Former British army officer appointed minister of state in Northern Ireland Office

Conservative MP Andrew Robathan moved in reshuffle by David Cameron

Andrew Robathan once complained the Bloody Sunday inquiry had created a £200 million bill to “stir up old enmities and reopen old sores”.

Andrew Robathan once complained the Bloody Sunday inquiry had created a £200 million bill to “stir up old enmities and reopen old sores”.

Tue, Oct 8, 2013, 01:00

Former British army officer Andrew Robathan, who once complained that the Bloody Sunday inquiry had created a £200 million bill to “stir up old enmities and reopen old sores”, has been appointed to be Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office.

The move to Northern Ireland for Mr Robathan, who had served as armed forces minister in the ministry of defence, is regarded as a demotion.

He replaces Mike Penning, also ex-military, who has been moved upwards to the department of works and pensions.

Welcoming his appointment last night, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said his “many years of experience” in government and business would “serve him well in dealing with the complex issues we face”.

Frequently undiplomatic in previous roles, Mr Robathan faced resignation calls in 2011 when he said sailors on the second World War Arctic convoys to Russia should not be given medals because honours should only be given “for campaigns that show risk and rigour”.

Mr Robathan’s move was part of a wider ministerial reshuffle announced yesterday by British prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, which saw Scottish secretary Michael Moore getting the sack.

Meanwhile, Labour leader, Ed Miliband has carried out his own reshuffle, moving shadow Northern Ireland spokesman, Vernon Coaker – who is regarded as having done well in the post – to defence, a significant promotion in the House of Commons landscape.

The decision to replace Michael Moore in the Scottish office by his fellow Liberal Democrat, Alistair Carmichael is a recognition that a political bruiser is needed over the next year to combat Scottish first minister Alex Salmond in the referendum battle.

Mr Moore, however, had quietly done well, negotiating the legal basis under which the referendum will be held next September – though his low-key, polite manner was regarded as a disadvantage by some, but far from all.

The Cameron reshuffle is marked by a few themes: the need to promote more women, more north of England MPs and more of those who were elected in 2010 – who have frequently challenged his leadership.

In addition, it marked promotion for allies of the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, whose reputation fell sharply after a bungled budget last year but whose standing has significantly improved on the back of improving economic figures.

Meanwhile, Labour was furious last night at Fleet Street’s decision to portray the Miliband reshuffle as a victory for Unite union leader Len McCluskey, who last year called for the sacking of MPs Liam Byrne, Jim Murphy and Stephen Twigg.

All three were demoted yesterday: Mr Byrne left the shadow cabinet to take up a second-tier job in charge of shadowing third-level education; Mr Murphy shadows international aid, rather than defence, while Mr Twigg is demoted to political and constitutional reform.

Mr McCluskey, said a Labour spokesman, had not been involved, nor was he consulted, rejected charges that the reshuffle marked the demise of Blairites: “This party is now about factions, or factionalism,” he declared.