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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 12:43 GMT
John Reid: Northern Ireland
Dr John Reid
By BBC News Online's Ben Davies

John Reid is one of the people that the government wheels out when it needs to mount a forthright defence of some issue of the day or other.

He is also now the Northern Ireland Secretary, having taken over after Peter Mandelson resigned in the wake of the Hinduja passport scandal.

The tough-talking Scot won respect for his efficiency, determination and eye for detail when he was armed forces minister.

He also has the knack of backing the winner of every Labour leadership contest since 1983.

Mr Reid once said that he believed "socialists should be revisionist on principle" and that modernisation could never finish.

Tony Blair
Reid backed Blair's bid for the Labour leadership

As a man who came via the Communist Party to the heart of New Labour, he could be said to practice what he preaches.

As late as 1986, he was making pro-nuclear disarmament speeches - a position he ditched along with the Labour leadership after the 1987 election.

Safe pair of hands

A member of Neil Kinnock's "kitchen cabinet", he backed the Smith/Beckett ticket for the Labour leadership after Mr Kinnock resigned in the wake of the 1992 general election defeat.

He then backed Messrs Blair and Prescott for the contest that followed John Smith's sudden death from a heart attack in 1994.

His rise in the government has been steady and he is regarded as a safe pair of hands.

He worked his way up from armed forces minister where he was said to have impressed Tony Blair by his handling of the strategic defence review - something that Mr Reid said was driven by foreign policy and not by the search for cuts.

When the then Defence Secretary George Robertson left the government to head Nato, he was replaced by Geoff Hoon and not Mr Reid, who was to take over the mantle of the Scottish Office after the late Donald Dewar became Scottish First Minister in the wake of devolution.

Challenged over whether he had anything left to do after much of his new portfolio had been transferred to Edinburgh, Mr Reid listed the tasks his role entailed.

He said that he would be a representative of the Scottish people in the UK cabinet and a representative of the UK cabinet in Scotland and the UK.

Mistake

There was tension reported between Mr Dewar and his successor after Mr Reid's son Kevin was alleged to have claimed to be able to influence Scottish ministers for a lobby firm, Beattie Media - a matter the late first minister referred to an inquiry.


John Reid replaced Peter Mandelson as Northern Ireland Secretary
Mr Reid himself was forced to admit he had "made a mistake" when he failed to declare a visit to Switzerland to meet the reviled Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadjic.

The bill for the trip had been picked up by a lobbyist with Bosnian Serb links.

How he will fare having been handed what is widely seen as the poison chalice portfolio of Northern Ireland is a tough one to call.

He is a Catholic, but he is also the descendant of "staunch Scottish Presbyterian stock as well as Irish Catholic immigrants".

Mr Reid has expressed pride in his family's roots in mining - something he had in common with Cathie, the girl he met at school and was married to for nearly 30 years until her sudden death in 1998.

As well as Kevin he has another son, Mark.

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