Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
UK: Northern Ireland
The substance stays the same
Post-shuffle: The new and former Northern Ireland secretaries in Downing Street
By BBC Northern Ireland Political Correspondent Martina Purdy
Former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam said there is no easy time to leave Northern Ireland. As her successor, Peter Mandelson, prepares to fly to Belfast early on Tuesday, he is no doubt conscious that neither there is any easy time to arrive.
He said if there was going to be a deal, unionists and nationalists and republicans had to recognise that they needed each other. The change, therefore, is not likely to be one of substance but of style.
Dr Mowlam was famous for her warm, down-to-earth approach. Mr Mandelson is described by some of his critics as a rather prickly character.
Mr Mandelson is seen as a manipulative character by his detractors; Dr Mowlam, in contrast, is reputedly a straightforward personality.
Unionist approval could ease tension
The Ulster Unionist approval for the new Northern Ireland secretary should take some of the tension out of the process. And it will make it difficult for the party to complain about Mr Mandelson in the future should he fail to meet their expectations.
Dr Mowlam's style alone irked unionists. And many saw her as too pro-nationalist.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's desire to please unionists who refused to deal with Dr Mowlam meant he was forced to deal with problems himself. He therefore often bypassed his Northern Ireland secretary - a situation which sometimes offended and undermined her.
Mr Blair is unlikely to repeat the pattern. Mr Mandelson is a close personal friend and confidant, one whom he is loath to offend. That makes him a more powerful figure for the parties to deal with.
Mr Mandelson also has the advantage that he brings light baggage to Northern Ireland. He's hardly commented on the situation. Notably, his grandfather was in the cabinet when the Republic of Ireland was declared in 1948.
It is also clear that the truly important decisions - ruling, for example, whether a ceasefire is intact or not - are taken at Downing Street level.
Eyes and ears
It should not be forgotten, however, that a secretary of state is the eyes and ears of the government in Northern Ireland. His or her suspicions, prejudices and concerns are directly reported to the prime minister.
Mr Blair, given his close relationship with Mr Mandelson, is likely to trust that judgement far more than he did Dr Mowlam's.
That could leave one side or the other vulnerable. Sinn Fein will no doubt be concerned that Mr Mandelson should continue the inclusive style which set Dr Mowlam apart from any of her predecessors.
While former Northern Ireland secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew never got over his mistrust of Sinn Fein, Dr Mowlam seemed to accept their bona fides in wishing to make peace.
Mandelson's first test
Many politicians new to Northern Ireland make one gaffe or another. Given the state of the process, a word out of place could be more serious than at any other time.
But Mr Mandelson was no doubt was aware he was in line for this job some months ago, and will have done his homework.
In turn, the parties will be anxious to please Mr Mandelson, recognising his pivotal role. And no doubt Dublin and Washington will also take care to forge a close relationship.
Having tarnished his reputation over the revelations of a secret loan from his onetime cabinet colleague Geoffrey Robinson, Mr Mandelson has little to lose in coming to Northern Ireland.
And a glittering prize to win if he succeeds in achieving inclusive, stable government.