Belfast Telegraph

Political compromises 'imperfect'

The architect of a Northern Ireland political agreement which ended decades of violence has warned constant effort is required to maintain the peace.

US Senator George Mitchell said political compromises were always imperfect but the vast majority did not want to go back to the "dark days" of the conflict.

He chaired talks which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and involved all sides in Northern Ireland accepting his non-violence principles.

Senator Mitchell said: "Everyone has to be cognisant that constant effort is required.

"Every society has problems and one of the healthy aspects of democracies is the tendency to self-criticism and analysis, that overall is a good thing.

"There are crises, there are difficulties, there are problems, the important thing is that they are being addressed and dealt with through peaceful, non-violent and democratic means, imperfectly, as are all human beings and human institutions."

Senator Mitchell drew up non-violence principles which all parties in Northern Ireland signed up to.

The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic and led to the foundation of the devolved powersharing institutions, overhaul of the police, freeing of paramilitary prisoners and disbandment of the IRA.

But it was the subject of stinging criticism from some unionists and its opponents claimed it had been overtaken by the later St Andrews Agreement which led to the DUP sharing power with Sinn Fein.

Senator Mitchell returned to give a lecture at Queen's University Belfast (QUB).

"I spent years here because I believed in the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"It was one of the more important periods of my life.

"Every society has a tendency towards self-criticism, that is present here as it should be.

"There are not any better people anywhere in the world than in Northern Ireland.

"They are quarrelsome and tend to be quick to take offence.

"The people in Northern Ireland are tremendously energetic and productive, warm."

He said a process which enabled people to resolve their differences through democratic and non-violent means was important in the future and hoped it would be maintained.

"The agreement did not in and of itself create peace and stability, it made them possible.

"It recognised that there would be many years of effort, many important decisions to be made by future leaders and members of the public themselves.

"That has been the case and continues to be."

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been threatened by disputes over welfare reform and other issues outstanding from the peace process.

The country is facing major cuts to its public spending budget.

Mr Mitchell said once recession eased he hoped people would see more opportunity.

"I think it will turn, I think things are improving here, there is a strength and resilience among the people in Northern Ireland, a desire to move forward," he said.

"While there remain some who may wish to return to the dark days of the violence and Troubles, the vast majority do not.

"They recognise that politics is imperfect.

"The Good Friday Agreement recognised the maximum amount to which progress could be made at that time.

"It was a political compromise, a human effort, imperfect as are all human and all political compromises."

Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, former Ulster Unionist leader Lord David Trimble, awarded the Nobel peace prize for his role, and other political leaders involved in the Good Friday negotiations stood at Senator Mitchell's invitation and received a round of applause during his talk.

Senator Mitchell said how to deal with the past needed to be established by people and leaders in Northern Ireland.

He said prosperity was important.

"Despair is the fuel for instability. Everywhere hope and opportunity are essential to peace and stability. Men and women, everyone in every society, need each to support their families.

"They need the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile and meaningful with their lives."


From Belfast Telegraph