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The search for peace
Mo Mowlam
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• Decommissioning
• Prisoner release
Mo Mowlam
• Good Friday Agreement
• Drumcree

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Piece together the puzzle of the Northern Ireland conflict by clicking the related subjects above.

• Mo Mowlam on the Good Friday Agreement, 1998
• SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon: "She was a breath of fresh air to Northern Ireland politics"

Mo Mowlam

If there was ever a consensus of opinion about Mo Mowlam, it is that she was totally unlike any of her predecessors as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr Blair appointed her to the post when the Labour Party came to power with its large majority in May 1997. One of her immediate priorities was to work towards the restoration of the IRA ceasefire, and to include Sinn Fein in the multi-party talks. Both happened within months.

Dr Mowlam, well loved in Britain, prided herself on her easy-going manner and her ability to move easily among groups of politicians or members of the public. But despite her popular appeal, no-one can hold the top job in Northern Ireland without attracting criticism or making enemies.

In 1998, Mo Mowlam's handling of the controversial Orange Order parade through a mainly Catholic area at Drumcree in County Armagh was one of her lowest moments.

The residents said she had promised to let them know in advance whether she would allow the parade to proceed. But in the end the police and army moved in without warning and allowed the parade to go ahead.

Dr Mowlam was left to face a wave of nationalist fury and claims of duplicity. When a year later the parade was prevented from going through the contentious area, unionists were equally furious.

Other high-risk gambles have paid off. In 1998 she paid an extraordinary visit to the Maze prison to talk to loyalist and republican prisoners. The visit was a success. She succeeded in persuading loyalist inmates to give the talks process another chance.

Replaced by Peter Mandelson in October 1999, she was widely lauded by Catholic parties especially the SDLP. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern praised her for her "courage and understanding".

But unionists were less sorry to see her go. Many unionist leaders believed she was biased in favour of Sinn Fein. They disapproved of unorthodox moves like her visit to the Maze prison and her tendency to come across as much more touchy-feely than any previous holder of the post.

UUP leader David Trimble made no comment following the announcement that she would be leaving Northern Ireland. DUP leader Ian Paisley said she had been a "failure".

Mo Mowlam returned to London as Cabinet Minister, in charge of co-ordinating and promoting government policies.

But within months, her frustration of losing one of the most challenging posts in British government - and an issue that the she clearly felt strongly about - came to the fore. She decided to quit politics for good at the 2001 general election.

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