Thursday 27 October 2016

Mitchell recalls triumph after '700 days of failure'

Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30

US Senator George Mitchell, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan TD and event MC Olivia O'Leary on the Abbey stage Photo: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE
US Senator George Mitchell, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan TD and event MC Olivia O'Leary on the Abbey stage Photo: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE
President Michael D Higgins with Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers Photo: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE

Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell yesterday recalled the "one day of success" that changed the course of Irish history on the 18th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

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Presidents, poets and peacemakers gathered in the capital for a celebration of Ireland's road from 'Rising to Reconciliation' over the past century.

Speaking at the event at the Abbey Theatre, the former US Senator said: "In Northern Ireland, over a span of five years, I chaired three separate but related discussions. All were difficult and contentious. The main negotiation lasted for nearly two years.

"As I've often said, we had 700 days of failure and one day of success. For that, many people deserve credit, none more so than the political leaders of Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom."

President Michael D Higgins, former President Mary Robinson and former Taoiseach John Bruton were among the dignitaries who filled the historic theatre for the 'Journey in Words and Music' hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Poetry Ireland.

Bafta-winning actor Andrew Scott, singer-songwriter Paul Brady and broadcaster Olivia O'Leary were just some of those to take to the stage during the 90-minute afternoon performance.

As the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme continued in Dublin, acting Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan told how he was "particularly pleased" to welcome the US politician back to Ireland 18 years to the day that he helped broker an end to the Troubles.

He said: "I am especially delighted that Senator George Mitchell, who played such a unique and catalytic role in the peace process, is able to take part."

It is almost two decades since the former United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland chaired the ground-breaking talks that led to the establishment of a power-sharing government at Stormont.

Recalling the "relentless" negotiations during the 1990s, however, Mr Mitchell yesterday confessed that he considered quitting after a year and a half on a flight home to New York.

"I was filled with doubt and despair," he admitted.

"What sense did it make to pursue what was obviously a hopeless task - especially since the reason for this flight home was to be present at the birth of my son."

But he revealed how it was the arrival of his only son Andrew that ironically drove him to "see it through all the way to an agreement".

The father-of-three explained: "Late in the middle of one night I sat watching Andrew sleeping. I then started to think about how different his life would be had he been born a citizen of Northern Ireland.

"This conflict was made and sustained by men and women - it could be ended by men and women and I knew them. All of the doubts I had about my role in Northern Ireland vanished."

Irish Independent

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