Page last updated at 22:14 GMT, Wednesday, 12 May 2010 23:14 UK

Owen Paterson new NI secretary of state

Owen Paterson arrives at Downing Street on Wednesday
Owen Paterson arrives at Downing Street on Wednesday

Owen Paterson has been appointed as the new secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

The 53-year-old becomes the first Conservative secretary of state since 1997, when Sir Patrick Mayhew held office in John Major's administration.

Mr Paterson became MP for North Shropshire in the same year.

The Cambridge graduate was appointed shadow Northern Ireland secretary in July 2007.

Mr Paterson has been a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland since then and has built up a network of contacts with political parties, business organisations and community groups.

He was a prime mover in his party's electoral link up with the Ulster Unionist Party and personally campaigned in a number of constituencies including Strangford and East Belfast.

Speaking after his appointment, he denied his relationship with the Ulster Unionists could lead to difficulties with other parties.

"I don't see a problem at all," he said.

"There's a cabinet meeting tomorrow and I'll be speaking up for Northern Ireland.

"I think it is really good to have a secretary of state who is really partisan in the cabinet speaking up for everyone in Northern Ireland."

Responsibilities

The Northern Ireland Office once had responsibility for many issues including policing and justice, health, education, culture and the arts but these areas of public life are now in the hands of the NI Executive.

Today the secretary of state still has responsibility for constitutional and national security issues and the licensing and legislation of firearms and explosives.

The role also has an involvement in the ongoing public inquiries, human rights and electoral policy.

However, the job is no longer seen as one of the big offices of state and the arrival of devolution has prompted some commentators to predict that the job could disappear in the near future.

Congratulations

After the announcement, UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said: "I offer my warmest congratulations to Owen Paterson on his appointment as secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

"Owen's sterling commitment to Northern Ireland has been amply demonstrated during his time as shadow secretary of state."

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie congratulated Mr Paterson and added: "I will be seeking an immediate meeting with Mr Paterson with a number of important issues on the agenda.

"The SDLP will be keen to explore with Mr Paterson the full extent of public spending cuts planned by his party."

DUP leader Peter Robinson said he had spoken by phone to Mr Paterson. He said: "I took the opportunity to raise the issue of the Northern Ireland economy and the Presbyterian Mutual Society.

"I look forward to more detailed conversations on these and other matters in the near future."

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said: "I have obviously met Owen Paterson on many occasions over the past three years.

"On the issues of the peace process it is important that the Good Friday, St Andrews and Hillsborough Agreements are honoured."

Alliance leader David Ford said he looked forward to working with Mr Paterson.

"Although much of the Northern Ireland Office's responsibility has now been devolved to Stormont, he will still have an important role to play and it is important that Northern Ireland has a well informed representative at the cabinet table," Mr Ford said,



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