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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 15:17 GMT


May (2): Mo Mowlam



Review of the Year
Mo Mowlam Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has taken great risks to bring about peace to the province.

In May, her push toward reconcilliation came to fruition, as she witnessed Northern Ireland vote decisively for the Good Friday agreement.

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I think it's been a very positive year, not just for the Labour government but also for the people of Northern Ireland.

Twelve months ago people didn't think it was possible to get the parties around the table for talks.

The parties, their leaders and the people have shown determination and courage to make the progress that has been made, to get an agreement in April, a referendum in May, followed by an election of assembly and many other parts of the Good Friday agreement being put in place.

Highs and lows

I'm not usually a person into highlights or down points because if you focus on either one then it is tougher to keep going.

But I think the obvious highlight was the signing of the Good Friday agreement.

Obviously the Omagh bombing , 29 people, the most people killed at any one time in Northern Ireland, the 3 Quinn children being murdered in their house, Poyntzpass, 2 young men out for a drink murdered, one Protestant, one nationalist, events like that are horrific to live with.

There is no doubt at a time like this that one's thoughts are with the families because the pain for them must be excruciating.

There is no doubt at a time like this that one's thoughts are with the families because the pain for them must be excruciating.

What has driven me this year is a desire for the people of Northern Ireland to be able to have a normal life and I do believe the Belfast agreement will work.

Making progress

I believe it will work because it was reached between the local Northern Ireland political parties, their leaders who showed the determination and courage to support it and the people of Northern Ireland and the south, who voted 71% in the north and 95% in the south for the agreement.

If an agreement is going to succeed we have to make progress in all dimensions of the agreement.

When all the parties agreed to it last April, no party agreed to 100% of it. Some wanted a greater emphasis on decommissioning, some wanted greater emphasis on accelerated release of prisoners and as George Mitchell said it was difficult to get an agreement and it has been equally difficult to implement it.

At base it is a question of confidence. All sides should take this holiday period to reflect on what they can do to build the confidence necessary to move forward to the next stage.

There has to be decommissioning, it is an essential part of the agreement and I welcome the lead shown by the LVF. I want to see all other paramilitary groups follow suit.

In Portadown tension has built up, antagonism has built up between the communities because people were unwilling to sit down and talk.

It is only by talking that tensions will be decreased and confidence built in other parts of the agreement.

The parades have always been an important symbolic act for both sides. The difficulty is conflicting rights. The right to march, basic right in the to free assembly to stand and march in what you believe in. Equally there is the right to live free of fear and intimidation in your community. Those contradictory fears can only be dealt with if the two communities find a way through together.

We have been doing all we can to get the two sides together. We will need to see progress on the marching issue or progress on the talks issue before we will be able to move either one forward.

Climbing hurdles

I'll continue to do the job that I was appointed to do by the Prime Minister. Peace is a process it doesn't happen over night. It's not like switching a light switch on and off and there you have peace.

It takes months if not years to work and I think it is important to understand that it will take time to deal with years, decades of sectarian bigotry and that is beginning to happen.

We have got a long way to go, we have got a lot of hurdles to climb over, but I'm confident because the people of Ireland want peace and the political leaders are showing the determination and courage needed. I'm confident the time in the last year - a very short period - is not wasted and we'll build for the future.

I think people are far enough down the road to peace that nobody wants to go backwards.
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In this section

January: Scott Ritter

February: Touched by an angel

March: Jane Couch

April: Gitta Sereny

May (1): People of Northern Ireland

May (2): Mo Mowlam

June: The England-Argentina referee

July: Gill Samuels, Viagra creator

August: David Shayler

September: Neville Lawrence

October: Ann Widdecombe

November: Sally Becker

December: Deborah Hickey