Wed 7th Oct 2015
Oct 15: Parties must grasp US offer to help in political crisis
Stephen McCully, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
When political instability takes a hold in Northern Ireland, and lets face it, its not an unusual occurrence, we all wish our politicians well as they embark on talks to resolve outstanding issues. At times they have made some progress on some big issues, by talking among themselves and grasping the difficult issues until compromise is settled on. On other occasions we have looked externally for help, be that to the UK and Irish Governments and even to the US administrations. We are fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of a large degree of political goodwill and influence. For a while in the mid 1990s and beyond Northern Ireland was near the top of the international political agenda and that definitely worked in our favour.
Two years ago ex-US diplomats Richard Haas and Meghan O’Sullivan sacrificed a significant chunk of their Christmas holidays to try and cajole our local leaders into a deal. That work laid the foundations for the Stormont House Agreement which emerged at the end of the following year. The implementation of that plan stalled at the first major hurdle and that roadblock has in large part left us where we are now, at the starting point of another round of political discussions.
Now the most influential of all US politicians who have played a hands-on role in Northern Ireland politics has reportedly offered to help out again. Two time President Bill Clinton played a very direct role in brokering the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and he has indicated a willingness to help out again if required.
The offer has been respectfully received, if a little coolly, by some local politicians. They are absolutely entitled of course to claim this process as their own but if a little outside help is available, then perhaps it would be prudent to take up the offer. The USA remains an important trading partner for us and should an agreement eventually be reached which includes the reduction of Corporation Tax, then Invest NI and our Ministers will be looking stateside for possible FDI projects. It is important to maintain those business as well as political links.
Added to this, it has emerged that the US Envoy to Northern Ireland, former Senator Gary Hart is set to return to Northern Ireland later this month to help with the current political crisis at Stormont.
We have probably already outstayed our time in the international political spotlight. There are enough trouble spots across the globe, some of which are on a scale which frankly reduce our local difficulties to something close to trivial. That said, we are not in a good place politically and we must do better as 2015 enters its final quarter. That will require urgency, maturity and generosity on the part of local politicians and if some good old American influence can help push the situation along – why not bring on Bill?