United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland

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The United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland or more formally, the Special Envoy of the President and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is the top U.S. diplomat supporting the Northern Ireland peace process.[1]


Before the 1980s, U.S. leaders were reluctant to get involved in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. When Bill Clinton was on the campaign trail as the Democratic candidate for President in 1992, he suggested both orally and in a letter to Congressman Bruce Morrison that he would favor the appointment of a Special Envoy for Northern Ireland.[2] Clinton was not alone in supporting a more active U.S. involvement in Northern Ireland. On February 23, 1993, shortly after Clinton assumed office as President, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy, together with 16 co-sponsors, sponsored a Congressional Resolution calling for the appointment of a Special Envoy. The Resolution called that it be:[3]

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that the President should appoint a special envoy who will be personally and actively involved in bringing about a solution to the present conflict in Northern Ireland, including encouraging and facilitating negotiations among all parties to the conflict who agree to end the use of violence.

However, the proposed Resolution initially came to nothing.[4] Nevertheless, Clinton discussed the prospect of appointing a Special Envoy with the Irish premier, Albert Reynolds when the two leaders first met on St. Patrick's Day in 1993. However Clinton deferred any appointment.[5] When the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) declared a ceasefire in 1994, Sinn Féin party leader, Gerry Adams urged Washington to play a "nudging role" as it did in South Africa and the Middle East.[6] Congressman Bruce Morrison was considered a potential candidate.[6]

George Mitchell[edit]

It was not until 1995 that a decision to appoint a Special Envoy was finally made. The announcement of the appointment of former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell as Special Envoy initially "infuriated" the British Government.[7] Mitchell was recognised as being more than a token envoy but someone representing a President with a deep interest in events.[7] However, around the time of Mitchell's appointment, it was agreed with both the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom John Major and Taoiseach John Bruton that Mitchell would chair an international commission on disarmament of paramilitary groups.[8] Mitchell went on to successfully chair the talks that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement.

Later envoys[edit]

The United States has continued to support the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and has demonstrated its readiness to assist the process in any way.[9] On June 10, 2003, President George W. Bush announced his intention to designate Ambassador Richard N. Haass as the Special Envoy.[9] Haass was an active Envoy. In 2001, within a week of the September 11 attacks, Haass warned Irish Republicans that the suspected links between the IRA and Colombian terrorist groups could have "potentially serious consequences for the role of the United States in the peace process".[7] Later, Haass attacked then Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble for setting a deadline for pulling out of power-sharing, accusing him of adding to a sense of crisis.[7]

Later, Mitchell Reiss was appointed as the Special Envoy. At the invitation of the British and Irish governments, Reiss participated in the peace process negotiations that took place at Leeds Castle in 2004.[10] On February 15, 2007, Paula Dobriansky, U.S. Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the State Department, was named the Special Envoy for Northern Ireland.[11] The transition from the former Special Envoy, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, took place on February 15, 2007.[12] In February 2008, Special Envoy Dobriansky led a trade mission to Belfast.[13] Until the inauguration of Donald Trump, the Special Envoy was former Colorado Senator, Gary Hart. On March 6, 2020, President Trump appointed his former acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to fill this position.

Each of the Special Envoys has periodically reported to U.S. Congressional committees on their activities and the status of the Northern Ireland peace process and other matters concerning Northern Ireland.[1][14][15]


The United States has at times contemplated whether to terminate the position of U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. In 2001, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated in response to questions that:[16]

It is not yet clear whether a special Northern Ireland envoy, such as the role played by former Senator George Mitchell, will be appointed, but the State Department will identify someone in the department to take on "as a primary additional duty" serving in a communication role ... [adding that appointing such an envoy will be taken under advisement] if the situation moves in a way that suggests it takes that kind of high-level special envoy involvement.

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign in the United States, Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama was reported in The Irish Times as having questioned the necessity to keep a U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland.[17] This drew a robust response from the Republican Party candidate, Senator John McCain, who strongly backed retaining a U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. The Senator criticized Senator Obama's position as demonstrating a willingness:[18]

to toss aside one of the signature diplomatic accomplishments of the Clinton administration and put the progress in Northern Ireland at risk is only further evidence that he is simply not ready to lead.


No. Name Began Left Political Party
1 George Mitchell 1995 2001 Democratic
2 Richard Haass 2001 2003 Independent
3 Mitchell Reiss 2003 2007 Republican
4 Paula Dobriansky 2007 2009 Republican
5 Declan Kelly 2009 2011 Independent
Vacant 2011 2014 N/A
6 Gary Hart 2014 2017 Democratic
Vacant 2017 2020 N/A
7 Mick Mulvaney 2020 Republican


  1. ^ a b "US Congress Records, Northern Ireland and Human Rights: Update on the Corry Collusion Inquiry Reports, 16 March 2005". Commdocs.house.gov.
  2. ^ "White House Briefing, 23 February 1993". Clinton6.nara.gov. 24 February 1993.
  3. ^ U.S. House Concurrent Resolution 49 of the 103rd Congress, 1st Session (H. CON. RES. 49) – concerning the appointment of a special envoy to Northern Ireland. The Resolution also recalled that "the list of human rights abuses involving the British Government is lengthy and well documented" and that "the United States has a unique opportunity to insist that Great Britain adhere to recognized standards of international law in Northern Ireland".
  4. ^ "The Resolution tabled was referred to House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East where no decision was made – Source: U.S. Congress online records". Congress.gov.
  5. ^ "White House St. Patrick's Day Speech of President Clinton on 17 March 1993". Clinton6.nara.gov. 17 March 1993.
  6. ^ a b JAMES F. CLARITY (1 September 1994). "CEASE-FIRE IN NORTHERN IRELAND: THE LEADER". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b c d "US policy and Northern Ireland". BBC News. 8 April 2003.
  8. ^ "A Break in the Irish Impasse". The New York Times. 30 November 1995.
  9. ^ a b "White House website statement dated 10 June 2003 entitled Statement on Secretary of State for Northern Ireland". Georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov.
  10. ^ Ambassador Kenny's Remarks on Ireland’s “Special Relationship” with Europe and America on 12 October 2004[dead link]
  11. ^ U.S. Embassy to Ireland – US Special Envoy on Northern Ireland[dead link]
  12. ^ "U.S. Embassy to Ireland – Press Release concerning Ms. Dobriansky's appointment". Dublin.usembassy.gov.
  13. ^ U.S. State Department website press release dated 20 February 2008 entitled Special Envoy Dobriansky Leading Investment Mission to Northern Ireland
  14. ^ The United States and post-Agreement Northern Ireland, 2001–6, Mary Alice C. Clancy, School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen’s University, Belfast Archived 20 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats – Northern Ireland: Prospects for the Peace Process, 25 May 2005 (Serial No. 109–56)". Commdocs.house.gov.
  16. ^ U.S. Embassy to Korea website, Report dated 8 March 2001 concerning a Presidential Visit Archived 8 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Obama would review necessity of US special envoy to North, The Irish Times, 27 August 2008
  18. ^ Statement by McCain Campaign on Barack Obama and Northern Ireland Archived 15 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine, John McCain Presidential campaign, press statement, 27 August 2008