Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Thursday, 5 January 2006

NI figures remember Merlyn-Rees

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Merlyn-Rees has died aged 85.

The labour peer held the post from 1974 until 1976 during which he faced intensifying paramilitary violence and fallout from the Ulster Workers Strike. Leading political figures have been remembering Lord Merlyn-Rees.

PETER ROBINSON MP, DUP

Our thoughts are very much with his family circle at this time.

Even after Merlyn Rees left his post in Northern Ireland he continued to keep an interest in the affairs of the province and would frequently while in the Lords come to the gallery to listen to Northern Ireland debates.

IVAN COOPER, FORMER SDLP MINISTER

CPS:TPQUOTE>He will be remembered as the man who failed to act decisively whenever the loyalist worker strike was starting to tighten.

A nice man - an extremely nice man - but ineffective as secretary of state.

LORD KILCLOONEY, UUP

CPS:TPQUOTE>Merlyn Rees was balanced, he saw the right on both sides of the debate in Northern Ireland.

Above all he had a tremendous love for Northern Ireland which he continued right through the years of his retirement in the House of Lords.

PETER HAIN, NORTHERN IRELAND SECRETARY

CPS:TPQUOTE> He was a proud Welshman and a hugely respected parliamentarian for over 40 years both in the House of Commons and the Lords.

As secretary of state for Northern Ireland, he worked tirelessly to try to take Northern Ireland forward at a particularly difficult time in its history.

PAT DOHERTY, SINN FEIN VICE PRESIDENT

Merlyn Rees was the British secretary of state who removed Special Category status and laid the foundation stones of the British policy of trying to break the republican struggle in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.

The strategy ultimately failed but not before years of prison resistance and protest culminating in the Hunger Strike of 1981 when ten republican prisoners died.

Like so many other British secretaries of state Rees had little understanding of the conflict or the negative effects resulting from continued British interference in Irish affairs.

MARK DURKAN, SDLP LEADER

Mark Durkan
While all who dealt with Merlyn Rees record him as being genial and nice, he is not generally remembered as a strong secretary of state.

His lack of purpose let the Sunningdale Agreement go. He subsequently failed to assert the basic principles of power-sharing and North-South co-operation. His decisions in the security field sowed the seeds of later problems.

Neither was his record as home secretary a distinguished one when it came to miscarriages of justice cases - such as the Guildford Four, Guiseppe Conlon and the Birmingham Six - and was even neglectful in political relations with the Irish government.

I recognise that he was well regarded in the Labour Party and British politics for his other political contributions and his gracious manner.

ENDA KENNY, FINE GAEL LEADER

Lord Merlyn-Rees played a key role as Northern Ireland Secretary in trying to persuade the unionist parties to accept the power-sharing arrangements set out in the Sunningdale Agreement.

While these efforts did not bear fruit at the time, many of the principles of the Sunningdale model were subsequently replicated in the Good Friday Agreement.

DAVID TRIMBLE, FORMER UUP LEADER

Merlyn came to Northern Ireland as secretary of state at a time of crisis.

While one may be critical of the new Labour government for not moving quickly enough in 1974 to make radical changes to the Sunningdale Agreement that was rejected by the electorate, one has to say after the collapse of Sunningdale Merlyn showed a willingness to explore other ways forward and he recognised the opportunities that arose from the Constitutional Convention in 1975."

DAVID FORD, ALLIANCE PARTY LEADER

The mid-70s were among the bleakest times in our history, so Merlyn Rees had a very difficult job at a very difficult time.

History will be the judge of the man. Clearly large sections of that history are only being revealed now, and will continue to be.

The Alliance Party passes its condolences to his family circle.



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