Former US Senator George Mitchell, the former US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland and Chair of the Northern Ireland All-Party Talks, received a standing ovation as he took the podium for his keynote address at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) on Monday, April 17.

Mitchell, 89, was speaking during the opening of Queen's University Belfast's three-day Agreement 25 conference, promoted as Northern Ireland's "signature event" marking the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mitchell's speech marked his first public appearance since he began receiving treatment for leukemia three years ago.

In his address to a 1000-strong audience at QUB's Whitla Hall on Monday, Mitchell made a strong appeal for Northern Ireland's parties to come together in the name of democracy.

"Wisdom and courage and grace, and even stubborn desire, can help to sow peace and root it down deep in the soil where it can, once again, grow," Mitchell said.

"So, I say now, to the current and future leaders of Northern Ireland - There is much in your history and in your politics that divides you.

"But there also is much that can bring you together, that can inspire you to continue what your predecessors began a quarter century ago.

"It is not a sign of weakness to resolve your differences by democratic and peaceful means.

"To the contrary, it is a sign of strength, and of wisdom. And it clearly reflects the will of the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

"Yes, they often disagree, sometimes very strongly. Yes, they may take offense quickly. But it is unmistakably clear that they do not want to return to violence. Not now. Not ever.

"I know that each of your parties, like all political parties in the world, have some of what I call the one hundred percenters.

"They want everything their way, all the time. To them, any compromise is a sign of weakness.

"But I say to you that reasoned, principled compromise is essential in divided societies, and reflects a belief in democratic values.

"That we are all in this together. There is great depth in recognizing that the only way to help us emerge from the rubble of conflict is that we must learn to understand one another.

"We don’t need to love one another. We don’t even need to like one another, although we hope we could.

"But we must learn to understand one another, and to be able to say 'yes' to one another, especially when the quicker and easier answer is 'no.'

"Because, like it or not, we are all in this together. Facing the reality of the future, rather than clinging to the myths of the past, takes strength and courage and vision."

April 10, 1998: Bertie Ahern, George Mitchell, and Tony Blair on the day the Good Friday Agreement was signed. (

April 10, 1998: Bertie Ahern, George Mitchell, and Tony Blair on the day the Good Friday Agreement was signed. (

Later in his remarks, after recalling each of the major party's contributions in the lead-up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Mitchell said: "The course of every true idea ends up, eventually, in the obvious. Peace is a true idea.

"It must belong to us all. It can be, in some ways, more difficult than war. But it must be pursued.

"It is our task, and the task of our children, and of their children, to ensure this peace, so that history continues to open itself to hope."

Towards the end of his remarks, Mitchell said: "The Agreement reached in 1998 did not resolve all of the outstanding issues. It was a political compromise, the best that could be achieved at that time.

"In the years since the Agreement, there have been many chronicles describing those momentous events.

"Many individuals have been lauded for their efforts. I believe it clear that the greatest heroes were the people of Northern Ireland and their political leaders.

"In the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances, those leaders acted with courage, vision, and determination. At one time or another, all were criticized or rebuked. Some lost their public offices. Some of their political parties suffered huge declines.

"But most remarkable feats often suffer setbacks. I believe the verdict of history will be favorable to the people of Ireland, north and south, and their leaders.

"Peace may come dropping slowly, but when it settles, it confirms the humanity in all of us."

Later in the day, a bust unveiling outside the Whitla Hall paid tribute to Senator George J. Mitchell for his contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The moment @HillaryClinton & Heather Mitchell unveil a bust of Senator #GeorgeMitchell, alongside #TonyBlair @InstituteGC @BillClinton #BertieAhern @QUBVChancellor & @chhcalling. The bust pays tribute to his pivotal role in the peace process.

Artist: @colin_davidson #Agreement25

— Queen's University Belfast 🎓 (@QUBelfast) April 17, 2023