April 26, 2018

Senator George Mitchell Headlines Celebration of Twentieth Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement

Two decades after playing a vital role in brokering the Good Friday Agreement, former U.S. senator George Mitchell reflected on the importance of building the conditions for sustainable peace across Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Senator Mitchell Delivers Address at Podium
Senator Mitchell Delivers Address at Podium

Georgetown’s Initiative for Global Irish Studies and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs convened a conference on “A Generation of Peace: Northern Ireland, Then and Now.” Mitchell, who was President Clinton’s special envoy to Northern Ireland during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, capped a day comprised of four panels that discussed political polarization, youth involvement in maintaining peace, and the potential repercussions of Brexit for ongoing peace efforts. 

“It was just 20 years ago that the governments of the U.K. and Ireland, and eight Northern Ireland political parties, declared their support for the agreement we celebrate this evening,” said Mitchell. “The Americas must reaffirm, to the people and the leaders of Northern Ireland, our dedication to the principle that political difference should be resolved through democratic and peaceful means.”

Rising Political Polarization

Prior to Mitchell’s remarks, the afternoon panels provided historical and cultural contexts to capture the magnitude of the agreement. As the conference began in Riggs Library, Joseph and Winifred Amaturo Chair in Catholic Studies Gerard Mannion lamented the rising use of inflammatory political rhetoric worldwide.

“Entire faiths and cultures are perceived to be pitted against one another in the minds of some,” said Mannion. “Conflicts rage, which define the opposition through their very cultural, and religious, and ethnic otherness.”

Mannion’s observations were echoed in the panel on Brexit, during which U.S., U.K., and Irish government officials discussed the potential economic and political ramifications of the United Kingdom’s pending departure from the European Union.

Michael Tatham, deputy ambassador of the United Kingdom to the United States, made clear that Brexit was not an attempt to unravel the accomplishments of a complicated peace process.

“The British government has been totally clear that it will not allow a hard border to reemerge between Ireland and Northern Ireland,” said Tatham. “If it is not possible to avoid the emergence of a hard border during the U.K. and E.U. Brexit negotiations, then there will have to be other ideas discussed.”

‘Talk to Everybody’

During a panel on “The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement and the Generation of Peace,” speakers shared generational perspectives about growing up before and after the agreement was signed. Francesa Drumm (SFS’21) spoke to the importance of involving young people in the diffusion of ideas across religious and cultural lines. 

“They don’t see politics as a zero-sum game, as something that needs to be won and lost,” said Drumm. “I believe that their open-mindedness allows them to form compromises and negotiations.” 

A discussion of Peacerunner, a book about former U.S. congressman Bruce Morrison’s role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, featured author Penn Rhodeen and Morrison himself. During their discussion, Rhodeen highlighted Morrison’s belief that all actors deserved a voice in the negotiations.

“Talk to everybody, even if somebody calls them terrorists,” Rhodeen said. “If you wanted to make peace, you bring the fighters into the process.”

Harmonious Relations

During the day’s final discussion, Mitchell stressed the role that outside actors, such as the United States, could play in fostering harmonious relations.

“Every single American can be a peacemaker in Northern Ireland, through trade, through tourism, through attention, through support,” he said. 

Mitchell closed his reflection by describing how his participation in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations has impacted his life. 

“I am an American, very proud of it,” said Mitchell. “But a large part of my heart, and my emotions, will be with the people of Northern Ireland.”

“A Generation of Peace: Northern Ireland, Then and Now” was co-sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; the Embassy of Ireland to the United States; the Northern Ireland Bureau; Georgetown's Initiative for Global Irish Studies; and the Office of the President.