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What went right in Northern Ireland?: an analysis of mediation effectiveness and the role of the mediator in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998

By Michelle D. Everson


George Mitchell, largely considered the key architect of the Northern Ireland peace process, has been lauded for his ability to find areas of compromise in a conflict that many deemed intractable and few expected to find lasting resolution until the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1998. His success, where others had failed, therefore leads us to question “Why?” What conditions were created that convinced paramilitaries to engage politically? What factors influenced entrenched politicians to compromise, after years of flat refusal to do so? Was it Mitchell’s skill as a mediator? Was it the final realization that thousands of civilians had died at the paramilitaries’ hands? My research seeks to answer the question of what went right in Northern Ireland, focusing in particular on the period of the 1990s and the interface between the politicians and the paramilitary organizations. \ud \ud Mitchell’s greatest skills as a mediator were his patience and his ability to build trust and relationships on both sides of the divide; however, beyond his personal characteristics, Mitchell represented the sincere interest of the United States, which brought international attention and a sense of pressure to the talks. Additionally, regional factors, such as the changes in government at the national level following elections in both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, created a more open environment for the negotiations since each government was more amenable to compromise on key issues than its predecessor had been. \ud \ud Therefore George Mitchell found himself in the unique position of addressing a conflict that had reached its stage of ripeness for negotiation and compromise: on the external political level, actors were in place who had both leeway and desire to make lasting changes; internally, paramilitary groups and their associated parties were finally being included in the process; and the simple fact of US involvement had increased momentum moving towards an agreement. Mitchell was able to take advantage of these favorable circumstances and the parties’ faith in him and guide the negotiations to a resolution by imposing a deadline when the moment was right

Year: 2012
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Provided by: D-Scholarship@Pitt

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