Why the UK Owes US Senator George Mitchell a Debt of Gratitude

26/09/2012 17:21 BST | Updated 26/11/2012 10:12 GMT

US Senator George Mitchell came back to Northern Ireland this week nearly 15 years after helping to bring peace to the province, Brian John Spencer pays tribute.

Economically speaking, things are bad these days.

However sometimes it's important to appreciate what we do have in Britain: peace and political stability. Look back only 15 to 20 years and you would see a British Isles stalked by social unrest and political uncertainty.

Northern Ireland was at the heart of the disquiet.

Riddled by sectarianism and division the province was like a vicious cancer on British soil. And for so long as the province was a flashpoint for conflict and a breeding ground for terrorism, the welfare of British politicians, infrastructure, business and political life was at risk.

Young people especially on the British mainland are unaware of just how grave a threat dissident republicanism posed to Britain or the trouble that unionist politicians and loyalist gangs caused for Westminster.

The younger generation don't know this because fortunes in Northern Ireland turned around so quickly. Thanks in large part to the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998 by the major Catholic and Protestant parties.

At the center of the 1998 peace accord was Bill Clinton's Special Presidential Advisor on Ireland, United States Senator George J Mitchell. It was this seasoned Democratic Senator who sat between hard line nationalist politicians who wanted a united Ireland and unyielding unionists who were committed to the union with Britain and brokered a deal.

It was not only a deal that brought peace to Northern Ireland but it was also a deal that liberated Westminster from the seemingly interminable Northern Ireland question and released the rest of the UK from the major threat of terrorism.

Imagine the difficulties for Westminster if Northern Ireland was still embroiled in deep social and political unrest.

Thankfully the negotiation skills of Senator George Mitchell overcame the pedigree political brinkmanship that had come to define Northern Ireland politics and the Democrat statesman ensured a lasting peace for Britain and Ireland.

The BBC recently paid tribute to the inimitable deal maker when it documented the Senator's recent trip back to Northern Ireland nearly 15 years after the peace accord was sealed. Here we saw just how much his work and effort still means to the people of the still divided but now largely peaceful province.

So let's take a moment to thank a man who helped bring peace to the people of Northern Ireland and to the people of Britain as a whole.