George Mitchell responds to McCann’s NY Times piece

Pacemaker Press Belfast 22-04-2015: Senator George Mitchell photographed at Queens University Belfast ahead of giving the annual Harria Holkeri lecture.'Picture By: Arthur Allison.

Pacemaker Press Belfast 22-04-2015: Senator George Mitchell photographed at Queens University Belfast ahead of giving the annual Harria Holkeri lecture.'Picture By: Arthur Allison.

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The former Senator George Mitchell, who served as chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks, has taken “strong issue” with a column written by political commentator Eamonn McCann in the New York Times.

In his piece McCann writes, “The deal delivered by Senator Mitchell contained the seeds of its own destruction. In effect, the Good Friday Agreement assigned every person in Northern Ireland to either the unionist or nationalist camp, and the decision-making institutions it created, the Northern Ireland Assembly and its accompanying Executive, were designed to be balanced between the two camps. The plan was not to eliminate sectarianism, but to manage its manifestations.”

In response, Mitchell said, “I take strong issue with the article’s representation of the Good Friday Agreement and with its unfair denigration of the leaders of Northern Ireland, many of whom risked their careers and lives to achieve a peace that has lasted for 17 years and saved thousands of lives.

“The agreement did not assign “every person in Northern Ireland to either the unionist or nationalist camp.” Northern Ireland is a democracy. Each voter decides which party and candidates to support. Everyone involved, including the United States, Britain and Ireland, accepted the reality of the political structure. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to end the conflict.”

Eamonn Mccann’s lengthy column concludes, “The collapse of the agreement need not spell disaster. Sustaining a crisis-ridden system based on separate identities has been an exercise in building and burning bridges simultaneously. Northern Ireland needs a political system based on class and economic interests, rather than on community and identity.”

With this point Mitchell agrees, “That would be a step forward, but it will require a change in culture and a long period of peace and stability. The implication that it could have been included in the agreement is unrealistic.

“The British and Irish governments knew from prior failures that only the political leaders of Northern Ireland had the authority to reach a peace agreement and to carry it out.

“It is fantasy to suggest that those leaders, or anyone else, could have simultaneously achieved peace and transformed the political structure of Northern Ireland.

“As I’ve often said, the agreement did not guarantee peace or political stability. It made them possible. To prevent a return to violence, difficult decisions must be made by this and future generations. They deserve our support.”

Another response from Bruce Morrison, who advised President Bill Clinton in pursuing peace in Northern Ireland in the 1990s, said, “Eamonn McCann is a knowledgeable observer of Northern Ireland, but his article is flawed by hindsight and revisionist history. Contrary to the article’s headline, the Troubles are not back.”

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ Mccann said, “I submitted the column but not the headline on the piece.”