MARTIN McGUINNESS:

The streetfighter and butcher's boy from Derry is one of Sinn Fein's best strategists. He represented the nationalists during secret talks with the British Government in 1990, and was Sinn Fein's chief negotiator in the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. He is discussing decommissioning with General de Chastelain. A Westminster MP although he has never taken his seat.

DAVID TRIMBLE:

Came to Unionist politics through a burning idealism about Britishness. But also a moderniser, a man who backed one member, one vote for his own Ulster Unionist Party and proportional representation for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Aged 55, spent his working life as a law academic. Became leader of the Ulster Unionists in 1995. Although always prepared to defend the Orangemen's right to march, he has shown himself willing to deal with the nationalists. Has put his own career as leader on the line in an attempt to secure peace.

GEORGE MITCHELL:

The master negotiator and the man who achieved the near-impossible: bringing the Unionists and nationalists together and securing the peace deal. As chairman of the Independent Commission on Decommissioning he identified the six "Mitchell Principles", including commitment to peace and democracy, for entry into talks. He was reluctant to return, despite Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern's pleading, when last year's Agreement started to unravel, but his wife persuaded him.

PETER MANDELSON:

The "prince of darkness" returned from the political wilderness last month as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. His appointment was welcomed by the Ulster Unionists who disliked Mo Mowlam, but he has yet to prove whether he has what it takes to succeed in realpolitik. Mr Mandelson, 46, remains one of Tony Blair's closest confidants. He will get some of the credit when the peace process finally bears fruit, but critics maintain the spadework was done by his predecessor, and the laurels should be worn by George Mitchell.

GERRY ADAMS:

Like Eamon de Valera, the president of Sinn Fein has not renounced the principle of armed struggle, but he is now more pragmatic than revolutionary. Intelligence services believe that his first IRA command was as officer in command of the Ballymurphy company at the age of 21; he graduated to become OC of the IRA's largest Belfast battalion, although there is no evidence that he ever pulled a trigger. From his prison cell in 1974-77 he planned to restructure the IRA into small, informer-proof cells, and turn Sinn Fein into a proper political party. Today, the 51-year-old MP for West Belfast expounds on the way forward in increasingly sophisticated language.

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