In Memoriam: Mo Mowlam, unique and respected British politician

Mo Mowlam

Julie Grates, Contibutor
October / November 2005

Mo Mowlam, the former Secretary of State of Northern Ireland, lost her long battle with a brain tumor in late August. She was 55.

The former Secretary of State served from 1997-1999 and was an intricate part of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Mowlam was a very candid and feisty woman who worked tirelessly to promote peace.

When appointed to the post in 1997, she was a fresh face for the job. Her style in dealing with politics was quite different from her predecessor. Many remember her as an extremely frank, direct woman who used very colorful language.

U.S. Senator George Mitchell put it the best when he said, “She is blunt and outspoken and she swears a lot. She is also intelligent, decisive, daring and unpretentious. The combination is irresistible. The people love her, though many politicians do not.”

Many U.S. politicians paid tributes and complimented the woman who helped lay the groundwork for the Good Friday Agreement.

Senator Edward Kennedy said, “I had immense respect for her ability and dedication to the peace process in Northern Ireland. She was extraordinarily committed and effective, and we’re closer to a lasting peace today because of her.”

Former President Bill Clinton agreed. “Mo was an integral part of building a peace process in Northern Ireland that has endured for over a decade. All of us who worked to support peace in Northern Ireland owe her our gratitude.”

Marjorie Mowlam was born in 1949 to a middle-class family in Coventry. She did not have an easy childhood — her family was always short on money and her father was an alcoholic. Needless to say, she overcame those hardships and became a college lecturer. She entered politics at the late age of 38, when she won a seat in Parliament in Redcar, on the North Sea coast.

She soon made herself heard in Parliament and became an essential part of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor Party. Blair was elected in 1997 and quickly appointed Mowlam as Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State. Her goal was to come up with a peace process for the violence occurring in Northern Ireland.

While Mowlam worked tirelessly to establish a good relationship with Sinn Féin, many unionists criticized her efforts, saying she sympathized with the Republican cause too much and she should concentrate on keeping Ireland united.

Mowlam became an intricate part of the peace accords. She had no fear of shouting at politicians, mostly men, on both sides of the Northern Ireland conflict. In fact while helping to negotiate the Good Friday peace settlement in 1998, she said to Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, “Bloody well get on and do it; otherwise I’ll head-butt you!”

Eventually, Blair and Mowlam had a political falling out and he replaced Mowlam in her post against her will. She complained and criticized the government, saying they made her like a “tea lady.” Mowlam was demoted to a less important job in the cabinet and ended up quitting politics for good. In 2002, she wrote a memoir entitled Momentum ♦

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