Category: Archive

Mitchell hedges on referendum success

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With latest opinion polls indicating less than overwhelming support among Northern Ireland Unionists for the Belfast Agreement, the White House has been expressing unease over poll findings.

Such concern is shared by the architect of the accord, George Mitchell, who said in Washington last week that no matter what polls said, there was still a chance the agreement would not be approved in Friday’s Northern referendum

“A ‘Yes’ vote is not assured until there actually is a vote,” said the former Senate Majority leader at a National Press Club luncheon.

Mitchell added that there were legitimate groups who back a “no” vote, and that their voices should be heard.

“I respect their right,” he said, “but there is no credible alternative to what has already been presented to the people of Ireland, North and South. You can hold onto your dreams, but you can’t use violence to attain them.”

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Mitchell captivated the crowd with a blow-by-blow description of the long hours and final moments before the agreement came together.

“You know, I had a son in the midst of the negotiations, and I found out that on the same day he was born, there were 61 babies born in Northern Ireland. I believe the parents of those 61 babies want the same thing I want for my child, and they deserve it,” he said.

Since returning to private life, Mitchell’s name has surfaced as the top candidate to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. When asked whether he would take the job, he gave an unequivocal “no” to the suggestion.

Mitchell has already been back to the North once since the announcement of the agreement. “I’ll go back again, not before the referendum – I’ll be there afterward to celebrate its success,” he said.

White House officials, meanwhile, are convinced that whatever about doubts over the Unionist vote, the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland will overwhelmingly vote in favor of the proposal.

“Now is the time for those on the Unionist side to realize that we stand behind our commitments – that we’ll make good on our promises and they should vote yes,” said the official.

An exhausted White House staff is monitoring the situation in the closing days. The combined G-8 and US/EU summit in Britain took a toll on President Clinton and his advisors.

But the president’s meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair on Ireland were just enough to sustain a White House air of “cautious optimism,” for Friday’s vote.

Ambassador update

Meanwhile, former Ambassador to Portugal, Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, has emerged as the latest frontrunner to take over the reins from outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith. Kennedy Smith is expected to leave Ireland in early July.

Frawley Bagley stepped down from her post in Lisbon last October. A wealthy Democratic contributor, her name has been among a number being considered for the post since the announcement in March that Kennedy Smith would be leaving.

Former Wyoming Gov. Michael Sullivan has also seen his star rise in the last few weeks in the run-up to a final selection being made.

Sullivan was one of the first national politicians to come out in favor of Bill Clinton when the then Arkansas governor was campaigning for the presidency. Since then, Sullivan has not received any post in either the first or second Clinton administrations.

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