And Mo Mowlam goes walkabout in Belfast

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Less than 24 hours into her new post, the first woman Northern Ireland secretary was already pounding the streets of Belfast in a bid to restart the stalled peace process, displaying a new kind of statesmanship unfamiliar to the people of Ulster, writes Ros Wynne-Jones.

Mo Mowlam spoke yesterday of her desire to bring a new "sensitivity" to her cabinet role and, by the time she left, those who had lined the streets to wish her well and enquire after her health following her treatment for a brain tumour, were already softening to the new appointee.

Relaxed and chatty, the smiling minister stopped to take a cheeky bite from a child's apple as she moved through the crowds. Then, journalists watched open-mouthed as she stooped to pick up a microphone dropped in the melee. "We've never had a Secretary of State who has done that," said one veteran reporter.

"She seems so down to earth. We have never seen a minister out on the streets like this before, just so chatty and normal," said Maureen McGuigan. "It's good to have a woman, but she's got her work cut out."

Ms Mowlam, whose appointment was well-received in all political quarters, said: "My priority is what I'm doing here, to come and talk and listen to people in Northern Ireland ... because in the end, if we are going to get anywhere with the violence that has dogged this society for so long, it is only by building confidence between the different communities."

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