George Mitchell says North’s political challenges ‘not unique’

Chairman of Belfast Agreement talks warns of dangers of return to violence

Comedian Patrick Kielty, George Mitchell and actor James Nesbitt take a selfie following an address by the senator at University of Ulster in  Belfast. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Comedian Patrick Kielty, George Mitchell and actor James Nesbitt take a selfie following an address by the senator at University of Ulster in Belfast. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland politicians must be conscious of the dangers of a return to violence as they try to reach agreement to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly, former United States senator George Mitchell has warned.

Mr Mitchell, who was in Belfast on Tuesday for a number of engagements, called for a “clear political commitment” to deal with the outstanding problems preventing a return to powersharing politics.

He said politicians “have to be conscious that a return to violence continues as a possibility” and they have a duty to “take all steps and whatever is necessary” to reduce the possibility of such an outcome.

Mr Mitchell was speaking at the Beyond Sectarianism conference at Ulster University in Belfast, where a new report on tackling sectarianism by Prof Duncan Morrow was launched.

Prof Morrow called for a reinstated Northern Executive to establish a special department tasked with implementing anti-sectarian policies and the setting-up of a civic body to address community reconciliation.

Voting age

He also urged the creation of a youth assembly and consideration to be given to lowering the voting age to 16; an appeal to business people to help fund cross-community projects; getting greater “practical commitment” from churches and faith groups to address sectarianism; and a new anthem for all sports.

Mr Mitchell, who chaired the talks that led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement, commended the report, saying it could not be more timely or more critical, “given the current state of self-governance” in Northern Ireland.

He hoped the talks at Stormont would be successful, saying people in Northern Ireland needed hope. He said the challenges facing politicians in Northern Ireland were not unique or distinct. He urged politicians to address these problems in a “realistic way”. Politicians must not render themselves “incapable” of tackling the challenges, he added.

He referred to a correlation between violence and poverty and said people needed to be able to give their children a good start in life.