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Tuesday, 12 October, 1999, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
From the NI Office to Cabinet Office
Mo Mowlam has faced personal and professional adversity
When Mo Mowlam appeared smiling in the October sunshine alongside her replacement at the Northern Ireland Office, Peter Mandelson, most people believed she had been appointed as health secretary.

If she was disappointed with her new position at the Cabinet Office, the new "enforcer" refused to show it.

Cabinet reshuffle
Her new job as "minister for the Today programme" will see her make full use of the skills she developed at the Northern Ireland, in promoting policies and managing government business.

Her new position at the cabinet table may have come as a shock, but the timing did not.

Dr Mowlam's tenure in the Northern Ireland Office has been the subject of speculation throughout the summer.

Prior to Prime Minister Tony Blair's first reshuffle in July, commentators were certain Dr Mowlam would be among those moved to new positions.

And despite her protestations that she has no desire to change jobs while the peace process was in crisis, when it was clear Mr Blair would have to hold a second reshuffle, the speculation intensified.

This summer may be seen as a turning point in her fortunes in Northern Ireland, and an indication that it was time to move on.

The peace process, which she had overseen since Labour came to power, was becoming bogged down in the recurring rhetoric of political parties unwilling to trust each other, or - in some cases - the Northern Ireland secretary.

The rumbling opposition by the Ulster Unionists to Dr Mowlam had become more marked over the last six months.

UUP leader David Trimble and other disgruntled loyalists regarded the secretary of state as a closet Irish nationalist.

One place the effect of the stalemate was evident was at this year's Labour Party conference, a venue where she was given an unprecedented standing ovation during the leader's speech 12 months earlier.

In contrast, Dr Mowlam maintained a low profile throughout this year's Bournemouth conference.

But Dr Mowlam has endeared herself to many people during her time at the Northern Ireland Office with the courage, optimism and humour with which she has faced professional and personal difficulties.

Popular choice

Majorie Mowlam was born 47 years ago in Watford, north of London.

After graduating from Durham University and completing a PhD in political science at Iowa University, she returned to Britain in 1979.

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.

Her widespread popularity among the party was undeniable and she was elected to the shadow cabinet and Labour's national executive committee.

The Search for Peace
She became renowned for her blatant but light-hearted disregard of formality, kicking off her shoes and chewing gum at meetings.

After holding the shadow Northern Ireland position in opposition, she was appointed to the Northern Ireland Office following Labour's victory in 1997.

Dr Mowlam is widely recognised as helping to turn round the peace process.

She led moves to establish a new ceasefire, bringing republicans back to the negotiating table while persuading unionists not to leave.

The Good Friday Agreement was backed by voters on both sides of the Irish border
Bringing David Trimble and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams into the same building let alone the same room was a feat in itself.

But one of her most courageous moves was to meet convicted paramilitaries face to face in the Maze prison.

It met with criticism, but she retorted: "I am not desperate. I am not negotiating. I am determined. It takes courage to push things forward. It takes risks."

It was that courage, determination and willingness to negotiate that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The accord was widely hailed as offering the basis for a permanent end to the province's spiral of violence, although some saw it as being fatally flawed due to the compromises it entailed.

Although its implementation has become deadlocked over the perennial problem of paramilitary arms decommissioning Dr Mowlam's public standing does not appeared to have suffered unduly.

She has always been seen as a politician of the people.

This has been endured by the sympathy she received for the treatment of a brain tumour, which turned out to be benign.

Despite her treatment, Dr Mowlam rarely let her health interfere with her work.

As her blonde locks were replaced with a wig, the hairpiece became a political weapon, according to some Belfast politicians.

One politician said of the wig: "It's very disarming.

"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."

The 49-year-old Redcar MP remains as one commentator recently called her the "politically active Queen mum".

But she once revealed that popularity is not her only goal in life.

"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.'"

It will be precisely for these qualities that Mr Blair has positioned Dr Mowlam at the heart of the centralised Cabinet Office.

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