Front Page

UK

World

Business

Sci/Tech

Sport

Despatches

World Summary


On Air

Cantonese

Talking Point

Feedback

Text Only

Help

Site Map

Friday, January 9, 1998 Published at 23:11 GMT



UK

Minister with a mission


The BBC's Janet Cohen profiles Mo Mowlam (5'51'')
"I am not desperate. I am not negotiating. I am determined. It takes courage to push things forward. It takes risks."

So said Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary faced with growing criticism at her decision to visit Maze prisoners - people convicted of serious crimes, including murder.

No one can deny Mo Mowlam is courageous. But her initiative reflects how close the peace process is to breaking down.

It also shows her personal - and cynics might say naive - determination to do all she can to prevent another return to the cycle of violence in Ulster.

Majorie Mowlam describes herself as a "tough old boot." She has made great strides in the past eight months in the peace process. Bringing David Trimble and Gerry Adams into the same building let alone the same room was a feat in itself.


[ image:
"I'm a tough old boot"
During heated negotiations with unionists and republicans in the last nine months, she has also had to cope with the side-effects of treatment for a benign brain tumour.

Although she has never sought to make an issue of her health, she was forced to reveal she was receiving chemotherapy, radiotherapy and steroid treatment after several British tabloids made jibes about her increase in weight.

Her hair had fallen out and she has to wear a wig, though her natural blonde locks are gradually growing back.


[ image: Maginnis: Mo's a
Maginnis: Mo's a "good mixer"
The wig has become part of the legendary Mowlam informality, though some suspect she uses it as a political weapon. She whips it off even during talks in Belfast.

"It's very disarming," said one Belfast politician. "When you're in a strenuous meeting with her and you're about to tackle her hard and she suddenly takes off the wig. It's extremely difficult to be tough on a lady who is bald."

Ms Mowlam has a reputation for being direct, unpretentious, cheerful in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems and - most important in a land so full of sectarian hatred - gregarious. Many in Ireland, including Ken Maginnis, deputy leader of the Ulster Unionists, have described her as " a good mixer".

Loyal to her leaders

Majorie Mowlam was born 47 years ago in Watford, north of London. After graduating from Durham University in England and completing a a PhD in political science at Iowa University, she returned to Britain in 1979.


[ image: The many faces of Mo Mowlam: in 1987 soon after winning Redcar...]
The many faces of Mo Mowlam: in 1987 soon after winning Redcar...
She joined the Labour Party as a student but made her mark in 1983 campaigning for Neil Kinnock in his leadership election. Four years later she was selected for the safe seat of Redcar. In 1994 she was became a supporter of Tony Blair in his bid for the party leadership.


[ image: ...in 1990]
...in 1990
New Labour's propaganda chiefs regarded her as a loose cannon. But her widespread popularity was undeniable and she was elected to the shadow cabinet and Labour's national executive committee. She became renowned for her blatant but light-hearted disregard of formality, kicking off her shoes and chewing gum at meetings.


[ image: ...in 1994 she backed Blair in his leadership bid]
...in 1994 she backed Blair in his leadership bid
After Labour won the 1997 General Election, she became Northern Ireland Secretary. With her photographic memory for names, she made many friends among residents and local councillors.

Her willingness to listen to all sides has been offset by her sometimes frosty relations with senior civil servants.

Summer of discontent

She once said residents' groups opposed to Orange parades were "independent" despite evidence that they had been infiltrated by the IRA. She has also had to retract a statement suggesting peace talks could go ahead with unionist participation.

Last year unionist attacks on her meetings with Sinn Fein were balanced with nationalist condemnation of her handling of the Orange marches.

Thousands of police were ordered at one point in the demonstration to push a Protestant march through a Catholic area. A leaked document later seemed to reveal that Ms Mowlam had planned such a push all along, even though she had insisted she had an open mind.

Ms Mowlam recently described herself as pragmatic with a deep-rooted sense of justice. "I like to see things get done," she said. " It's not that I need to be loved, or belong - I just say 'OK, if this is what we want to achieve, this is what we've got to do.'"

By deciding to visit to the Maze prison, she has shown she is ready to take risks to try to preserve the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland.


 





Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage

©

  Relevant Stories

08 Jan 98 | UK
Key players in the Maze

08 Jan 98 | Talking Point
Mowlam in the Maze - Should she do it?

08 Jan 98 | UK
Mowlam bids to bridge prison divide

05 Jan 98 | UK
Truce will hold, says Mowlam

31 Dec 97 | World
Trimble blasts Mowlam over prison killing

29 Dec 97 | UK
Mowlam briefed after Ulster violence

24 Dec 97 | UK
Government accused of political 'bias'

22 Dec 97 | UK
Mowlam tries to keep loyalists on board

25 Nov 97 | UK
Mowlam sets standards for RUC

 
  Internet Links

The Labour Party

The Northern Ireland Office


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
 
In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online





UK Contents

Northern Ireland
Scotland
Wales
England