the British continue pretending they are facilitators and not participants.

Instead, there is real risk for political drift, culminating in a preordained British position paper being tabled which attempts to dilute the Haass compromise proposals and is bereft of a serious economic reconstruction plan for the North.

● Senator Gary Hart should now be given a central role in helping to shape and drive the talks agenda.

● The political resources of the EU Parliament should also be brought into play. 

● The Irish Government ought to make these representations.

A properly-structured negotiation process with political momentum will depend on intensified international diplomatic attention, and a ‘hands-on’ role for America and Europe.