George Mitchell believes current crisis in North will be resolved

Opportunity and prosperity can come from effective self-governance, says former US senator

The next 25 years must deliver for Northern Ireland “not just peace, but peace and opportunity”, Senator George Mitchell has said.

In an interview with The Irish Times, the senator said “I hope, pray and believe” the current political crisis will be resolved, adding: “I think there’s enough goodwill and thoughtfulness and intelligence in the political leaders.”

He also called on Washington, London and Dublin to support the North’s political leaders and said “opportunity and prosperity can come from effective self-governance”.

In the years ahead, he said, “we have to focus on the journey and it isn’t headlines, it isn’t international issues, it’s the daily lives of people and making opportunity available to everyone”.


Senator Mitchell was the chair of the talks process which led to the signing of the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday 1998, which ended the North’s Troubles.

The 89-year-old senator is one of a number of high-profile current and former politicians, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, who are in Northern Ireland for a conference at Queen’s University marking the 25th anniversary of the agreement.

In a widely praised and deeply personal speech which opened the conference on Monday, Senator Mitchell spoke of his hospitalisation with acute leukaemia three years ago but said he felt he had to return with his wife, Heather, to thank the people of Northern Ireland for “your warmth, your hospitality, your generosity”.

During the interview, he spoke of how it was “very meaningful and rewarding” to have met many young people during his visit, as well as those who had been their age when the agreement was signed and told him how much it had meant to them.


But he added that he emphasised “in discussions with them that it’s not final, as I said in my speech the other day, life has changed for every human being here … so I made clear that permanence, perfection, really don’t exist in human affairs and so you have to focus on the challenges of the present, learn from the past but not be bound by it”.

The senator said the “real challenge of government” was not “those that make television news stories or headlines in the papers, they’re how do you improve daily lives, how do you give every child a chance to have an opportunity?”

This, he said, was what governance was about, “and so what I’ve tried to do is convey to the leaders the importance of that and an essential element of that is self-governance, the right to govern yourself”.

“Political leaders in Northern Ireland know the problems of Northern Ireland better than anyone in Westminster or Washington or any place else, so we’ve got to help them do the best they can,” he said.

Twenty-five years on from the signing of the agreement, he said his message was “the people of Northern Ireland are good people, don’t be so hard on yourselves. Don’t let yourselves be subject to some false standard of perfection. Every society has violence, every society has crime, every society has disagreements and disputes … this is a good place with good people, they don’t want to go back to the past.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times