Senator George Mitchell meets the children of peace
- 24 September 2012
- From the section Northern Ireland
In a new documentary from BBC Northern Ireland, former US Senator George Mitchell returns to Northern Ireland with his son Andrew. Producer Michael Fanning recalls his journey with the senator.
I'm in the back of a car with senator George Mitchell and his son Andrew. We're on our way to film at Stormont and we're talking about baseball.
I mention having recently seen the film Moneyball and how I enjoyed it; particularly Brad Pitt's portrayal of Billy Beane, the baseball coach and film's main character.
While Andrew agreed with me, his father did not. Why? I asked.
"Well I know Billy Beane and I don't think the movie did him justice."
That trumped my critique. Not to be put off I continued the conversation.
"Well I liked one of the last scenes in the film because it features John Henry (principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool football club), and I'm a big Liverpool fan."
"Yes. I'm on the board of the Boston Red Sox," was Senator Mitchell's polite response. Now feeling lost for words, I decided to leave it there.
For me that moment reinforced exactly who George Mitchell is.
In Northern Ireland we know him well as the respected chairman of the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement but this is a man lauded around the world for his efforts in peace negotiations, politics, diplomacy, sport and business.
He's a former majority leader of the US Senate, former chairman of Disney and most recently President Obama's peace envoy to the Middle East, but it's here, back in Northern Ireland with his son, on their way to visit Stormont, that Senator Mitchell would later say was one of the greatest moments of his life.
Fourteen months earlier, in New York, a colleague and I pitched to Senator Mitchell, the idea of filming a documentary with him.
In a book he had written shortly after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement he wrote about his dream of taking his newborn son Andrew, to Northern Ireland at a time of peace.
Andrew was born on 16 October 1997 at a very difficult moment in the peace negotiations. Senator Mitchell considered staying in New York.
However, he discovered there were 61 children born in Northern Ireland on that same day. He wanted all those children, just like his newborn son, to have every possible opportunity in life and the resolve hardened in him to return to Northern Ireland and get the deal done.
I explained to him that I would like to film with him and his son, who is now 14, as they returned to Northern Ireland, visited Stormont, and met with some of those 61 children and their families.
Senator Mitchell and his family agreed. In fact, they embraced the opportunity.
Senator Mitchell, his wife Heather and his children Andrew and Claire, opened the doors of their New York home to us, welcomed us in and allowed us to film them as a family.
Equally open and honest were the families here in Northern Ireland whom the Mitchells met. Ordinary families who just happen to have a child born on 16 October 1997. Now we wanted them to meet Senator Mitchell and his son, and we wanted to film it.
The result is, I feel, an intriguing and at times emotional documentary, not about Northern Ireland's troubled past but about Northern Ireland today but how things have or haven't changed since 1998 - told through the prism of family values and family life.
While it's clear that Senator Mitchell is deeply proud of his role in Northern Ireland, above all else he's a proud father and husband.
Such is the measure of the man that it was President Clinton's office who contacted me asking: "I understand you wish to interview President Clinton for your documentary?"
I know well from past experience, that this sort of thing just doesn't happen. But this time, it did.
George Mitchell: My Journey's End was broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland on 25 September. It is available to watch on the BBC's iPlayer in the UK until 2 October.