By Ray O’Hanlon
George Mitchell’s place in history has been secured. He’s made the front page of the New York Times and the news is good. "A Deft M’stro Who Got Ulster To Harmonize," was the front-page headline in last Saturday’s issue of the old gray biddy. The story was a homage to Mitchell’s skill in forging some semblance of a normal political relationship among the "grim, unyielding men from the remote poles of Ulster politics." Acrimony, the Times trumpeted, was no match for Mitchell’s infectious serenity.
At one critical point in the marathon negotiations, according to the Times, Mitchell stopped talking politics altogether and invited the assembled party leaders to discuss really important things like sports, fishing and music. Mitchell said that he loved opera, particularly "La Boheme," because he knew the main character’s words by heart. He told the party leaders that listening to the Puccini work prepared him for every North trip because in Belfast he had to listen to the same words over and over as well.
"His listeners," the Times continued, "were men with no history of enjoying being made fun of. But they laughed."
Ulster says ho! Anyway, given such plaudits, it’s not hard to sense a possible groundswell for a George Mitchell Nobel Peace Prize next year.
Meanwhile, Mitchell’s fast-expanding career as a top-notch business facilitator and corporate board member is taking off like a rocket. Arguably the world’s ultimate commuter, Mitchell’s name is lately cropping up in a wide variety of contexts, not just the peace process. The New York Post carried a story last week headlined "Mitchell’s liquid assets." The report detailed how Mitchell played a "key role" in the recent $950 million purchase of a New Jersey-based utility by the British corporation Thames Water.
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The Post report suggested that Mitchell would be helping Thames Water find other U.S. companies ripe for takeover. This help was magnified by the fact that Mitchell, back in his days as a political headbanger on Capitol Hill, had helped craft the current federal Clean Water Act. The man from Maine clearly knows a pump from a pipe.
The Post reckoned that Mitchell’s aid to Thames Water and various other corporations had him pulling down six-figure salaries from each and every one.
"Despite Mitchell’s growing international cachet, the expert mediator is not exactly a stranger to American boardrooms," The Post stated. "He sits on the boards of giants such as Disney, Xerox and Federal Express."
Some will recall earlier reports of GM’s business activities on the southern side of the Rio Crossmaglen. Mitchell is chairman of Irish National Golf Club Ltd., a consortium behind a proposed £12.5 million golf links in Doonbeg, Co. Clare. The Greg Norman-designed track will cost an arm and a leg to join and the other arm and a leg to stay joined. The scheme — which has caused no end of uproar among locals, various conservation groups and even between Irish state agencies — includes a load of holiday homes, one of them likely to end up Mitchell’s property portfolio. Peace has its dividends indeed.
John Bruton isn’t happy about Bertie Ahern taking a few lousy minutes out of his schedule in New York recently to tap the unfathomable resources of those Irish Americans worthy to be called Friends of Fianna Fáil. "Brutal" was having none of it. He said in the Dáil that the taoiseach had been wrong to mix party and public business and he had "done himself, his country and his party a disservice by doing so."
Bertie responded furiously: "I am tired of you going around the houses playing dirty politics. You are trying to say I organized all of these things to go to a small Fianna Fáil fund-raiser. Well I’m afraid. sir, if you believe that, you are not the person I thought you were."
"IF" reckons this is all a storm in a wallet. Compared to Bill Clinton, the taoiseach spends no time at all collecting money for his financially challenged party. At the same time, a question does hang in the air: How much did Bertie really get in New York? Did he actually get checks, blank or otherwise, or simply pledges of future donations. You would think Brutal would get down to the real nitty gritty at this stage of his, eh, checkered career.
"IF" likes happy endings. Some with supercharged memories will recall a story here back in the spring of 1996. It concerned Westmeath native Tony Burke and his battle to hold on to his home even as the world around him was literally falling down,
Burke, who served a double tour of duty in Vietnam, ended up as the sole resident of a development in Amesbury, Mass., called "Camelot Village." The place wasn’t exactly a fairy-tale castle when Burke first moved in back in 1988, but it offered all the comforts he required. Not for long, though. Within three years Camelot Village had turned into a virtual dungeon after the developers vanished into the mists, leaving the condos they had built to fall into acute disrepair. Residents began leaving in droves.
In the end, Tony Burke, who works for the U.S. Postal Service, was the only soul in the place. But he stubbornly refused to turn off the light and close the door, even when the running water and electricity were turned off and the building became a haven for junkies. Burke took to hanging an American flag upside down outside an apartment. In the military, this would be a sign of distress. Some took heed including a local singer named Gary Shane who wrote a song, "The Ballad of Tony Burke," and began performing it around the area.
Shane’s day job, rather ironically, was as a realtor. By the time "IF" heard of Burke’s story, things were getting pretty desperate. But Burke reckoned that he had fought the good fight for his country and his condo was a piece of that same country — his own Alamo — so he was going to fight for it too. As luck would have it, a new developer arrived on the scene, bought the building and rebuilt it. Burke is now a house-proud and very relieved resident of a spanking new yuppified complex called Birchwood Pointe. Way to go, Tony!