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Originally published Saturday, August 20, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Britain's former Northern Ireland chief Mo Mowlam dead at 55

British politician Mo Mowlam, whose no-nonsense style helped forge Northern Ireland's landmark peace accord, died yesterday after hitting...

The Associated Press

LONDON — British politician Mo Mowlam, whose no-nonsense style helped forge Northern Ireland's landmark peace accord, died yesterday after hitting her head in a fall last month. She was 55.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made Ms. Mowlam his top Northern Ireland official in 1997, paid tribute to "one of the most remarkable and colorful personalities ever to come into politics. Great company, utterly irreverent, full of life and fun."

Observers of the tense negotiations that led to the 1998 Good Friday accord, which revived Catholic-Protestant power-sharing in the British-governed province, cited Ms. Mowlam's approachability as a key factor.

Famously informal, she kicked off her shoes in meetings, threw her wig — a product of her battle with a brain tumor — on the table at a moment of high tension and was caught on tape calling Sinn Fein negotiator Martin McGuinness "babe."

In 1998, she met with Protestant paramilitary inmates inside the Maze prison, overcoming their opposition to peace talks.

Although some Protestant politicians felt Ms. Mowlam favored the Irish nationalist cause, her tenure appeared to encourage the Irish Republican Army-tied Sinn Fein Party to participate in the peace process.

"I certainly had a sense that this was someone who wanted to be part of change. ... I think she wanted to make a contribution and I think she made a very powerful and worthwhile contribution," Sinn Fein's McGuinness told British Broadcasting Corp. television.

Former President Clinton said Ms. Mowlam's "persistence, toughness and good humor were legendary. ... All of us who worked to support peace in Northern Ireland owe her our gratitude."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Ms. Mowlam's "plainspoken ways and her role in restoring the IRA cease-fire in 1997 ensure that her memory will be honored by all the people of Northern Ireland, whether nationalist or unionist."

Ms. Mowlam, who had recently suffered balance problems as a result of radiotherapy treatments for her brain tumor, hit her head in a fall last month, a family friend said, requesting that he not be identified.

Marjorie Mowlam — universally known as Mo — was one of Britain's most popular politicians, admired for her willingness to speak frankly, her bravery in fighting the brain tumor and her role in Northern Ireland's peace process.

A popular figure on the left of the Labour Party, Ms. Mowlam eventually fell out with Blair's centrist government. She was moved to a lower-profile position in 1999 and left politics in 2001.

Ms. Mowlam is survived by her husband, Jon Norton.

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