Mitchell: “Don’t be too hard on yourselves, but don’t give up on the belief you can do better and better…”

At ninety George Mitchell rocked the house yesterday treating his audience to the wisdom, humour and realism no doubt honed over many years in American public life. For today, I’ll stick to his opening remarks (and a recurring theme here of renewal)…

On the evening the Agreement was reached I commended the men and women who wrote and signed it. But I also said that it would take other leaders in the future to safeguard and extend their work. And so it has. I am here, with many others, to sound that bell one more time.

Life is change: For every human being, for every family, for every government, for every society. All human beings, every single one of us, is fallible, as are all human organisations and institutions. In human affairs the answer to every problem contains within it the seeds of a new problem.

Today, a quarter century after the agreement, the people of Northern Ireland continue to wrestle with their doubts, their differences, their disagreements.This of course is only natural. They will continue to do so, no matter how successful their political leaders are.

The answer is not perfection, or permanence. It is now, as it was then, for the current and future leaders of Northern Ireland to act with courage and vision, as their predecessors did 25 years ago.

To find workable answers to the daily problems of the present. To preserve peace.To leave to the next generation peace, freedom, opportunity, and the hope of a better future for their children.

One of the strengths of democracy is the right of all citizens to publicly disagree with and to criticize their government officials and their policies. But all values, when carried to extremes, can become vices.

So, if there’s one bit of unsolicited advice I’d give to the people of Northern Ireland, it’s this, “Don’t always be so hard on yourselves”. At the same time, never ever give up on the belief that we all can do better and be better.

The future becomes the present in a heartbeat.

Perhaps the most poignant moment was when he called for a moment of silence, which he presaged with the following in which he highlights the full extent of the cost of our brutal and unnecessary war (in the frighteningly large number of its casualties):

According to the Northern Ireland Police Service and the Northern Ireland Statistics Agency, from the start of The Troubles until 1998, over three thousand and five hundred people were killed, and an estimated fifty thousand were injured in sectarian violence.

In the twenty-five years since the agreement was reached there have been about one hundred sixty-four security-related deaths. But don’t think of them just as numbers, because they are not.

Think of them as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, whose lives were cut short, or were permanently impaired. Still, to this day their lives echo down the years.

The rest you can watch for yourself…

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