Saturday 25 May 2019

History will prove that Brexit was an unwise decision, says Mitchell

Senator George Mitchell
Senator George Mitchell

Former US senator George Mitchell has warned that future generations will see Brexit as a mistake.

Mr Mitchell, who chaired the Good Friday negotiations 20 years ago, said the problems in Northern Ireland today are "difficult and serious".

Speaking at the Hugh Lane Gallery yesterday, Mr Mitchell remarked that the UK's withdrawal from the EU will negatively hit Ireland.

"I believe that as a democratically taken decision Brexit must be respected," he said. "But I also believe that history will prove it to be an unwise decision for the people of the United Kingdom.

"It will also have adverse effects in Ireland where people did not vote for it.

"There has to be provisions taken to respect and not cause undue harm to the people of Ireland."

The former senator said he hopes political leaders will reflect on what was accomplished 20 years ago by their predecessors.

"I think they should rekindle the spirit that led to the Good Friday Agreement and to do what's best for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"While we should not underestimate the current challenges, neither should we overlook the enormous progress that has been made.

"Northern Ireland today is a much different, much safer, much better place than it was 20 years ago."

He added that the British and the European Union must insist that Brexit will not lead to a hard Border.

"We who support the people of Northern Ireland should accept and insist that this commitment be kept," he said.

"We should not hold the people of Northern Ireland to a standard higher than what we hold others to, including the United States and the UK.

"The challenge is to move forward and not live in the past but rather prepare for the challenges of the 21st century."

With paramilitary-style "punishment" shootings and beatings surging again across Northern Ireland, Mr Mitchell agreed that some people are still stuck in the past.


"I come from the United States. We're plagued with the mass shootings of hundreds of our fellow citizens, including school children," he said.

"No society is free of violence. Some assume that they don't have to do anything and things will be alright.

"It takes strong, effective and committed leadership [for this to happen] - that's what I hope we're going to see in Northern Ireland.

"Do they have problems? Yes, of course. Do the people of Dublin have problems? Yes.

"I think we should look at the whole picture. Northern Ireland is a much better place thanks to the actions of the leaders 20 years ago.

"Problems remain, but problems are inevitable in every society."

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Mitchell said that we must honour those who died in the Troubles with a fresh start.

"The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering," he said.

"We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.

"The current problems in Northern Ireland are difficult and serious, and must be resolved.

"While we should not underestimate the current challenges, neither should we overlook the enormous progress that has been made.

"I am an American and very proud of it, but a large part of my heart and of my emotions will forever be with the people of Northern Ireland."


Twenty years ago today, the Good Friday Agreement was signed and endorsed a month later in a referendum by 71.12pc, paving the way for peace in the North.

Yesterday, Mr Mitchell helped open an exhibition at Hugh Lane, reflecting a visual record of the extraordinary events and people that led to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

'Keeper' is body of work, which stems from Amanda Dunsmore's time as artist in residence at The Maze prison.

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