John Kerry sends ‘fellow would-be president’ to Northern Ireland

Posted By: October 25, 2014

 Simon Carswell. Irish Times. Saturday, October 25,2014

Gary Hart, the former US senator and two-time contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, is the latest in a long line of high-profile former politicians tapped by the US’s State Department to help bring long-eluded peace to a troubled part of the world. On Tuesday secretary of state John Kerry appointed Hart (77) – “his fellow would-be president,” as the Atlantic magazine called him this week – his “personal representative” to Northern Ireland. It was a bid to help focus the minds of political leaders in the latest round of all-party talks aimed at resolving the thorny issues of flags, parades and the past. In his statement announcing Hart’s well-flagged appointment, Kerry described the former two-term senator from Colorado as his “longtime friend.” Hart was “someone who has spent many weeks in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the past 30 years,” he said. Well, it was 30 years ago that Hart first ran for president. He tried again in the 1988 race. He was the frontrunner until May 1987 when revelations about an extramarital relationship with a 29-year-old model ended his run. He retreated to a rented cottage in Oughterard, Co Galway to avoid the media after one of the most startling turns in American politics. Around the time of the scandal, he was quoted by the New York Times telling a friend: “Only half of me wants to be president. The other half wants me to go write novels in Ireland. But the 50 per cent that wants to be president is better than 100 per cent of the others.” Incidentally, the scandal has sparked a debate here about whether the media’s questioning of Hart’s fidelity marked a watershed moment in American politics, changing forever how far the media will go in reporting on politicians and a shift to “gotcha journalism”. In sharing unfulfilled ambitions for the highest office, Hart and Kerry have much in common. Their Senate tenures overlapped for two years, from 1985 to 1987, and Hart helped Kerry in his own run for president in 2004. Remarks made by Hart during his own presidential campaign in 1984 show that even 30 years ago he had well advanced views on how to fix the political situation in Northern Ireland. Blame-game A statement he issued to the Irish National Caucus, the Capitol Hill-based Irish-American group, in January 1984 is worth reprising given his new role in Belfast. “The debate should no longer centre over who is responsible for this or that violence; condemning symptoms does nothing to cure the disease,” he said at the time. All electoral initiatives up until that point had failed, he said, because “they have not taken into account the democratic wishes of the people of Ireland as a whole”. “The best way, and in fact, the only way to establish a lasting peace is within a democratic All-Ireland context,” he said. “Regardless of long fostered socioeconomic divisions, the fact must be recognised that Ireland is essentially one nation. With the acceptance of this historical fact, the first step on the road to a long overdue peace in that trouble land will have to be taken.” Unionists will hope that his “one nation” views may have tempered since then. Hart no doubt will have plenty of time to explain whether his position has evolved in the three decades since he wrote this. Kerry said Hart would play “a direct, on-the-ground diplomatic role” and planned to visit Belfast before the end of the month. It is worth noting the involvement of a then young political activist named Martin O’Malley in the formation of Hart’s position. The Irish-American, now governor of Maryland, has presidential ambitions for 2016. He worked on Hart’s 1984 campaign and drafted his policy paper on Northern Ireland pushing for the US to take the role of peace-broker, for all-party talks and for the appointment of an envoy (the role Hart now has, rounding the circle). These specific aims, the first time they were supported by a Democratic candidate, were endorsed by the party’s eventual 1984 nominee, Walter Mondale. They were later adopted in the Democratic campaigns of 1988 and 1992. Hart was a visionary in that regard and his 1984 goals for Northern Ireland remarkably prescient. ‘Majority will’ Asked about his views back then Hart told The Irish Times this week by email: “My views, expressed three decades ago, emphasised the democratic decision-making process in determining the future of Northern Ireland: that is, they should be free to decide their political affiliation and destiny according to majority will.” That principle later became adopted in the Good Friday Agreement. He added: “I have spent many enjoyable days in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, and look forward to many more in the hope that the United States government can support and assist the new round of discussions just begun.” © 2014