US statesman returns to Stormont
The US statesman who helped broker the peace in Northern Ireland has hailed the dramatic changes that have taken place in the region as he made an emotional return to Stormont.
Retired senator George Mitchell, who chaired the marathon negotiations that produced the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998, fulfilled a long-standing family promise as he brought his wife and children on a tour of Parliament Buildings.
The politician, who also played a role in Middle East peace talks, said full reconciliation between Northern Ireland's divided communities was not complete, but insisted that progress had been striking.
The 78-year-old from Maine is spending a week in the region and has already taken in many of the sights.
"I was given what is described as the taxi tour of the Falls and Shankill Road areas (in Belfast), mostly by former prisoners," he said.
"And to see them joking, exchanging customers, information about their businesses, was I think one small illustration of how dramatic the changes have been since I first came here and I think that's true all over Ireland."
He added: "I don't think any of us should exaggerate the realities, there are differences, there continue to be differences.
"The peace lines still stand and I don't think that genuine reconciliation, full reconciliation will come immediately, but perhaps over time with generational changes.
"But overall the attitude and the atmosphere, the politics and the public issues and what I really hope - ordinary life for ordinary people - has been much improved."
Mr Mitchell said local people and politicians had to be commended for the changes that have taken place.