Negotiations prior to the agreement lasted 700 days and more than a year was spent outlining the procedures and agenda. One of the keys to Mitchell`s success was first the use of the “Mitchell Principles” or preconditions for negotiations, which included a commitment to nonviolence, open communication and democracy. Mitchell also established a “sufficient consensus” rule allowing parties to vote against part of a proposal, while still voting in favor of adopting the proposal as a whole. In addition to dealing with recalcitrant politicians who oppose any form of agreement, he has shown skill in dealing with allies who can sometimes be more difficult than their opponents. The British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr Mo Mowlam, praised his technique: “He would never say no to my idea because he knew I would do it anyway. But he said, “Now, Mo, have you thought about it?” and ten minutes later, I had changed my mind. “The day I announced the deal, I said it was a historic feat – which it was. But I also said that day that the agreement did not in itself guarantee peace, political stability or reconciliation. There would be difficult decisions for other leaders, and there were some. This is not the first time the assembly has failed.
In 1999, a little over a year after the agreement, the Assembly collapsed and the prime ministers and President Clinton asked me to come back – this was my third mission there – and I spent several months, we brought them together again. Since then, there have been huge controversies. Mitchell took a simple step that no one had really tried before: he set a deadline to reach an agreement. If it wasn`t done before Easter, I got out of here, that was his message. Like the imminent execution, it wonderfully concentrated the heads of the parties. I`m sure there was an element of not wanting to abandon George, but more importantly, I guess there was a fear of not being unmasked in front of the world as idiots unable to answer people`s cry for peace. That has not always been the case. When Mitchell was first presented as a likely person for the presidency of the peace negotiations in Stormont, there was a lot of backlash in the Unionist ranks. Not only was he American, but he also seemed to be part of the Irish-American lobby, friendly with the Kennedys and close to a president far too kind to Irish nationalists. In medieval thought that covers some elements in Northern Ireland, Mitchell`s religion was another blow to him. Wasn`t he some kind of Catholic? The honourable senator must have wondered what he was getting into.
“It`s a new experience for me,” he told a New York Times reporter. “In 30 years in American politics, no one has ever asked what my religion was, or where my parents came from.” George Mitchell, a former Democratic senator from Maine, was President Bill Clinton`s envoy to Ireland and served as chairman of peace talks in Northern Ireland to push through the historic agreement. With regard to the problems afflicting the Northern Ireland Assembly – an institution set up under the agreement – Mr Mitchell today calls on the negotiators to have the courage to bring all parties to the negotiating table in order to ensure a generally acceptable agreement. . . .