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Mo Mowlam:
"A good friend and a wonderful ambassador"
 real 28k

Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis:
describes Baroness Denton's "telling contribution" to Northern Ireland
 real 28k

Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 13:18 GMT
Former minister Lady Denton dies
Baroness Denton
Baroness Denton: First woman minister at Stormont
The former Northern Ireland minister Baroness Jean Denton, 65, died on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.

Baroness Denton served at Stormont under the Tories from 1994 to 1997 when the general election brought Labour to power.

When she was appointed by Prime Minister John Major she became the first woman to hold a ministerial post at the Northern Ireland Office.

Her first brief in Belfast was that of agriculture, health and social services.

Later she took up the post of economy minister.

Before she came to Northern Ireland she was a parliamentary under-secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Fair employment row

During her time at Stormont, Baroness Denton's office, at the Department of Agriculture, was at the centre of a fair employment row.

The controversy emerged in early 1997.

A Catholic woman, who had received damages for sectarian harassment against an aide of the minister, was moved from her job while the aide stayed as private secretary to the Baroness.

Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam was a friend of Lady Denton

After leaving office Lady Denton criticised the advice she had been given over the case.

During an interview for BBC NI's Hearts and Minds programme she said top civil servants held too much power.

In her personal life Baroness Denton struggled with cancer for many years.

In the late 80s she recovered from breast cancer and three years ago she had a brain tumour removed.

Among those who supported her at that time was, the then, Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam.

She also had surgery for a brain tumour and was by Lady Denton's bedside as she recovered.

The two women were great friends and beyond political rivalry had much in common.

Speaking on Tuesday, Ms Mowlam described Baroness Denton as "a wonderful woman who will be sorely missed and a wonderful ambassador for Northern Ireland".

"She understood the fundamental that if peace was to hold people needed jobs," she said.

Racing driver

Baroness Denton's career in politics took off after success in the world of business.

She was also a former British racing driving champion.

After her divorce more than 20 years ago, she remained single and channelled her energies into her career.

She once told Who's Who her favourite hobby was "talking shop".

Jean Denton was made a life peer and Baroness Denton of Wakefield in 1991.

She was educated at the London School of Economics.


Among the politicians to pay tribute to Lady Denton on Tuesday was the Ulster Unionist Party MP Ken Maginnis.

He described the Baroness as "a gutsy but dignified lady" who had a wonderful sense of humour and who had made a telling contribution to the province.

She was always a very down to earth person

Alliance Party leader Sean Neeson on Baroness Denton

"I wouldn't say she despised red tape but she was certainly somebody who wanted to cut through bureaucracy and get on with the real job," he said.

The Alliance Party leader, Sean Neeson, said the Baroness Denton "worked tirelessly to improve the economic well-being of this region".

He said: "She was always a very down to earth person and will be remembered for her very positive attitude to life."

The Conservative Party chairman, Sir Michael Ancram, said: "The whole party will be saddened by the death of Jean Denton.

"Having served with her in the Northern Ireland Office, I can personally pay tribute to her energy and determination."

The Northern Ireland secretary, Dr John Reid, said: "All those who worked with her will remember the energy, commitment and enthusiasm that she brought to her role.

"Northern Ireland has much to be grateful to Jean Denton for."

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