Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the Northern Ireland peace talks at the behest of President Clinton and who is widely credited with creating the Good Friday Agreement, has revealed that he kept a famous promise this week.
Mitchell said that during the negotiations that he would bring his son back to the North when peace had become established and show him what he and so many others had helped create.
That day arrived this week, Mitchell said in an address to a Joint Committee of the Irish legislature.
Mitchell stated, “In my parting comments to my colleagues, I told them that the Agreement was, for me, the realization of a dream that had sustained me for what up until then had been three-and-a-half years, the longest and most difficult years of my life.
"Now, I told them, I have a new dream – and it was that I hoped to return to Northern Ireland some day with my young son, Andrew, who had been born during the negotiations.
"I told them that I would take my son and travel the country, taking in the sights and sounds of a beautiful land, and then on a rainy afternoon we would drive to Stormont and sit quietly in the visitors’ gallery in the Northern Ireland Assembly. There, I hoped, we would watch and listen as the members debated the ordinary issues of life in a democratic society: education, healthcare, agriculture, tourism.
"There would be no talk war, for the war would long have been over. There would be no talk of peace, for peace would by then be taken for granted. On that day – the day on which peace is taken for granted in Northern Ireland – I will be fulfilled and people of peace and goodwill everywhere will rejoice.
"I spoke those words 14 years ago, and I’m happy to tell you just a few weeks ago I made that journey with my son. We spent a week travelling all across Northern Ireland; we sat in the visitors’ gallery at the Northern Ireland Assembly – the only thing different is that for a week it didn’t rain, which I found extraordinary, given all the time I had spent in Northern Ireland – but as we sat in the gallery, listening to the Northern Ireland Assembly debate, we heard a calm, a peaceful, and a democratic debate.
"We heard a minister report to the assembly on a conference he had just attended. It was as dry and dust, and as boring as only a government report can be.
"But it was music to my ears, and I thought it wonderful to hear.
And it made it, truly, one of the best days of my life.”
Speaking of Northern Ireland now, Mitchell says, “I’m not objective: I favor the people of Northern Ireland. Having spent years with them I’ve come to like and admire them. While they can be quarrelsome, and often very quick to take offence, they’re also warm and generous, energetic and productive.
"The very first day of the meetings, when David Irvine – a wonderful man and a powerful contributor to peace – said to me: 'Senator, if you are to be of any use of us, there’s one thing you must know.' I said, 'What is it?'
"He said, 'We in Northern Ireland would drive 100 miles out of our way to receive an insult.' I thought he was kidding, but nobody else in the room laughed. So I took it seriously.”