Sir Robert Porter, generally known as “Beezer”, who has died after a long illness, was an instinctive liberal whose misfortune was to become home affairs minister in the Unionist government at Stormont in May 1969 just as the Troubles exploded.
As part of that hardline government he had to take actions with which he privately disagreed. He resigned after the army imposed a curfew on Belfast’s Lower Falls for a weekend in July 1970. At the time, he blamed ill-health. Later, he complained that the army had not informed him of its plans.
His last major political act was to resign from the Unionist Party in 1972, criticising it as sectarian, and join the Alliance Party. Royal Air Force Robert Wilson Porter was born on the city side of Derry in December 1923, eldest of the four children of Joseph Porter, a joiner, and his wife Letitia (née Wasson). He attended the Model Primary School, Foyle College, then Queen's University, which he left to join the Royal Air Force.
After World War Two, he completed his studies, then qualified as a barrister. He was a part-time lecturer in Queen’s, then a defence counsel in several high-profile criminal trials.
In 1966, he was elected Unionist MP for Queen’s University. The seat was soon afterwards abolished, and in the 1969 Stormont election he was elected for Lagan Valley – in spite of coming under attack for attending a Catholic funeral. A sociable man, he preferred to drink with Nationalist MPs at Stormont.
After the British government abolished Stormont in 1972, he returned to the Bar. In 1978, he was appointed a county court judge, and was noted for courtesy and fairness.
As a young man he played for City of Derry Rugby Club, and remained loyal to it. He was proud to be a Derry man, and annoyed at people who called the city Londonderry. A strong unionist, he was as strongly Irish. He loved the songs of Percy French, “Slattery’s Mounted Fut” being his party piece. Nickname From childhood, he was known as “Beezer”. This was because when young “Beezer” was his response to anything that pleased him.
He retired in 1995. Unfortunately his last years were blighted by ill-health.
He is survived by his daughter Kathryn, son Robert, sisters Edna and Audrey and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Margaret, daughter Helen and sister Eva.