US envoy Gary Hart to return to Belfast next month

US envoy to Northern Ireland, Gary Hart, in Belfast last year. Picture by Brian Lawless/Press Association
US envoy to Northern Ireland, Gary Hart, in Belfast last year. Picture by Brian Lawless/Press Association

FORMER Senator Gary Hart, the US Envoy to the north, is to return to Belfast next month as part of efforts to resolve the crisis at Stormont.

The Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, who is visiting Washington DC to discuss the situation in the north, spoke to Mr Hart on Wednesday.

He said the US was concerned about the direction of the talks to resolve the political impasse.

Mr Flanagan spoke about the north with representatives of the US National Security Council and senior members of Vice President Joe Biden’s staff.

Speaking ahead of the meetings, he said: "The past year has shown the great value of engagement with our friends from Washington, including in the continuing process of talks in Northern Ireland which has included valuable US input, especially by Senator Gary Hart.

"I’m glad to have this opportunity to sit down with friends from both sides of the aisle and brief them directly on the current state of play."

Mr Hart last visited the north in March.

Discussions at Stormont began last week in a bid to resolve the political crisis.

The executive has been under threat of collapse since police said the IRA was still in existence and that members of the group were involved in the murder of Belfast man Kevin McGuigan.

The north's parties yesterday completed a second full week of talks. The discussions are set to last up to another four weeks.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the discussions had been "detailed and serious".

"All parties recognise the pressing need to find solutions, but substantial differences remain," she said.

"I believe there is a strong support amongst the public for a resolution of these questions to open the way for a return to normal and effective government. Church and faith leaders made this point clearly when I met them earlier this week.

"Intensive talks resume next week on legacy issues, ongoing paramilitary activity, welfare and finance. There remains much to do but I am determined to make progress."