Devised by US Senator George Mitchell, the ‘Mitchell Principles’ were a set of principles or conditions on which future peace negotiations should be based. These principles, which underpinned the 1998 Good Friday negotiations, were outlined in a January 1996 report on weapons decommissioning:
“To reach an agreed political settlement, and to take the gun out of Irish politics, there must be commitment and adherence to fundamental principles of democracy and non-violence. Participants in all-party negotiations should affirm their commitment to such principles.
Accordingly, we recommend that the parties to such negotiations affirm their total and absolute commitment:
1. To democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues;
2. To the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations;
3. To agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission;
4. To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations;
5. To agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree; and
6. To urge that punishment killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions.
We join the governments, religious leaders and many others in condemning punishment killings and beatings. They contribute to the fear that those who have used violence to pursue political objectives in the past will do so again in the future. Such actions have no place in a lawful society.
Those who demand decommissioning prior to all-party negotiations do so out of concern that the paramilitaries will use force, threaten to use force, to influence the negotiations, or to change any aspect of the outcome of negotiations with which they disagree. Given the history of Northern Ireland, this is not an unreasonable concern. The principles we recommend address those concerns directly.
These commitments, when made and honoured, would remove the threat of force before, during and after all-party negotiations. They would focus all concerned on what is ultimately essential if the gun is to be taken out of Irish politics: an agreed political settlement and the total and verifiable disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. That should encourage the belief that the peace process will truly be an exercise in democracy, not one influenced by the threat of violence.”