Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Wednesday, 12 May 2010 18:44 UK

Focus on the new NI secretary of state Owen Paterson

Owen Paterson is the new Northern Ireland Secretary
Owen Paterson is the new Northern Ireland Secretary

BBC NI political reporter Stephen Walker looks at the new NI secretary of state's background and examines what his priorities will be.

Owen Paterson enjoys horse racing in his spare time. So he knows a few things about tipping a winner or too.

As shadow Northern Ireland secretary he was the odds on favourite to win this race and will be delighted to have reached the finishing line. It marks the biggest job of a 13-year political career.

He becomes the first Conservative secretary of state since 1997 when Sir Patrick Mayhew held office in John Major's administration.

The new Northern Ireland secretary will remember 1997 well as it was the year he entered the House of Commons as MP for North Shropshire.

He was elected on the second attempt, having stood unsuccessfully in the 1992 general election.

A Cambridge graduate, fluent in French and German, he has an MA in history and was the managing director of a leather company before entering politics.

During the Conservative years of opposition he held a series of portfolios including shadow minister of transport.

The 53-year-old was appointed shadow Northern Ireland secretary in July 2007.

Mr Paterson was probably one of the most well travelled Conservative spokesman during the last three years and he made a habit of visiting Northern Ireland every week.

He was often in Belfast more than his Labour opposite number Shaun Woodward, the former secretary of state.

On his trips to Northern Ireland he built up a network of contacts with political parties, business organisations and community groups.

These contacts should hold him in good stead when he arrives at Hillsborough Castle.


A prime mover in his party's electoral link-up with the Ulster Unionist Party he enthusiastically wanted new candidates to run as Conservatives and Unionists and he persuaded a number of people to put their names forward.

Although, he personally campaigned in a number of constituencies including Strangford and East Belfast he was disappointed that UCUNF failed to land a Westminster seat.

Although he has often criticised the DUP he hosted secret talks with them in January at Hatfield House.

The discussions looked at the issue of unionist unity and in the general election, the DUP and UUP backed Rodney Connor, who was an unsuccessful independent candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Mr Paterson had previously stated that the Conservatives and Unionists would contest all of Northern Ireland's 18 seats so the decision to back Rodney Connor marked a u-turn, but any animosity that developed with the DUP during the election will have to be put aside as he begins his new role.

As he takes office Mr Paterson will be no stranger to Northern Ireland's political leaders and he will be in no doubt what their main concern will be.

The new MPs fear a reduction in Northern Ireland's block grant and cuts to public services and are talking about presenting a united front to the Conservative and Liberal administration.

An emergency budget is to be presented in the next 50 days so by the end of June Northern Ireland should know what savings are going to be demanded.

Owen Paterson's arrival at Hillsborough Castle is a personal triumph. He is not a member of David Cameron's inner circle and did not back him for party leader so a number of years ago he may have thought his chances of high office had gone.

However, the two men have built up a good relationship in recent years and he has been rewarded for his hard work over the past three years, and for him, the real work begins today.

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