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Senator George Mitchell's warning 17 years after brokering Good Friday Agreement

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/04/2015

Deal maker: George Mitchell
Deal maker: George Mitchell

The man who brokered the Good Friday Agreement has said peace-building remains an ongoing concern as he returned to Northern Ireland yesterday.

Former Senator George Mitchell warned there were some people who wanted to take the Province back to the "dark days of violence and the Troubles" - although the vast majority recognised that politics was imperfect.

People in Northern Ireland are "quarrelsome" and "quick to take offence" but also "tremendously warm and generous" and show a "strong resilience", he said.

Almost 17 years after the Agreement which paved the way for a devolved government at Stormont, Mr Mitchell said he believed the current impasse over welfare reform and finance could be overcome.

"I am hopeful," he said. "Always encouraged, (though) nothing is finalised, obviously."

Mr Mitchell returned to Queen's University, where he was Chancellor for 10 years, to deliver the third annual Harri Holkeri lecture: Reflections on Brokering Peace in Divided Societies. Mr Holkeri, the late Finnish Prime Minister, played a key role in the peace process.

In his address - attended by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and former Methodist President the Rev Harold Good, who witnessed IRA decommissioning - Mr Mitchell said there were several elements to the conflict here, including religion, national identity and territory. But he said all conflicts are underlined by the "economic dimension".

He said the 1998 Agreement was achieved in "very difficult, even dangerous" circumstances but represented the maximum possible progress at the time.

"In and of itself it did not create peace and stability - but it made them possible," he said.

But he warned: "Constant effort is required and this will go on for a long period of time. Every society has problems, and one of the healthiest aspects of democracy is the tendency towards self-criticism and analysis."

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