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The BBC's Mark Simpson
"The decommissioning of George Mitchell"
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Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 20:09 GMT
George Mitchell bids farewell
Senator George Mitchell: waving goodbye to Northern Ireland

In his rare public comments, George Mitchell has often warned 'I don't have a magic wand'.

But in many people's eyes, the former senator has achieved the impossible.

Not only to curb animosity and encourage direct dialogue between the leaders of Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists, but also through what he calls "many dark days" to get them to trust each other enough to cut a deal.

Five years ago, Bill Clinton asked the former senate leader whether he'd take on a "small part-time job" as special economic adviser on Northern Ireland.

The one-time army intelligence officer and lawyer of mixed Irish and Lebanese parents didn't know what he was getting into.

President Clinton: Offered George Mitchell a "part-time" job five years ago
Juggling the role of peace talks broker with a seat on the Walt Disney board and with marriage and a toddler in the United States was exhausting.

He chaired the arms decommissioning body, writing the six principles of non-violence which Northern Ireland's politicians were challenged to endorse.

He then steered the parties to last year's climactic Good Friday agreement, cementing his own reputation as a skilled diplomat whose impartiality wasn't in question.

But the agreement faltered and after the British and Irish Prime Ministers jointly failed to break the deadlock this summer, it was to George Mitchell that they turned.

Once again he was welcomed into the epicentre of the province's political scene.

Over the eleven week term of the review, he spent as much time in Northern Ireland as he did at home in the US.

"I have been treated here as though I were at home," he said.

"In a sense, I am at home, because my emotions and a part of my heart will be here for ever even though I will not always be physically present."

During the review, he imposed a strict regime which prohibited parties from divulging the details of discussions to the media.

Little was said about the manner and style in which he handled the talks.

As he leaves Northern Ireland, some politicians have been speaking about the man who has been the at the heart of their discussions during a great deal of the peace process.

Mark Durkan; "George is only human"
Social Democratic and Labour Party negotiator Mark Durkan believes Senator Mitchell's patience wore a little thin a times.

"Yes he has a very nice manner and demeanour, he isn't simply a political version of a cabin steward on an airliner going around being nice to everyone.

"He is a man of serious intent and serious purpose - at time his patience did wear a little bit and he would have shown it."

Ulster Unionist talks team member Sir Reg Empey believes the senator has had to put up with a great deal since becoming involved in the talks.

Sir Reg Empey: Senator spent long hours listening to us squabble
"I think that anybody who knows anything about the hours he has had to sit and spend listening to us squabbling and arguing must give him good creditm" he said.

George Mitchell has already been honoured with the chancellorship of Queen's University, Belfast, and America's highest civilian award - the Medal of Freedom - among others.

But his enduring ambition is to bring his young son, Andrew, back to Stormont and sit quietly in the gallery of the new Assembly listening to the debates of a working parliament in a society at peace.

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See also:
15 Nov 99 |  Northern Ireland
The Mitchell statement in full
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Analysis: Jigsaw of peace
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IRA to appoint arms mediator
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Mitchell to give peace process verdict
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Mitchell intervenes to help shipyard
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We have basis for peace - Mitchell
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Way clear for NI peace plan - Mitchell
18 Nov 99 |  Northern Ireland
Talks parties' praise for Mitchell
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