Paul Tweed hopes to build mediation business from the middle up
Solicitor is keen to take global advantage of the North’s experience
Paul Tweed: “My idea is to highlight how Northern Ireland mediated its way out of the Troubles and utilise Ireland’s geographical location, its neutrality and its reputation as an international business location.”
Had you asked anyone of a certain generation in Northern Ireland not so long ago if they could ever see the Queen of England and Martin McGuinness sitting down to have dinner you probably would have been told to “get your head seen”.
Tonight, the reality is that McGuinness will attend a state banquet hosted by the Queen as part of the first visit by an Irish head of State to Britain.
The occasion may still make some people shake their heads and wonder how it all came about. But Paul Tweed has a theory: Northern Ireland is where it is today because of the power of mediation.
Tweed is a Belfast-based solicitor better known for his celebrity clients than his philosophies. He has never lost a libel case, which is just one of the reasons why he is the go-to man for Holywood A-listers such as Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford and music divas such as Britney and Jennifer Lopez.
Tweed’s winning track record when it comes to “achieving record damages” is well publicised. But it is also the opinion of the senior partner at Johnsons Solicitors that there is “never a case that could not be settled”.
“In my experience if you can get the right people around the table and start talking, then you can probably find some common ground to start with. It is about creating the environment to move forward, building trust and finding a solution.”
If this sounds more like a mediator than a litigator speaking, it might be because Tweed has found a new calling in life – one he says is based on convictions garnered from a 30-year legal career and not one that he has arrived at overnight.
Tweed is a passionate believer in mediation – for any dispute, whether you are celebrity, a politician or even someone who wants to sue a surgeon over a bungled operation. It is his philosophy that mediation can be the best alternative to “expensive and protracted litigation”.
It is not a completely altruistic philosophy for Tweed: in fact, it is the foundation for an internationally focused business he wants to establish in the North.
For several years, he has been a member of the international panel of JAMS International, a London-based organisation that specialises in providing mediation and arbitration services worldwide.
Tweed plans to create JAMS Ireland, which, he says, will specialise in finding solutions for commercial, political and diplomatic disputes, not just on the island but also across the globe.
The company will have facilities in both Belfast and Dublin and will bring together a panel of experts, including Brian Mawhinney, a former Northern Ireland minister, and Paul O’Higgins SC, chairman of the Irish Bar Council.
Tweed says Northern Ireland’s recent history and its transition through the peace process creates a unique proposition for developing a mediation industry in the North.
Centre for mediation
“My idea is to highlight how Northern Ireland mediated its way out of the Troubles and utilise Ireland’s geographical location, its neutrality and its reputation as an international business location,” he says.
Tweed’s long-term plan is to create a centre for mediation in Belfast, which he hopes will attract further investment and deliver new jobs.
The company, which will be formally launched this week, has secured the support of Invest NI and political leaders both at home and in the United States.
Former US senator George Mitchell, who played a crucial mediator role in the Northern Ireland peace process, says the concept could deliver on an all-island basis.
“I think a very good case could be made that it would be a useful and very positive thing to have a conflict-resolution process available and a commercial mediation service available in Ireland, North and south,” Mitchell says.
Tweed’s vision is that Northern Ireland can use its experience in mediating – through what may have seemed insurmountable problems – to lead by example, to bring other conflicting parties together and to contribute to the local economy in the process.
As McGuinness’s dinner date with the Queen of England tonight illustrates, anything is possible.