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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 11:16 GMT
Key players in the peace process
Many people have played a part in the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland. Here, in alphabetical order, are some of the key players.

GERRY ADAMS has been one of the most influential figures in the republican movement, bringing it into talks with the UK Government, ceasefire, the Good Friday Agreement, and then the Northern Ireland Assembly. Now president of Sinn Fein, he declared in 1979 republican aims could not be achieved simply by arms alone - though his unionist critics question his commitment to exclusively peaceful means.

BERTIE AHERN became Taoiseach (prime minister of Ireland) in 1997 and worked with Tony Blair towards finding common ground between the Northern Ireland's political parties and London and Dublin. He was praised for his commitment after returning to the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement just hours after his mother's funeral. He led amendments to the Irish constitution which symbolically ended the republic's claim to The North, which had long been one of the most controversial areas of Anglo-Irish relations.

TONY BLAIR set a target for multi-party talks soon after moving in to Downing Street in 1997. Later that year he became the first PM since 1921 to meet a Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams. He negotiated with Bertie Ahern and the parties to sign up to the Good Friday Agreement, saying "the hand of history is on our shoulders".

BILL CLINTON became the first US president to visit Northern Ireland, having a particular interest as some of his ancestors came from Fermanagh. By sending Senator George Mitchell as an envoy, and offering his personal encouragement - and pressure - to both sides, he was a major influence in securing the 1998 political deal.

JEFFREY DONALDSON, Ulster Unionist MP, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Good Friday Agreement, and has opposed moves such as early prisoner release as being part of a "concession train". Many Ulster Unionists look to him as a challenger to David Trimble - but he has denied he is a threat.

JOHN HUME has been a driving figure behind many significant attempts at peace over the last 30 years. He first came to prominence in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, helping to found the SDLP in 1970. In 1988 he began a series of (at first secret) contacts with Gerry Adams, which were to prove one of the most important strands in creating a climate for talks.. In 1998 he and David Trimble jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize

JOHN MAJOR, as prime minister until 1997, made initial moves to resolve the Northern Ireland question with 1993's Downing Street Declaration. He reportedly had to be persuaded to maintain talks with Sinn Fein after an IRA bomb at a chip shop on the Shankill Road killed nine civilians in 1993.

PETER MANDELSON took over as Northern Ireland Secretary in autumn 1999 amid fears that the Good Friday Agreement would collapse. Within weeks he had secured a deal to allow devolution followed in December. But his decision to suspend the executive in February to stop the unionists walking out over arms decommissioning, angered the nationalist and republican community. His action in pushing through controversial police reforms drew scorn from both sides.

MARTIN MCGUINNESS'S appointment to the Northern Ireland executive, as education minister, was by far the most controversial for unionists. His enemies have long accused him of being a leading member in the IRA. Appointed Sinn Fein's chief negotiator in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement, Mr McGuinness was the first republican to be named as an official "linkman" between the arms decommissioning body and the IRA, though the post has now been superceded by a direct contact between the body and the paramilitaries.

GEORGE MITCHELL, used skill and huge reserves of patience when chairing the Northern Ireland peace talks leading up to the 1998 agreement. A former US senator, he was President Clinton's envoy to Northern Ireland. Negotiations went on, he said, for "two seemingly endless years"; his decision to impose a deadline on talks helped politicians to come to the agreement on Good Friday.

MO MOWLAM took charge at the Northern Ireland Office in May 1997 and scored a major achievement with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But Dr Mowlam's unorthodox approach did not always go down well with many unionists who began to believe that she was moving closer to the nationalist view.
Her visit to loyalist paramilitary prisoners in the Maze prison drew criticism from many but was arguably crucial in maintaining their support for the political talks.

CHRIS PATTEN's role in negotiating the handover of Hong Kong to China marked him out as a skilled negotiator. So the appointment of the former Tory MP to head the commission into policing reform - a move designed to win the confidence of Catholics - was widely welcomed. His 175 recommendations formed the basis of the Police NI Bill which won Parliamentary consent in late 2000.

JOHN REID became Northern Ireland secretary last month following the resignation of Mr Mandelson. With a style that is much lower key than his predecessor, he is already winning respect. He is the first Catholic to be Northern Ireland secretary.

ALBERT REYNOLDS, along with John Major, helped lay the foundations for the peace process. As Taoiseach between 1992 and 1994 he and Mr Major delivered the Downing Street Declaration, which accepted the case for self-determination for all the people of Northern Ireland. He also agreed, in principle, to put the republic's constitutional claim on the territory to a referendum.

DAVID TRIMBLE's leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party has rested on a knife-edge ever since he entered negotiations with Sinn Fein. But he has shown himself to be a sharp tactician, keenly judging the mood of his party at key moments in the peace process. He jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Good Friday Agreement, but since then has fixed on paramilitary decommissioning, which is the only way to assure lasting peace.

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